A Blog-Caroling We Will Go

Today it’s time for the esteemed (if not old) tradition of Christmas blog caroling!  This great tradition was begun by footnoteMaven and continues this year as geneabloggers everywhere “sing” their favorite carols.  First up – in the non-religious category – one of my favorite Christmas songs when I was growing up: We Need a Little Christmas!  I think I liked it because it is perky enough to get you in the mood for the holidays and uncommon enough so that you didn’t hear it every time you turned on the radio.  May I present We Need a Little Christmas (ahem) ~

Haul out the holly ~ Put up the tree before my spirit falls again

Fill up the stocking ~ I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again now.

For we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute

Candles in the window, Carols at the spinet

Yes, we need a little Christmas, Right this very minute

It hasn’t snowed a single flurry ~ But Santa, dear, we’re in a hurry!

So climb down the chimney ~ Turn on the brightest string of light I’ve ever seen

Slice up the fruitcake ~ It’s time we hung some tinsel on that evergreen bough.

For I’ve grown a little leaner, Grown a little colder

Grown a little sadder, Grown a little older

And I need a little angel, Sitting on my shoulder

Need a little Christmas now!

For we need a little music, Need a little laughter

Need a little singing, Ringing through the rafter

And we need a little snappy “Happy ever after”

Need a little Christmas now!

For religious songs, it’s hard to top my absolute favorite – last year’s Blog Caroling Choice, O Holy Night.  If I had to choose another carol, I would pick another song that you don’t hear as often as some others: Mary’s Boy Child

Long time ago in Bethlehem,
So the Holy Bible say,
Mary’s boy child, Jesus Christ,
Was born on Christmas day.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
Them see a bright new shining star,
Them hear a choir sing,
The music seemed to come from afar.

`Now Joseph and his wife Mary,
Come to Bethlehem that night,
Them find no place to born her child,
Not a single room was in sight.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

By and by they find a little nook
In a stable all forlorn,
And in a manger cold and dark,
Mary’s little boy was born.

Hark, now hear the angels sing,
A new king born today,
And man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.

Trumpets sound and angels sing,
Listen to what they say,
That man will live forever more,
Because of Christmas Day.


O Night Divine

Today many genea-bloggers will go blog-caroling together by blogging about our favorite Christmas carol.  The flannel-jammied yet stylish footnoteMaven will post a round-up of all of our favorite carols.  And the best part?  You don’t have to hear us actually sing.

If I had been asked about my favorite Christmas song as I was growing up, I’m not sure what my answer what have been.  Today, I wouldn’t miss a beat before I answered – “O Holy Night”.  I like to listen to Christmas songs as I decorate or wrap presents.  Several years ago, “O Holy Night” was playing in the background (either the Mariah Carey or Celine Dion version).  I had heard the song countless times over the years, but, for the very first time, one line jumped out at me and I truly listened to it for the first time in my life.  The line that struck me was: Long lay the world in sin and error, pining, ’til He appeared and the soul felt its worth. My soul (and my eyes) flooded as I understood the meaning of those words like never before, and the beautiful, wondrous mystery of the Incarnation, the true meaning of Christmas, became clear to me.  So join with me in singing my favorite Christmas song:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! O, hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born;
O night divine, O night, O night Divine.
Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Behold your King.
Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

This song also has an interesting history behind it.  The words were written by Placide Cappeau, a French wine merchant who wrote poetry in his spare time.  In 1847, his parish priest asked him to write a Christmas poem, and Cappeau obliged by imagining the night Christ was born.  The poem, Cantique de Noel, was written in a coach as he traveled to Paris.  When Cappeau arrived, he sought out his friend, Adolphe Charles Adams, to compose music to accompany it. The result? A Christmas classic!  But not immediately – the song fell out of favor as Cappeau drew away from the Church and towards the socialist movement.  An American abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight, was struck by the last verse of the song.  He translated the song into English.  The hymn was published during the Civil War and quickly became a favorite.  It’s certainly my favorite!

For more information on the song, its lyrics, and its history, visit the following sites:

From a Far Country

They have called [me] from a far country — far, but always so close through the communion in the Christian faith and tradition…

October 16, 2008 marked the 30th anniversary of Karol Wojtyła becoming Pope John Paul II – the first Slavic Pope ever and the first non-Italian Pope since the 16th Century.  In 1978, this was a remarkable event.  It was the beginning of a papacy that would not only leave a lasting imprint on the Catholic Church, but on the entire world.  When John Paul II died on April 2, 2005, 27 years after the conclave that elected him, billions of people around the world would mourn the loss, regardless of their own faith or creed.  He may have ruled over the Church, but his message and the love he shared was for all people.

For Polish-American Heritage Month, I wanted to write about a Pole that I admire, and John Paul II is definitely my favorite Pole.  But much has been written about the Pope; instead I wish to focus on the Man Who Would Be Pope, Karol Wojtyła.  To understand Karol, one must discover Polish culture and history.  For the cardinals may have taken Karol out of Poland, but no one could ever take Poland from his heart and soul.

Karol was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920.  The town today appears to be relatively quiet, small by American standards – one might even use the adjective “quaint” because of its Old World European charm and its bucolic setting among the rolling hills of Ślaskie province.  But Wadowice was far from a “backwater” town even back in the 1920s – it was actually a “hot spot” for Polish culture, literature, and theater.  Polish culture so permeated young Karol’s life that its ideals and philosophy influenced him for the rest of his life.

