Fr Ian writes
Each year a different carol speaks to me. This year the one which, unexpectedly, has resonated with me is Christina Rossetti’s beautiful poem In the bleak mid-winter. The Evensong choir sang it at the Carol Service and at the Christmas Concert in church, and then I was surprised and gratified when children of St Chrysostom’s School sang it at their Carol Service in church. It will be sung at Mass on Christmas Eve.
Christina Rossetti wrote the words before 1872 as a poem then in 1906 Gustav Holst composed the well known tune for it, and it was included in the English Hymnal. (The tune was named CRANHAM after Holst’s village birthplace near Cheltenham).
The hymn uses winter imagery, as, indeed did Milton in his On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity, when he describes the ‘winter wild’ of the nativity. A tradition told how snow fell on a fallen world at the birth of Christ. Rossetti emphasises this as ‘snow on snow.’ For Rossetti, however, alongside this is a vision of a God which heaven cannot hold, and heaven and earth will flee when God’s reign comes. Held with this vision is the image of the one whom cherubim worship night and day, worshipped with a gentle kiss.
The last verse is particularly poignant. The modern hymn writer Elizabeth Cosnett points out that when Christina Rossetti wrote these words ‘women were largely excluded from the professions and higher education.’ She has, in a sense, no job like the shepherds, no degree, like the wise men, and the poem concludes “Yet what I can I give him – Give my heart.”
22 December 2015