Sing Books with Emily, the Blog

“Good King Wenceslas” A Singable Book, a Winter Song and a Mini-Play (including Lyrics, Song History, and Sing Along Tracks)

Posted on: November 27, 2009


When I was a kid, Christmas music was ALWAYS playing at Christmastime, but the experience of the carols and songs seemed to reside way back in the subconscious.  Until recently when I started to give the seasonal songs serious thought, I was always just vaguely aware of them, enjoying my favorite albums, singing the first couple of lines for each tune and humming the rest as I went about my holiday activities.

Good King Wenceslas,” with its hardy beat and medieval flavor, is one of my favorites…But I could never have sung  more than the first verse.  It wasn’t until I spied the carol as an illustrated children’s book, that I really read the words and discovered that the song has a wonderful message for everybody, that the song is actually a mini-play, and that it is a winter song, not just for the holidays.

The first Singable Picture Book that I found for this carol is by Christopher Manson who has become one of my favorite illustrators.  His pictures are  woodcuts hand painted in rich colors and are extensively researched which give the pictures not just beauty but an authenticity that makes the book deeply satisfying.

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Good King Wenceslas

Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John Mason Neale
Illustrated by Christopher Manson

Completing the experience are paragraphs of historical information about the lyricist John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and Wenceslas, Duke of Bohemia (who lived in the 10th c.) and sheet music.

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Good King Wenceslas
Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John M. Neale
Illustrated by Tim Ladwig
(This book has sheet music in the back and a page of historical information about the song)

I love this version for its sweeping, dramatic pictures.  You get a sense of the King and Page’s struggle, trudging through wind and snow, to deliver help for the Poor Man who gathered twigs for a fire.  You can feel the cold and determined effort.  I also like how this book’s first pages create a context for the song and wrap it up with a sweet illustrated conclusion.  This book contains sheet music and a brief but informative page about the song’s history.

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Good King Wenceslas
Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John M. Neale
Illustrated by Pauline Baynes

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Wencelsas (the Eternal Christmas Story)
Book Text by Geraldine McCaughrean
Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John M. Neale
Illustrated by Christian Birmingham

Geraldine McCaughrean has written the story of the song in the majestic book “Wenceslas,” illustrated with luminous gold dabbed paintings by Christian Birmingham.  No book I’ve seen yet has so captured Wenceslas as a King, strong and good.  The lyrics to the song are printed in the book along with a brief history of the song and the man.

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Addendum 12/5/2012

I found this at a bookstore just yesterday.  The story of the song, beautifully illustrated, with factual information and a DVD performance by Jane Seymour (and a cast of many, many, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra)…and the song is in there, too:

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good king wenceslas omar rayyan
Good King Wenceslas (Mormon Tabernacle Choir)
(This book comes packaged with Jane Seymour’s performance on DVD)
Written for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir by DAvid T. Warner
Original Song Lyrics by John Mason Neale
Original Song Sung to Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Illustrated by Omar Rayyan

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A YouTube preview of the DVD, here:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=EBGVoxKIUNU

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John Mason Neale, a scholar, writer and clergyman, originally published the words in 1853.  He set the words to an old tune “Tempus adest floridum,” a  carol of springtime also known as “The Flower Carol.”  This carol (its latin words and music) was originally published in a book of Swedish Carols in 1582, but the tune is probably much older.

A Wikipedia article about “Piae Cantiones,” the collection of carold in which “Flower Carol” was originally published in 1582, here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piae_Cantiones

For a post (including historical information about the song and a book I made for singing-along with the “Flower Carol,” illustrated with artwork by Giuseppe Arcimboldo who painted in the time that Tempus adest floridum was first published) about the “Flower Carol” and Temus adest Floridum, click here:
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/the-flower-carol-illustrate-and-sing-with-arcimboldos-spring-summer-and-other-fancy-finery/

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Vocabulary

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King Wenceslas

Wenceslas was the Duke of Bohemia, now the Czech Republic.  He was a Christian in a time and place that was mostly pagan.  He was known for his generosity to the poor.

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Feast of Stephen
The Feast of Stephen is celebrated the day after Christmas.  Stephen is considered the first Deacon of the Catholic Church.  One role for a deacon is to care for the poor, so the purpose of the day is to give food, money and supplies to the needy.  In many parts of the world, it is also called “Boxing Day.”  In the song, when King Wenceslas looks out, he sees someone in need on the Feast of St. Stephen, so he sets out to do what he can to help.

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St. Agnes Fountain
The song also mentions “St. Agnes’ Fountain.”  St. Agnes of Bohemia lived in the 13th century.  She was born to royalty, but spent her life not in the luxury of her station, but working to help others.

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The text of John Mason Neale’s song is a little play.  The parts can actually be played out or sung by different people in a group.  Children love it if grown-ups dress the parts and participate in the action.  The characters in the carol are the Narrator, Good King Wenceslas, the Page, and the Poor Man (but the poor man is only mentioned, he doesn’t speak).

