Monday, December 5, 2016

In the Bleak Mid-Winter with Christina Rossetti

photo © Mark Butkus 2010
Snow had fallen, snow on snow...

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air:
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him —
Give my heart.

— Christina Rossetti

Is it surprising that a child of December, named after Christ, would have a canon of beloved Christmas poems?

Born on December 5, 1830 Christina Rossetti was considered the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning following Browning's death in 1861. Born into one of the most creative families of 19th century England, Rossetti's enduring legacy is owed in part to her Christmas poems, some of which have been set to music. In the Bleak Mid-Winter is one such poem

In the Bleak Mid-Winter was first published under the title, A Christmas Carol, in the January 1872 issue of Scribner's Monthly.

Gustav Holst first set the poem to music in The English Hymnal in 1906. Harold Darke's 1911 composition was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.

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