Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Songs of The Season: Good King Wenceslas

Waiting for a bag of food at GLIDE today

 Technically, it's a little early for this carol. Good King Wenceslas tells the story of a king and his page encountering a poor peasant on the feast of St. Stephen (December 26). But it seems a fitting song, given what is unfolding outside my office window.

Today is GLIDE's Grocery Bag giveaway. Thousands of people are waiting in line to get a bag filled with groceries: turkey, potatoes, bread, vegetables, and lots more. Thousands of volunteers are filling bags, handing them out, and helping folks make their way home. It is an amazing day of generosity.

The carol Good King Wenceslas tells a similar story of generosity:

Good King Wenceslas looked out on the feast of Stephen,  
when the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even. 
Brightly shown 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 thou know 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 the 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 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, 
ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing

Wenceslas was an actual person who was eventually sainted by the Catholic Church. A royal member of Bohemia (in part what is now the Czech Republic), Wenceslas was known for his kindness and generosity who was murdered by his brother.

This song tells of Wenceslas' kindness. Upon seeing a poor peasant, he tells his page to gather not only kindling, but also food for the man. The page weakens in the bitter cold, but the king tells him to follow close behind in his footsteps. Sure enough, by staying close to Wenceslas and following in his footsteps, the page finds himself warmed and able to continue on the path to the peasant's abode.

Today, volunteers at GLIDE came face to face with the elderly, with poor families, and with many in need. They followed a path set out before them which warmed them from the inside out, as they offered bags filled with food. 
Bags ready to be given out
There was a joy that was palpable throughout the building. Smiles lit the faces of volunteers, staff, and those awaiting food. Truly, blessings were in great abundance. 

The words of the song came to life today:

Ye who now will bless the poor shall yourselves find blessing.

Performed by the Roches


  1. Karen, how's it going? always a grand reminder to dive deeper, yes indeed
    thank you


  2. oh Karen, i forgot to mention i gave you a piece of art a while back and will be in New Orleans doing a couple shows and if you know some folks who would like to come out; would love to meet your peeps, the austin shows were great and curious if you'd like to work with the former mayor of austin to start a mentorship program for future texas female leaders?

    i'm at