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GOOD KING WENCESLAS
Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John M. Neale

(Narrator)
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shown the moon that night,
Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.

(King)
Hither, page, and stand by me.
If thou know it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?

(Page)
Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes fountain.

(King)
Bring me flesh, and bring me wine.
Bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear them thither.

(Narrator)
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

(Page)
Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart, I know not how.
I can go no longer.

(King)
Mark my footsteps my good page,
Tread thou in them boldly:
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.

(Narrator)
In his master’s step he trod,
Where the snow lay dented.
Heat was in the very sod
Which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

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I like to point out to the kids that the Poor Man is gathering logs for a fire to keep his home warm, that the King wants to give the Poor Man meat, wine and firewood, and that when the Page is trodding through the snow behind the King, the Page complains of getting so tired and cold.  The King tells the Page that to walks in his footsteps. The Page does so, feels the warmth from the King, and is able to carry on.

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For singing along, if you don’t want to sing this one a-capella, I suggest track 3 from “Classical Christmas” released by Allegro in 2004.  The key is comfortable for singing.  The pace is a little quick for turning the pages, but it can certainly be done.

Preview the song, here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000SCFNMK/ref=dm_dp_trk3?ie=UTF8&qid=1288295781&sr=301-1

Another instrumental, totally different in style with an “Um-pah” tuba beat, is from The Trail Band, “And Old Fashioned Christmas”  (Track 3). This whole album is my current favorite (as of writing 12/25/2009) to have playing while tinkering around my kitchen.  It’s joyous and fun.

Preview the song here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000QKXWWW/ref=dm_dp_trk3?ie=UTF8&qid=1288295682&sr=8-1

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I like this YouTube for singing-along

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVob4l5m4Ps

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An majestic instrumental by Percy Faith orchestra

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_6lf6Z_qKM
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An interesting Wikipedia article about “Good King Wenceslas” (and “Flower Carol”) here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_King_Wenceslas

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A Pinterest.com page dedicated to Good King Wenceslas:
http://pinterest.com/revjoelle/wenceslas/

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FLOWER CAROL
“Tempus adest floridum”
Traditional Words and Tune
Illustrated with Art by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
Book Assembled by Emily Leatha Everson Gleichenhaus
To view or print a copy of the BOOKLET, click here:
flower carol arcimboldo
To view or print a copy of the ONE PAGER, click here:
flower carol arcimboldo one pager

This item is for classroom, home, or library use only.

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A page for the Sing Books with Emily SINGABLE ADVENT CALENDAR

GOOD KING WENCESLAS
I love this song which was written to the tune of an ancient flower carol and can also function as a short play with 3 characters.  Once you unravel who is saying what, and what is happening, this becomes a wonderful fable, too, fitted lovingly at the end with a satisfying, universal and timely moral.

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SBWE Advent Calendar Good King Wenceslas
Good King Wenceslas
Traditional Tune (Tempus adest floridum)
Words by John M. Neale
To view or print the SBWE Singable Advent Calendar sheet for “Good King Wenceslas” click here:
SBWE Advent Calendar Good King Wenceslas
This item is for home use only.

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Addendum, 12/26/2012

I really do so love Good King Wenceslas, the song, its story and its origins.  Today is the Feast of St. Stephens.  We can celebrate by singing and doing something good.  It also gives us a chance to peek into spring on this cold, snowy day, since the song’s tune was originally written for a carol praising the flowers of spring…

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RELATED POSTS:

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Good King Wenceslas Looked Out on the Feast of Stephen…that’s today!
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/good-king-wenceslas-looked-out-on-the-feast-of-stephen-thats-today/

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THE FLOWER CAROL (tempus adest floridum), A SINGABLE PICTURE BOOK
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/the-flower-carol-tempus-adest-floridum-a-singable-picture-book/

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CHRISTMAS

A Collection of Singable Picture Books that celebrate CHRISTMAS!
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/singable-picture-books-for-christmas/

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EDUCATIONAL CONTENT

A list of SPBs with fun and sneakily educational content.  The kids won’t even know they’re learning!
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/singable-picture-books-with-sneaky-educational-content/

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SUNDAY SCHOOL SONGS
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/09/18/sunday-school-songs-in-singable-picture-books/

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WINTER

Singable Picture Books for Winter
Some of these are sung at Christmastime, but this is a list of songs about Winter that you can sing all season long!
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2010/12/21/singable-picture-books-for-winter/

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SING BOOKS WITH EMILY SINGABLE ADVENT CALENDAR
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/the-sing-books-with-emily-singable-advent-calendar/

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GOOD KING WENCESLAS, A SINGABLE PICTURE BOOK
https://singbookswithemily.wordpress.com/2009/11/27/good-king-wenceslas-a-singable-book-a-winter-song-and-a-mini-play-with-a-message-inluding-lyrics-song-history-and-sing-along-tracks/

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