Lessons and Carols

Three poems and two songs…

In 1993, Oxford University Press published Robert Atwan and Laurence Wieder’s two-volume compilation Chapters Into Verse: Poetry in English Inspired by the Bible. At the time I got Volume 2: Gospels to Revelation. My books are in storage but to-day, which begins the Bleak Midwinter’s waning as daylight waxes,1 three poems on the theme of the Nativity come to mind.

I like these (the last of which I’ve reprinted before) because they speak to the mystery of the Annunciation and this season when, I for one having experienced sixty-seven of them now, can tend to feel about as contemplative as a tin star.

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

Was this His coming! I had hoped to see
A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danae:
Or a dread vision as when Semele
Sickening for love and unappeased desire
Prayed to see God’s clear body, and the fire
Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly:
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,
And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
An angel with a lily in his hand,
And over both the white wings of a Dove.

— Oscar Wilde, Vatican Gallery, Rome, 1877

A Stick Of Incense

Whence did all that fury come?
From empty tomb or Virgin womb?
Saint Joseph thought the world would melt
But liked the way his finger smelt.

— William Butler Yeats, 29 Jul 1938

The Mother Of God

The threefold terror of love; a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room;
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.

Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a Sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?

— William Butler Yeats, 03 Sep 1931

The Carols

Two years ago last month, Rob Berg and I remastered two Christmas carols we’d repurposed back in 1987, posting them on YouTube and offering the digital downloads for sale on Bandcamp.

“God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” ​was written the summer of ’87 after the Iran-Contra scandal broke, but is as universal as Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “Universal Soldier” and as scathing as Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War.”
“Mr. Wenceslas” is a tender allegory taking place in the towers and doorways of downtown Los Angeles.

You can read the story behind our versions of these classic carols on the BachelorBlog.

Header image:
The Annunciation
by Caravaggio, c. 1608

  1. “In the Bleak Midwinter” is a poem by Christina Rossetti, to whom I was introduced by my friend Milania, and whom I discuss in this essay.

One Reply to “Lessons and Carols”

  1. These poems strike me as visceral of the flesh and airy as of the spirit; a miraculous gestation, of death and fertility. The portal between life and death through the vesica pisces of the female anatomy.

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