Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Well, So That Is That: Poems

Well, So That Is That

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree.

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes--

Some have got broken--and carrying them up to the attic.

The holly and mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,

And the children got ready for school. There are enough

Left-overs to do, warmed up, for the rest of the week--

Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,

Stayed up so late, attempted--quite unsuccessfully--

To love all our relatives, and in general

Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again,

As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed

To do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away

Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,

The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

--W. H. Auden.

For the past couple of days we have been dismantling the effects of Christmas and putting them away; a rather time-consuming task around here, but necessary to be done quickly, I think. They've been up since shortly after Thanksgiving, and nothing seems more melancholy than trees and decorations lingering after their purpose is done. Although I only bought a couple of stocking holders and a small pair of decorative deer, I now seem to require another storage tub, as everything refuses to pack back neatly as it was. Some people leave stuff up till after New Year; in parts of England all decorations, especially in churches, had to be taken down by February 2 (Candlemas) and all mistletoe, holly, and evergreens burned (it was considered bad luck if any of that stuff remained in private homes after that date, especially mistletoe).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

Good King Wenceslas: Favorite Carols


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, gathering 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.

This song is based on the legends about the historical Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia (907-935); Wenceslaus is the English version of his original name in the Czech language, Vaclav, and though he was only a duke in his lifetime he had the title of king conferred on him after his death by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I. Wenceslaus was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death, and his cult grew up and was popular in Bohemia (which became Czechoslovakia) and England. The story goes that he would go about at night barefoot and give alms to widows, orphans, those in prison, and all wretched or afflicted by difficulty.

The carol "Good King Wenceslas" (which is how he spelled it) was published by English hymnwriter John Mason Neal in 1853; it may be a translation of an original Czech poem. It is set to the tune of "Tempus Adest Floridum" ("Now is the Time for Flowering"), a 13th Century spring carol (there used to be carols for every season). The Feast of Stephen is December 26.

The first time I ever really noticed the song was in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising, where the ancient wizard Merriman Lyon and his young student Will Stanton enact the carol to travel through time, riding it to return to an earlier era. Terry Pratchett in his Discworld parody of Christmas Hogfather doesn't think much of the their version of Wenceslaus, preferring a king who would bring about the social conditions that would make charity unnecessary (which is all very well, but folks could starve to death before that happens). But the best reference to Wenceslaus to me is this exchange from Walt Kelly's Pogo:

Albert and Churchy (singing): Good King Sauerkraut- Look out!/ On your feets uneven-/While his nose just run about/ A-sniffin' and a-sneezin'!

Pogo: Hold it! Hold it! Wenceslaus is king!

Churchy: Winklehof? Winklehof is king?

Albert: What happened to Good King Sauerkraut?

Churchy: He must o' died. Take off yo' hat, boy.

Albert: Died? I didn't even know he was sick.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

"Let's Have A Ding-Dong, Then!"

From the 1928 Book Of Knowledge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


From the 1928 Book of Knowledge.

From the Anglo-Saxon phrase Waes Haeil ('Be Healthy!'), wassailing is a very old custom in Great Britain. There are two basic forms of this toast or salutation: in one, groups go from door to door with a festive drink (usually spiced ale or wine and apples), sing happy wishes to the householders, and recieve some form of token payment in return. In the other, groups of men go out into the orchards and barns and salute the trees, splashing cider on the roots and placing apples or cider-soaked toast on the roots and branches, in hopes of an abundant new year.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"We're Despicable": From Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol


We're despicable.

We make ourselves

Plain sickable.

Berate ourselves,

Hate ourselves


Still none us of wishes he

Would change.

We're slick and shifty birds,

With fingers quick

As fifty birds.

While stealing your purse

Or your ticky-tock

Just for a kick we knock

You flat!




We're just blankety-blank-blank

No good!

We're not tea party blokes,

No chitty-chat

Or artichokes.

We're twice as blood-thirsty

As cannibules,

And wilder than animules

Are we!

We're reprehensible.

We'll steal your pen

And pencible!

Then sneer at you,

Leer at you


And really we ought to be

In jail!




We're just blankety-blank-blank

All bad!

Ah, the bragging song. The point in any musical when some less than totally admirable character (or his supporters) explains with verve and gusto just who he is and what he does. Snow Miser and Heat Miser in The Year Without a Santa Claus. Richard Henry Lee in 1776. Jubilation T. Cornpone in Li'l Abner. Gaston in Beauty and the Beast. These are the humming, toe-tapping tunes that people bring away even from less than memorable productions. And in Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol it is this song sung by the laundress, housekeeper, undertaker, and pawn shop owner as they divvy up Scrooge's belongings. After one viewing my nephew went tromping around humming the tune and any lyrics he could remember for an hour afterward.

Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol has the honor of being the first animated Christmas special, premiering in 1962. The lyrics to this song are by Bob Merrill and the music by Jule Styne; it is sung by Royal Dano, Joan Gardner, Laura Olsher, and the great Paul Frees.