Wenceslas: A Goodhearted King And His Popular Carol | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio
Filed Under:

Wenceslas: A Goodhearted King And His Popular Carol

Play associated audio

Even heard in modern synthesizer arrangements, the melody of the carol "Good King Wenceslas" brings the words and images of the story into my head: "Good King Wenceslas looked out / on the Feast of Stephen / When the snow lay 'round about / deep and crisp and even.

Wenceslas was a real person: the Duke of Bohemia, a 10th-century Christian prince in a land where many practiced a more ancient religion. In one version of his legend, Wenceslas was murdered in a plot by his brother, who was under the sway of their so-called pagan mother.

Following his death, Wenceslas became a saint and martyr revered especially for his kindness to the poor. Meanwhile, the catchy tune to "Good King Wenceslas" was around when people celebrated spring, but the Wenceslas legend hadn't yet met up with the melody. For centuries, it had been sung in Latin as "Tempus adest floridum" — a springtime song celebrating nature's powers of rebirth. It had verses in various languages, some of them adventurous in their descriptions of these celebrations.

Almost a thousand years after Wenceslas lived, a 19th-century Englishman by the name of John Mason Neale wrote the now-famous English lyric for the ancient melody.

The history of this Christmas carol is a rich accumulation of music, image and legend that speaks beyond any one religious tradition. Its most basic message is summed up in its final lines: "Ye who now will bless the poor / shall yourselves find blessing."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Puerto Rico Is Sowing A New Generation Of Small Farmers

Decades of industrialization have left the island reliant on imported food. But change is coming — from government subsidies for small farmers, to classes that teach school kids how to grow food.
NPR

Puerto Rico Is Sowing A New Generation Of Small Farmers

Decades of industrialization have left the island reliant on imported food. But change is coming — from government subsidies for small farmers, to classes that teach school kids how to grow food.
WAMU 88.5

Abortion Is Back In The Spotlight In Virginia

The state's current attorney general is overturning a ruling from the previous attorney general that would have shut down most of the abortion clinics in the state, and the issue isn't just about regulations and politics. It's also about money.
NPR

Smartphones Can Be Smart Enough To Find A Parasitic Worm

If someone is infected by the Loa loa worm, taking a drug to treat river blindness could be risky. Now there's a fast way to identify the worm — by turning a smartphone into a microscope.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.