Feast of Stephen

Jester with Lute, Franz Hals

Franz Hals, Jester with a Lute, 1620–1625, canvas, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

By the time Franz Hals painted this whimsical portrait, jesters and troubadours had been singing narrative ballads for many years… perhaps even this one:

Good King Wenceslaus went out
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.

Ballads have never lost their charm and have deep roots in our folk and literary history. Think how many other traditional Christmas songs, both secular and religious follow this form.

Today is the Feast of Saint Stephen in Eastern Europe. Some traditions celebrate the day after Christmas, but here that observance has been co-opted by Boxing Day, a commercial corruption of an old British tradition.

  ~Good King Wenceslas ~ Sung by Candice Night ~

Looking at the lyrics, it is so easy to see the traditional ballad form.

What is your favourite ballad (or narrative poem or dramatic monologue?)

Good King Wenceslas 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
Gath’ring winter fuel

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st 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 flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”

Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude 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 thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
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.

 

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One Response to Feast of Stephen

  1. This ballad, no doubt, sung readily by “poor” minstrels who wished to be helped. 😉

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