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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Day 19 - "In The Bleak Midwinter" by Julie Andrews - 25 Days of Christmas Angst

Even in the bleakest times there can be beauty.
Christiana Rossetti wrote a poem titled, "In The Bleak Midwinter," in 1872.  Though there are several versions of this poem as a song, Gustav Holst created the most popular version in 1906. 

The performance of the song I recommend is by Julie Andrews.  You can hear it here:  http://youtu.be/HIxnM_Z8cok.  She might have performed it earlier but the first recording I can find of Andrews singing the song is from 1973.

One of the unexpected themes I've discovered while compiling this list is that creative efforts can span decades, centuries, and generations.  This song is a prime example of that.  Rosetti, Holst, and Andrews are separated by 100 years and yet they come together to make a beautiful song.

Preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days here:   

As a literature teacher, I had encountered this type of creative effort in connection with novels and plays.  Every time a production of a Shakespeare play is undertaken, there is a creative collaboration that spans several hundred years.  For some reason, I had never thought about this in connection with music and poetry.

One of the choices Andrews makes in her performance is to remove the verse about the where Jesus was born:

In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God almighty
Jesus Christ

I suspect this choice was made to emphasize the unique points that this song makes and avoid repeating commonly understood details of the birth. 

The problem with this is that the premise for the whole song (and poem) is pure imagination.  Snow is possible in that part of the world but not likely and not mentioned in the Bible as being part of Mary and Joseph's travels nor as part of Jesus' birth.

What this poem and song represent is our human desire to connect with our heroes and role models, our need to see ourselves in their stories.  If we are going to learn something from them, we need to know that they are like us in some way.

Since the 25th of December was picked to celebrate the birth of Jesus, snow, cold, and winter bleakness have become part of the Christmas tradition.  For me, this makes perfect sense because I have lived my whole life in Wisconsin.  What about someone who lives in the southern hemisphere, or near the equator? 

There is also the idea that the cold and snow add to the difficulty of Jesus' birth and therefore make it more special.  The struggle, pain, and effort needed to accomplish a thing often make it seem more important.  So, we also like to imagine Mary and Joseph overcoming these obstacles because it makes for a better story.

The line in this song that I find most moving is "But only his mother / In her maiden bliss / Worshiped the beloved / With a kiss."  We want our role models and heroes to be exalted but we also need to understand that they are like us, human.  Or at the very least we need to understand that they have some vulnerability. 

This newborn, surrounded by strangers, harsh weather, and animals is very vulnerable.  There was a time when Jesus needed his mother, just like all of us. 

Jesus is lucky she is there; I know many people who for many reasons won't have their mothers this Christmas. 

In the Bleak Midwinter
as performed by Julie Andrews

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

Angels and archangels
They have gathered there
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air
But only his mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshiped 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
What can I give him
Give my heart
My heart



In The Bleak Midwinter

"Christina Rossetti"

"Christina Rossetti"

"History of Nativity Season: snow in Bethlehem?" by Bill Petro

25 Days Of Christmas Angst
Day Song Download/Purchase Info
19 "In The Bleak Midwinter" by Julie Andrews Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
JULIE ANDREWS - that should be enough for you to want to listen to this song. Okay, not enough? Well it is a beautful retelling of the story of the nativity.
18 "I Wonder As I Wander" by Barbara Streisand Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Streisand asks one of the most enduring and difficult questions (which raises many others) in the most beautiful way. Perhaps this song is better suited to Easter but it seems to have become part of the holiday canon.
17 "The Christmas Song" by She & Him Buy the full album:

Buy the song:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
What is ther to not like about Zooey Deschanel on lead vocals of this slightly depressing holiday classic?
16 "Blue Christmas" by Vince Gill Buy the CD:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Elvis or Vince Gill?
I recommend buying Vince Gill's Christmas album titled, Breath of Heaven: A Christmas Collection. I have only been able to find it available as a physical CD, however.
15 "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" from How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) Buy the full album:

Buy the song:

Buy the DVD:

Buy the Blu-Ray:

Amazon Instant Video:
Read my blog post for more about this song.
Perhaps The Grinch is just misunderstood, or perhaps he is pure evil.

Click this link to preview the remaining days of angst or review the previous days:  http://www.carneylentz.com/p/25-days-of-christmas-angst.html

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