Last year, I did a series of posts on some of my favorite Christmas carols, partly because there wasn’t any politics to talk about, really, between the election and the inauguration.
If you read that series (which will be easily locatable under the “Christmas” category in the sidebar), you know I have strange tastes in Christmas carols.
No fat guy in a red suit.
A noticable shortage of sleighs, snow, and presents.
To kick the caroling season off this year, I offer something off the Sting CD I mentioned the other day, If On a Winter’s Night. After Songs from the Labyrinth, a fascinating collection of music written by an English Catholic, forced overseas for the treason of being Catholic, Sting seems to have come across a few other old English Catholic pieces. Particularly, “The Burning Babe”, a poem by the Catholic martyr Robert Southwell, a Jesuit priest. (See a collection of Fr. Southwell’s poems here, where I discovered, to my surprise, that a favorite piece from A Ceremony of Carols by Britten took its text from him as well.) Technically, it is a poem, not a carol, but Sting put it to a wonderful musical setting.
“The Burning Babe”
As I in hoary winter’s night stood shivering in the snow,
Surprised I was with sudden heat which made my heart to glow ;
And lifting up a fearful eye to view what fire was near,
A pretty babe all burning bright did in the air appear ;
Who, scorchëd with excessive heat, such floods of tears did shed
As though his floods should quench his flames which with his tears were fed.
Alas, quoth he, but newly born in fiery heats I fry,
Yet none approach to warm their hearts or feel my fire but I !
My faultless breast the furnace is, the fuel wounding thorns,
Love is the fire, and sighs the smoke, the ashes shame and scorns ;
The fuel justice layeth on, and mercy blows the coals,
The metal in this furnace wrought are men’s defilëd souls,
For which, as now on fire I am to work them to their good,
So will I melt into a bath to wash them in my blood.
With this he vanished out of sight and swiftly shrunk away,
And straight I callëd unto mind that it was Christmas day.