Good Queen Wenceslas

Winter upon us, the end of a year more unsettling than most of us have known, I sent some lyrics to a good friend, the singer-songwriter Martyn Joseph.

I’d tried to see the carol ‘Good King Wenceslas’, a C19th hymn drawing on thousand year old tales about an altruistic European nobleman, through the lens of our day.

A day when those vulnerable people who were ‘gathering winter fuel’ may now be risking their lives to cross the world, hidden in trucks or crammed into boats, in search of a safe haven for their loved ones.

Recording at home during lockdown, Martyn’s voice and music — and Gerry Diver’s haunting fiddle — have created a beautiful and timely new version of the carol. From today it’s available to play and download here with proceeds supporting organisations who work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.

Here’s the lyric.

Good Queen Wenceslas looked out
On the Feast of Stephen
War and conflict all about
Rich and poor uneven
Brightly shone the moon that night
Sparkling on the ocean
When a small boat came in sight
A hundred souls in motion

’Tell me, friend, what’s going on
Where have these people come from
Why do they risk their lives like this
Why did they ever leave home?’
‘Friend, they live a good league hence
Where government is broken
They walk or sail or hide in trucks
We’d do the same for our loved ones’

‘Let’s find them shelter, food and warmth
Ask them what they need next
If you’l lend your mobile phone
I’ll get to work on legal text
These two friends, now forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the media’s wild lament
Bureaucracy’s bad weather.

‘Friend, the world is darker now
Building walls and fences
Fails my heart, I know not how
Our narrow view entrenches
‘Mark, my footsteps, my good friend
Tread thou in them boldly
We are them and they are us
This is the human story.’

So they passed their days and nights
Losing life, they found it
History is a rocky ship
A caravan of migrants
Therefore, people, do be sure
Faith or doubt confessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

The photo above by Dan Evans, captures some of the work of Bloom in Swansea, an initiative welcoming ‘asylum seekers and refugees to our City and helping them integrate and flourish.’

‘Trying to get to heaven before they close the door.’