(A glossary of the words spelled in all capital letters in this blog post appears at ITS end. See how much you can understand without looking at the glossary. Students: Remember to write new words in your vocabulary journal.)
EVIDENCE of the Christian holiday Christmas is everywhere in December. The TWELVE days of Christmas begin on December 25, commonly called Christmas Day. December 26, more commonly in the United Kingdom than in the United States, is known as Boxing Day. However, at the time that this Christmas CAROL was written, BOXING DAY was also called the FEAST OF STEPHEN. This refers to Saint (St.) Stephen, a ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINT.
The Holiday Song
The LYRICS of “Good King Wenceslaus” (below) were written by John M. Neale (1818–1866). This carol was first published in Carols for CHRISTMAS-TIDE, by Neale with Thomas Helmore (1811–1890). This book was published in 1853.
The MELODY comes from a 13th-century (1200s A.D.) Latin spring CAROL, not a winter or Christmas carol. This title of this Latin spring carol is “Tempus Adest Floridum.” In English, this means "The time is near for flowering."
Online, search for the title of this carol in quotation marks “Good King Wenceslaus” (or spelled Wenceslas) to hear it SUNG on websites, such as YouTube. On websites like NetHYMNAL, you can hear the melody and practice singing the lyrics as you listen.
A Piece of European History
Though “Good King Wenceslaus” is a popular Christmas carol in the 21st century, parts of it are 800 years old. John Neale may have confused King Wenceslaus I (1205–1253) with an earlier Wenceslaus I (907–935), who was a Roman Catholic SAINT. Our Wenceslaus I ruled Bohemia (Czech Republic in modern times) from 1230 until his death in 1253. (Death ends more ROYAL CAREERS than any other lifetime work I can think of!) His sister Agnes (1211–1282), was the ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINT in the family, St. Agnes of Bohemia. She is mentioned in this CAROL.
Read more about these saints in Catholics Online. Find them by using the “Saints Index” you will find here: http://www.catholic.org/saints/stindex.php.
Good King Wenceslaus
Good King Wenceslaus LOOKED OUT ON the FEAST OF STEPHEN,
When the snow lay ROUND ABOUT, deep and crisp and EVEN.
Brightly SHONE the moon that night, though the frost was CRUEL,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering WINTER FUEL,
“Hither, PAGE, and stand by me, if you know it,
YONDER PEASANT, who is he? Where and what his DWELLING?”
“Sire, he lives a good LEAGUE hence, UNDERNEATH THE MOUNTAIN,
Right against the forest fence, by SAINT AGNES’S FOUNTAIN.”
“Bring me food and bring me wine, bring me pine logs HITHER,
You and I will see him DINE, when we BEAR them THITHER.”
Page and MONARCH, FORTH they went, FORTH they went together,
Through the cold wind’s wild LAMENT and the BITTER weather.
“SIRE, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger,
FAILS MY HEART, I know not how I can GO NO LONGER.”
“MARK my footsteps, my good PAGE, TREAD now in them boldly,
You SHALL find the winter’s RAGE FREEZE YOUR BLOOD LESS COLDLY.”
In his MASTER’S step he TROD where the snow lay dented;
Heat was in the very SOD which THE SAINT HAD PRINTED.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or RANK POSSESSING,
You who now will BLESS the poor SHALL yourselves find BLESSING.
GLOSSARY OF WORDS AND PHRASES
BEAR: (verb) carry (not the large animal with long teeth and sharp claws!)
BITTER: (adjective, metaphor for the coldest cold) a strong, often unpleasant flavor that is the opposite of sweet
BLESS: (verb) help
BLESSING: (noun) help
CAREER: (noun) lengthy employment, often lifelong
CAROL: (noun) a holiday (usually Christmas) song or HYMN (See HYMNAL)
CHRISTMAS-TIDE: (noun, object of preposition) Christmas-Time
CONTEXT: (noun) the words that are used with a certain word or phrase and that help to explain its meaning
CRUEL: (metaphor) harshly cold
DINE: (verb) eat a meal
DINTED: (adjective) dented or marked
DWELLING: (noun) home
EVEN: (adjective) flat
EVIDENCE: (noun) something which shows that something else exists, is true, or is happening
FAILS MY HEART(archaic, or old English expression) I’m feeling weak
FEAST OF STEPHEN: (Proper noun, referring to St. Stephen, the first disciple, or student of Jesus, the founder of Christianity. Stephen was martyred, or murdered for his religion.) a holiday occurring on December 26, the second (2nd) day of the TWELVE days of Christmas holiday. The Feast of Stephen is also called Boxing Day.
FLOWERING (adjective) plants blooming, or growing flowers
FORTH (adverb) forward (Not to be confused with fourth)
FOUNTAIN: structure that sends a stream of water into the air
FREEZE YOUR BLOOD LESS COLDLY: (archaic, or old English expression) chill you less
GO (verb) NO LONGER (adverb): (archaic, or old English expression) walk any farther, or more
HAD PRINTED: (past tense compound verb) had stepped or left footprints
HITHER: (archaic, or old English adverb) here
HYMNAL: (noun) a collection of Christian or Hebrew (Jewish) religious songs, or hymns.
ITS: possessive form of pronoun it
LAMENT: (noun metaphor for the sound of the wind) a song expressing sorrow
LEAGUE: (noun) a distance of 2.4-4.6 miles or 3.9-7.4 km (Nothing to do with the American sport baseball!)
LOOKED OUT: (verb) such as through, or out of a window or a door
LYRICS: words to a song
MARK: (archaic, or old English verb) see
MASTER’S: (possessive adjective) boss’s or employer’s
MELODY: (noun) music or tune
MONARCH: (noun) king or queen
ON: (preposition) in the context of this CAROL, during
PAGE: (noun) servant
PEASANT: (noun) poor worker of low social status standing
POSSESSING: (progressive present tense of verb possess) having, owning, or showing
RAGE: (noun, metaphor for strong wind) sudden, violent anger
RANK: (noun) social status, in this CONTEXT high social status
ROMAN CATHOLIC: (proper adjective) belonging or relating to the Christian church that is led by the pope
ROUND ABOUT: (Archaic English adverb) everywhere
ROYAL: (adjective) kingly or queenly
SAINT AGNES’S: (possessive form of a proper noun) St. Agnes of Bohemia (1211-1282) was the sister of our King Wenceslaus I.
SAINT: (noun) a person who is officially recognized by the Christian church as being very holy. In this carol, Neale wrongly, or incorrectly refers to our King Wenceslaus I as a saint.
SHALL: (Archaic English, part of a compound verb which describes an action that will take place in the future) will, in this carol will find
SHONE: (VERB) past tense of the verb shine
SIRE: (Archaic English formal form of address) Sir or Mister (Mr.)
SOD: (noun) soil or earth
SUNG: (verb) past tense of the verb sing
TELLING: (Archaic English) tell me
TREAD: (Archaic English verb) walk
TROD: (verb, Archaic English past tense of the verb tread) walked
UNDERNEATH THE MOUNTAIN: (prepositional phrase) in a cave inside of a mountain
WINTER FUEL: wood (such as pine logs), chips (a piece of dried waste matter from an animal), or peat (material or soil made of dead plants) to burn
YONDER: (Archaic English adjective) standing or lying some distance away