In the Bleak Midwinter
by Christina Rosetti

(from hymns and carols of Christmas)

In the bleak mid-winter
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.

I had never read this one before it was recommended by Jason on Day 1 of this lectionary. I’ll forgo the typical atheist disclaimer and say that this poem/hymn/carol is especially beautiful sung and is evidently huge in Great Britain (sadly, I was unable to find a punk cover; still, at least Ed Harcourt’s version has distortion, although the crash cymbals and the guitars are weirdly combined with plinking piano and jingling sounds. Note to the world: I want to see a version that comes in at under 1:53 and includes the phrase “oi oi oi.” Make it sew.).

Moreover, it hits upon a lot of the themes from my second-favorite carol as a kid, “Little Drummer Boy,” as well as the fundamental and visceral appeal of Christmas,  the juxtaposition of the darkness of the night and the brightness of the star overhead, the cold lifelessness of the world surrounding and the warmth and comforts of the love enveloping Jesus, the image of a baby lying in a rickety trough on top of a pile of dried grass covered in donkey slobber against that of the most supremely powerful and transcendant being that ever existed, capable of washing away the cares and concerns of all of humanity (why didn’t the fashion a sling out of the crazy amounts of fabric people wore back then? was the manger just the only soft place to lay him in the whole barn? I mean, if parenthood has taught me antyhing, it’s that you make use of some crazy makeshift solutions if necessary. Still, though, the classic image of baby Jesus lying in the animal food seems like it might be unlikely and overdramatic posing, which is not to say that the effect isn’t nice, just quirky.), and finally, the ultimate humility of trying to think of a gift–not for the guy who has everything, but for the guy who wants for nothing and deserves the best.

To be fair, I still think I like “Little Drummer Boy” better. I like the idea of the kid playing the drum for the baby better than that of Christina Rossetti giving her love, not gonna lie.

The darkness of the first verse here, the satisficing of the Lord, and the celebration of humility are the things that drive this one home for me. They’re really fertile grounds for poetry and Rossetti makes them work (man, that’s a lot of snow–does it really snow that much in the Middle East?) Makes me want to mine them (to mix a metaphor) myself.

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