In the bleak midwinter – time to remember the Rossettis and Gustav Holst

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Christina Rossetti wrote a poem that everyone knows whether they realize it or not – it is sung every year at this time and many people say it is their favourite Christmas carol. It is definitely mine. In The Bleak Midwinter is so strangely wrong as a way of remembering a birth in a stable in a desert but for  any one born in more Northern climes, it captures the spirit of Christmas perfectly. Maybe it is a particularly English way of looking at the Biblical story and certainly for us inhabitants of this small Northern European island, it has become a part of our traditional Christmas. Her portrait was drawn  by her equally talented brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti whose vivid self-portrait is below.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti painted a more realistic climate in his nativity painting, The Seed Of David with the added moody presence of King David, as both a solemn-faced young giant-slaying man and as the broody king who became no stranger to sinful ways. 

The Seed Of David (1858) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (Llandaff Cathedral)

The Rossettis were an extraordinary family who lived in interesting times and were central figures in the so-called Pre-Raphaelite movement. As I have been re-inspired by these often under-rated English artists and writers thanks to the wonderful exhibition still running at London’s Tate Britain, I thought I would revisit Christina’s carol as we look forward to next week.

In The Bleak Midwinter (1872)

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.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped 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;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)

It has been set to music several times but,  for me, the most beautiful version is the one by Gustav Holst (1874-1934) written in 1906. Holst, in spite of his name and German ancestry, was as English as the Italian descended Rossetti siblings so what better than to hear their work performed by, who else, the choir of King’s College, Cambridge. It might all be very English but it travels very neatly too.

My novel, Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love, was published  on 31 October 2013. It is the story of a young fogey living in Brighton in 1967 who has a lot to learn when the flowering hippie counter culture changes him and the world around him.

It is now available as a paperback or on Kindle (go to your region’s Amazon site for Kindle orders)

You can order the book from the publishers, Ward Wood Publishing:
…or from Book Depository:

…or from Amazon:’s%20Summer%20Of%20love


Stephen Dearsley’s Summer Of Love
Ward Wood Publishing
October 30, 2013

Genius Floored: Uncurtained Window
Soaring Penguin Press
June 15, 2013
Poetry anthology

Genius Floored: Whispers in Smoke
Soaring Penguin Press
June 6, 2014
Poetry anthology

Reaching Out
Cinnamon Press
December 2012
Poetry and short story anthology

Tic Toc
A Kind Of A Hurricane Press
June 2014
Poetry anthology

The Blotter
The Blotter Magazine Inc.
November 2009
Three pages of poetry in the American South’s unique, free, international literature and arts magazine.

The Fib Review
Musepie Press
My Fibonacci poetry has appeared in this journal from 2009 until the present

Shot Glass Journal
Muse Pie Press
My poetry has appeared in various issues of this short form poetry journal

Every Day Poets Magazine
Every Day Poets
I have various poems of the day published in this 365 days a year poetry magazine.

In The Night Count The Stars
Bittersweet Editions
March 1, 2014
An “uncommon anthology” of images, fragments, stories and poetry.

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