The story told in this song is the legend of St. Wenceslas I when he went out with a page on December 26 (the Feast of Stephen). The purpose of their journey was to help a poor man who was out in the cold gathering sticks for a fire. They took food and fuel to the man. However, during the struggle with the elements the page was overcome with cold. King Weceslas, the Duke of Bohemia, told the boy to follow in his footsteps which would make the journey less difficult.

Wenceslas was a kind man but was assassinated (supposedly by his own brother). His kindness and his assassination quickly gave rise to a cult-like following in the years shortly after his death.

Though Wenceslas lived between 907 and 935 this song was not written until 1853 by John Mason Neale. The tune is Tempus Adest Floridum [The time is near for flowering].

Good King Wenceslas

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
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 him 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

Good King Wenceslas
YouTube video


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