Good King Wenceslas is a popular Christmas carol, composed in 1853 by John Mason Neale. The lyrics are based on a story from the life of Saint Wenceslas, a 10th-century king of Bohemia. The carol is widely sung throughout the world during the Christmas season, and its memorable tune and touching lyrics have made it one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time.
Good King Wenceslas
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
If thou knowst it, telling
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 fountain.
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I shall see him dine
When we bear them thither.
Page and monarch, forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament
And the bitter weather
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how
I can go no longer.
Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winters rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye, who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing?
Saint Wenceslas was born in the 9th century in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. He was the son of a Christian duke and was known for his piety, charity, and wisdom. Saint Wenceslas was crowned king in 925 and ruled for 26 years. Despite opposition from his pagan brothers and other powerful enemies, he remained steadfast in his devotion to God and the poor.
Legend has it that one winter evening, Saint Wenceslas saw a poor peasant gathering firewood in the snow. He was moved by the man’s poverty and wanted to help, so he set out with his page to bring the peasant food and warmth. The journey was long and difficult, and the cold was so intense that the page’s feet began to freeze. But Saint Wenceslas encouraged him, and they finally reached the peasant’s home, where they delivered their gifts and shared the warmth of the fire.
Lyrics and Message
The lyrics of the carol tell the story of Saint Wenceslas’s journey and the lessons he taught his page. The first verse establishes the setting: “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen.” The feast of Stephen is December 26th, the day after Christmas, which makes the setting a winter evening. The king looks out and sees the poor man gathering firewood, and he is moved to help.
The second verse describes the journey: “When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.” The king sets out with his page, and they face many challenges along the way, including the bitter cold. But the king remains steadfast in his determination to help the poor man.
The third verse introduces the page, who is struggling with the cold: “Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel.” The page’s feet are freezing, and he is struggling to keep up with the king. But Saint Wenceslas encourages him and helps him along the way.
The fourth verse describes their arrival at the peasant’s home: “When they reached the peasant’s shed, he was filled with wonder.” The king and the page bring the poor man food and warmth, and he is amazed by their kindness. The verse also mentions the fire, which symbolizes the warmth of the holiday season and the love that is shared between people.
fifth and final verse
The fifth and final verse is a chorus that repeats the song’s main message: “Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the feast of Stephen.” This repetition reinforces the message that the king’s actions on this winter evening are a testament to his devotion to God and his love for his fellow man.
The lyrics of the carol are a celebration of the Christmas season, but they also contain a powerful message about charity and compassion. The king’s journey through the snow to help the poor man is a reminder of the importance of helping those in need, especially during the holiday season. The carol encourages us to be kind and compassionate, to share the warmth of the season with others, and to follow the example of Saint Wenceslas.
The melody of the carol is catchy and memorable, and its sing-along quality has contributed to its popularity. The carol is typically performed as a round, with multiple parts singing the