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

'Going There' in 2014

Michel Martin has spent much of the last few months on the road, and she has been moved by the people she's met and the stories they've shared with her. She remembers her 'Top 5' moments of 2014.
NPR

Antarctic Holiday: A Christmas Feast In The Loneliest Spot On Earth

For Dr. Gavin Francis, Christmas Eve marked the start of a year-long stay in an icy research base 8,700 miles from home. In this "empire of ice and isolation," he says, food is essential to morale.
NPR

North Korea Has An Interesting Offer. And Another Threat

The secretive regime denies any involvement with the Sony Pictures hack and says the U.S. must allow it to help find the real culprit. Or else.
NPR

'Going There' in 2014

Michel Martin has spent much of the last few months on the road, and she has been moved by the people she's met and the stories they've shared with her. She remembers her 'Top 5' moments of 2014.

Leave a Comment

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