Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas poetry - from Frances Chesterton

G. K. Chesterton is highly regarded as a poet, and is well-known as a lover of Christmas.

His better half (okay, given their relative sizes, better fourth) also had a way with words - and an appreciation for the season.

Frances Chesterton wrote “How far is it to Bethlehem?,” which has become a popular and often-played Christmas Carol. The poem is collected in one of my favorite holiday poetry anthologies, Poems of Christmas, edited by Myra Cohn Livingston.

Apparently Frances penned a number of Christmas poems, and at least one Christmas play. I find mention on Amazon of an out of print book that contains “A collection of Christmas cards, each consisting of a poem by Frances Chesterton, sent by G. K. and Frances Chesterton in 1916, 1917, 1919-1935 and by Frances Chesterton alone in 1936 and 1937.” I could not find the title of this book, though – perhaps some scholarly sort knows it and even has a copy.

I also found mention of a few Christmas pieces she wrote: Several poems - “Here Is the Little Door,” “A Lullaby Carol” and “The Shepherds Found Thee by Night,” the latter two also put to music – and a short play, The Christmas Gift.

I found texts for “How far” and “Here Is.” I’d be curious to see those other poems she wrote, and the play.

Here are texts I found.
How far is it to Bethlehem?

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.


Here is the little door

Here is the little door, lift up the latch, oh lift!
We need not wander more but enter with our gift;
Our gift of finest gold,
Gold that was never bought nor sold;
Myrrh to be strewn about his bed;
Incense in clouds about his head;
All for the Child who stirs not in his sleep.
But holy slumber holds with ass and sheep.

Bend low about his bed, for each he has a gift;
See how his eyes awake, lift up your hands, O lift!
For gold, he gives a keen-edged sword
(Defend with it Thy little Lord!),
For incense, smoke of battle red.
Myrrh for the honoured happy dead;
Gifts for his children terrible and sweet,
Touched by such tiny hands and
Oh such tiny feet.


Anonymous said...

"Here is the little door" has also been set to music by Herbert Howells (no. 1 of Three Carol-Anthems). Recordings by St. Paul's Cathedral Choir and Wells Cathedral Choir recommended. If you haven't heard it, it's really quite lovely.

Nancy C. Brown said...

I am working right now on a collection of Frances's poetry and plays. Everything you mention in this post is in the book. It will be coming out as a real book and Kindle edition within about 2 months. Thanks.