Saturday, December 3, 2011

December 4

"How far is it to Bethlehem?"
performed by The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star?
Can we see the little child,
Is he within?
If we lift the wooden latch
May we go in?

May we stroke the creatures there,
Ox, ass or sheep?
May we peep like them and see
Jesus asleep?
If we touch his tiny hand
Will he awake?
Will he know we've come so far
Just for his sake?

Great kings have precious gifts,
And we have naught,
Little smiles and little tears
Are all we brought,
For all weary children
Mary must weep.
Here, on his bed of straw
Sleep, children, sleep.

God in his mother's arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart's desire.

This beautiful poem is by Frances Chesterton, who was the wife of the famous author, G. K. Chesterton. Mrs. Chesterton was a lovely and talented woman, who also taught Sunday School. Concerning Frances teaching a group “of little Devils”, G. K. wrote that when the children look up, “ ... they will see the most glorious and noble lady that ever lived ... with a halo of hair and great heavenly eyes that seem to make the good at the heart of things almost too terribly simple and naked for the sons of flesh ....”

The couple were devoted to one another, and there has, over the years, been some dispute as to which author should be attributed credit for the writing of several pieces of poetry. One such poem has been featured in my Musical Advent Calendar in years past: "Here Is The Little Door" is a mesmerising carol that is written from the point of view of the Wise Men, as they end their long journey and approach the infant Christ in the stable in Bethlehem. It is my own belief that the words to the carol were actually penned by Frances Chesterton, as there are definite similarities between that piece, and other poems that she wrote for the Christmas celebration.

I have very vivid memories of singing "How far is it to Bethlehem?" as a very small child, myself. I remember being trussed up in a snow-white choir gown and a tiny beanie hat, firmly secured to my head with innumerable bobby pins. We in the primary choir had processed into the loft ahead of the seniors, and I can still feel the trembling of my innards as we children stood to pipe out the tune in our little bird-like voices.

It fascinates me that as a grown-up, some thirty-five years later, I have difficulty remembering important information like people's names, telephone numbers and computer passwords... and yet, I can still remember every single word of the lyrics I learned as a member of the choir, many moons ago.

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