Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas is a popular Christmas carol, in which the king is blessed for giving alms to a poor peasant on St. Stephen's Day at Christmastime.

The tune is "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Spring has unwrapped her flowers"), a 13th Century spring carol; first published in the Swedish /Finnish Piae Cantiones, 1582.

In 1853, G. J. R. Gordon, Her Majesty’s Envoy and Minister at Stockholm, gave a rare copy of the 1582 edition of Piae Cantiones to the Rev. John Mason Neale (Warden of Sackville College, East Grinstead, Sussex) and the Rev. Thomas Helmore (vice-Principal of St. Mark’s College, Chelsea). The book was entirely unknown in England at that time. Neale translated some of the carols and hymns, and in 1853, he and Helmore published 12 carols in '\'Carols for Christmas-tide (with music from Piae Cantiones). In 1854, they published 12 more in Carols for Easter-tide''. That copy of Piae Cantiones is now said to be in the British Museum.

The lyrics are by John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and first appeared in Carols for Christmas-Tide, 1853, by Neale and Thomas Helmore. Neale may have written the hymn some time earlier: he related the story on which it is based in Deeds of Faith (1849). The subject of the carol is the historical Saint Wenceslas, (907-935), Duke of Bohemia.

The lyrics are in the public domain and are as follows:

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, tho' 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 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, good my 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.