Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tenth Day of Christmas ― "What Sweeter Music"

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On December 26, the “Second Day of Christmas,” I offered my observation that for many Americans, the day after Christmas ― the twenty-sixth of December ― is the end of the Christmas season.

Though we are not a religious family, we enjoy many Christmas traditions. I resolved to enjoy all the Twelve Days of Christmas, from Christmas Day until Epiphany on January 6th, and to do so in part by writing a bit each day about some aspect of the Christmas season. All the essays may be read here.

Today is the Tenth Day of Christmas. In several of the essays in this series, I included old Christmas poems. Here are three more old poems, all about music, from my two favorite poets of the late Renaissance. The first is by George Herbert (1593-1633), and the last two by Robert Herrick (1591-1674).

(Illustration: Detail from the Ghent Altarpiece, ca. 1432)


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Christmas
George Herbert (1593-1633)

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.

The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.

Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.

I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.

Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.


Ceremonies for Christmas (1648)
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Come, bring with a noise,
My merry, merry boys,
The Christmas log to the firing,
While my good dame, she
Bids ye all be free,
And drink to your heart’s desiring.

With the last year’s brand
Light the new block, and
For good success in his spending,
On your psalteries play,
That sweet luck may
Come while the log is a-teending.

Drink now the strong beer,
Cut the white loaf here,
The while the meat is a-shredding;
For the rare mince-pie,
And the plums stand by,
To fill the paste that’s a kneading.


A Christmas Carol, Sung to the King
in the Presence at White-Hall
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

[CHORUS] What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!
Heart, ear, and eye, and everything.
Awake! the while the active finger
Runs division with the singer.

[VOICE 1] Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.

[2] If we may ask the reason, say
The why, and wherefore, all things here
Seem like the springtime of the year?

[3] Why does the chilling Winter's morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell, like to a mead new-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden?

[4] Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
'Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.

[CHORUS] We see Him come, and know Him ours,
Who, with His sunshine, and His showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.

[1] The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome Him.

[2] The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart,

[CHORUS] Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do Him honor; who's our King,
And Lord of all this reveling.


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