01 January 2010

In the bleak midwinter … snow had fallen, snow on snow

Snow had fallen, snow on snow ... outside my house in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2010 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The snow began falling shortly after 11 p.m. last night as I walked a few hundred metres to the home of some friends and neighbours to ring in the New Year.

As I headed back home around 2.30 a.m., everything was covered in a blanket of snow. Public transport came to a standstill in Dublin this morning, with only a limited service this afternoon. Part of the M50 was closed throughout the morning, taxis have been cancelled in many areas, and flights out of Dublin Airport were grounded for hours. And so I wonder whether I am going to catch a flight tomorrow morning.

But I’m also thinking of Christina Rossetti’s poem, In the Bleak Midwinter, published posthumously in her Poetic Works in 1904, ten years after her death. It was republished in The English Hymnal in 1906 with a setting by Gustav Holst, and it quickly became a popular Christmas carol.

Harold Edwin Darke’s 1911 setting for this carol, with its beautiful and delicate organ accompaniment, became popular among choirs after it was included it in the BBC broadcasts of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge, of which he had once been the conductor.

In the bleak midwinter ... snow outside my house in the early hours of New Year’s Day, 2010 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

In the bleak midwinter (Irish Church Hymnal, 162):

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 midwinter,
long ago.

Our God, heav’n cannot hold him,
nor earth sustain;
heav’n and earth shall flee away
when he comes to reign:
in the bleak midwinter
a stable place sufficed
the Lord God almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom cherubim
worship night and day,
a breast full of milk
and a manger-ful 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 his mother only,
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.

Listen to the Choir of Lichfield Cathedral singing In the bleak midwinter here

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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