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

These 'True Tales' Add Nuance To The Immigration Discussion

President Obama announced an executive action on immigration this week. For an in-depth look at the issue, author Gustavo Arellano recommends two nonfiction collections about Mexican immigrants.
NPR

Need A New Sweet Potato Recipe For Your Thanksgiving Table? Try Gnocchi

Because some cooks like to mix it up for Thanksgiving, we offer a Found Recipe from our archives: Julia Della Croce's purple sweet potato gnocchi.
NPR

House Panel Finds 'No Intelligence Failure' Before Benghazi Attack

The final report by the House Intelligence Committee concludes the CIA "ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi and ... bravely assisted the State Department" on Sept. 11, 2012.
NPR

Electric Bikes, On A Roll In Europe, Start To Climb In U.S.

Electric bicycles have been popular in Europe for some time. But recently there has been a surge in U.S. sales amid changing perceptions that e-bikes aren't just for the elderly.

Leave a Comment

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