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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Good King Wenceslas

I've always enjoyed the carol about Good King Wenceslas.  It's a nice tune with a good message.  My son has a collection of Christmas stories and the legend of GKW was one of them.

It's a powerful story--it should be something we aspire to all year, not just at the holidays.  In this country--even with the economic problems we've had recently, many of us live like kings compared to those who have no home, no job, no food. 

So I thought I'd pass on the legend of this king--maybe inspiring us to help those in need. 

King Wenceslas (we'll call him Wennie) ruled in Bohemia (part of present-day Czechoslovakia).  On St. Stephen's Day (the day after Christmas) in 928, he was holding his typical celebration--a feast for the lords and ladies of his kingdom.  The feast continued through the night.

At one point Wennie took a walk around and looked out the window at the snowy scene.  He reflected on how lucky he was to have food and warmth and wealth.  When suddenly, he noticed what he thought was some sort of animal digging in the snow for food.  Looking more carefully, he saw that it was a man gathering sticks.

He called his page, Darius, and asked him if he knew the man.  Darius told him of the hermit who wanders the forest for food.  He explained how the hermit lived quite a distance from the castle. 

Immediately the king called for meat, bread, wine and logs.  He wanted to help this poor soul.  And instead of having servants take it all out in the cold, he decided to let the servants continue to party and do it himself (with Darius close behind). 

By the time Wennie and Darry (as his friends called him) got to where they saw the hermit, he was no longer there.  The king decided to trudge on through the storm and find the poor man's dwelling.  Darius started falling behind and was close to collapse, but the king took him by the hand and encouraged him to continue.  He told Darry to walk in the king's footsteps to make the traveling easier on the tired page. 

All night they walked--the strong king in the lead, the page following loyally behind.  Finally, they found the hermit's cave.

The hermit was ashamed of his meager home, but the king assured him that there was no need to be ashamed.  The joy that the hermit got from the visit matched that of the king and page helping him.  They built a fire and enjoyed the meal together.  In the morning, the king brought the hermit (let's call him Larry) back to the palace where they continued their celebration. 

Let us, like Wennie, realize how lucky we are--and attempt to share that with others--now and all year.
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,
Gathering winter fuel.

"Hither, page, and stand by me,
If though 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 them 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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