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Archive for December 19th, 2017

18642I remember a Christmas ‘pageant’ where I did a ‘recitation’ when I was still a preschooler. It was at the church of my grandmother, and it was she who taught the poem to me. I remember how very many people were staring back at me (the church probably doesn’t hold more than seventy people, but as a preschooler, it seemed like hundreds). I also remember her voice whispering the lines to me (memorizing has never been a strength for me).

The poem I had recited many years ago, was the final verse of a poem written by Christina Rossetti. Later music was added and it is known as the Christmas carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. The poem goes as follows:

In the bleak midwinter frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone:
Snow had fallen, snow on snow
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim worship night and day,
A breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay:
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air –
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man
I would do my part;
Yet what I can, I give him –
Give my heart.

The final (bolded) lines are from my recitation of many years ago (the fact that this is called a ‘recitation’ is evidence of that fact). And, although I was not so very successful at memorizing them, they have stayed with me for all of my life. There is something beautiful, dreamy and haunting about both the poem, and the music that was added to it. I have to say my favorite version is by Sarah McLaughlin, a few years ago, on her Wintersong CD.

Although this is not just a question of Christmas, I am asking myself this season the same question that Ms. Rossetti asked of herself. What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a poet, I would write him a song.
If I were a carpenter, I would build him a home,
If I were …
But all he wants,
Is my heart,
And your heart too.

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