Yesterday I wrote about some of the authors of the Polish Romantic movement.  As a youth in Wadowice, Karol first learned and loved Sienkiewicz, Mickiewicz, and Słowacki.  Their view of history and its spiritual dimension greatly affected the future Pope.  From them, he learned about the ideals of freedom and truth.  In addition to developing a love for Polish literature, young Karol was exposed to the theater.  Wadowice had a very active amateur theater which performed everything from Polish classics to Greek tragedies and Shakespeare.  Karol decided on his vocation in life…to become an actor.  He was very well regarded as a performer, and he began to write plays himself in addition to poetry.  It was the second love of his life behind the love he had for God.

At college, Karol continued his studies of language and literature, still intending to become an actor.  Hitler interrupted his plans.  As the Germans advanced into Poland, Polish life changed.  University professors were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, but the intelligentsia that remained decided to operate the college covertly, which allowed Karol to continue his studies.  During that time, he and his friends founded the Rhapsodic Theater.  The theater group was essentially a resistance movement, albeit one that resisted the Nazis with culture instead of weapons.  For Polish cultural expression was forbidden in Nazi-occupied Poland; participating in cultural or religious activities was a capital offense.  Chopin’s music could not be performed, and libraries were destroyed.  The goal of the Rhapsodic Theater was resistance through culture – they sought to save Polish culture from extinction, and by keeping that flame burning they believed that Poland as a nation would survive.

Such a non-violent form of resistance may strike some as odd, but it was as daring as a more overt or violent expression of resistance.  Under the Nazis, it did not matter whether a gathering of people in someone’s home were occupied with reciting Polish poetry or assembling incendiary devices, for the result was the same: all would be arrested.  The group of young actors and playwrights prepared productions and practiced in hiding, avoiding military patrols, after they had worked all day at various “hard labor” jobs such as Karol’s job at a stone quarry.   Their clandestine rehearsals and performances were all with a purpose: to save Polish culture from extinction, and to restore the very soul of Poland so that it could one day recover.

It was also during this time of war that Karol realized a calling to the priesthood – since the Church’s activities were curtailed with over 3,500 priests imprisoned in concentration camps, his religious training was in an “underground” seminary.  It is a fascinating period of Karol’s life, and if all you know is “the rest of the story” and where his priesthood eventually leads, I encourage you to read more about his life.

Of course, Karol didn’t just read and recite poetry; he wrote his own.  His poetry is deep, moving, emotional.  One of my favorites is one that he wrote in 1939 at the age of nineteen in which he reflects on the death of his mother who died just before his ninth birthday:

Over this, your white grave
the flowers of life in white–
so many years without you–
how many have passed out of sight?
Over this your white grave
covered for years, there is a stir
in the air, something uplifting
and, like death, beyond comprehension.
Over this your white grave
oh, mother, can such loving cease?
for all his filial adoration
a prayer:
Give her eternal peace–
–“Over This, Your White Grave”

To know Pope John Paul II is to know Poland, but do not think that he was exclusive or closed to others.  The opposite was true.  Polish culture defined who he was, but also imbued him with an openness and a love for other cultures that made him loved and be loved the world over.

The author meeting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, March 6, 2000

The author meeting Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, March 6, 2000

I met him face to face in 2000.  In an all-too-brief moment – one that I purposely rushed in an attempt to give my traveling companions a brief chance to touch him as well – I held his hand in mine.  In the years since I have tried many times to write about it, but I can not find the words to adequately describe this meeting.  To use the adjective “surreal” seems like a stereotype, but that is the word in my mind as it happened.  To sum up the feeling: I have never been in the presence of someone that radiated love like he did.  I can’t explain it.  You “felt” it.  A scripture quote that I often think of in connection with this memory is “Were not our hearts burning within us?” [Luke 24:32] when the disciples met Jesus on the road to Emmaus.  I do not mean to imply that meeting JP2 was like meeting Christ, for the Holy Father himself would be the first to agree that he was merely His servant.  But, I felt my soul on fire as I stood near him that day, the fire of Love.  There is simply no other way to describe it.  Over eight years later, I still feel the burn, and the love he had for all.

Read an interview with Tennessee poet Lynn Powell about John Paul II’s poetry.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

Polish Literature

As an English major in both college and grad school, I’ve read a fair amount of literature.  But in my entire academic life I never encountered a Polish author on the syllabus other than Joseph Conrad, who, though Polish, wrote in English and can be found in English lit books as opposed to “World” lit.  I became interested in the subject partly because of my heritage, but also thanks to a penpal relationship with a young Polish college student.  The third thing that led me to learn more was when I began to learn about the life of a Polish man I greatly admire…you could say that Pope John Paul II led me to discover Polish literature!  In honor of Polish-American Heritage Month I thought I would briefly highlight some of the great authors that have shaped Poland’s cultural life, and in a separate post I will write more about John Paul’s early life, how Polish culture affected his views, and the time we met.

Please note that Poland’s history is long and full, and its literature is no exception.  In this post, I will merely highlight just a few of the many talented authors; this is by no means complete.  As such, I’m skipping over hundreds of years worth of works until arriving at the period known as “Polish Romanticism”.    Throughout 19th Century Europe, literature reflected the revolutionary ideals of the time. But while most of these writers wanted to break away from the past, Poland’s writers suggested returning to it, for they felt that something had been lost and needed to be reclaimed. For most of the writers, the “something” was the country’s Catholic values.  With the Romantics, history took on a spiritual purpose.

One of the most famous of the authors from this period of Polish literature is Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916).  He is perhaps best known for what is commonly called “The Trilogy” – a series of three histoical novels about events from the 17th Century Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth.  The three titles are With Fire and Sword, The Deluge, and Fire in the Steppe.  Each dealt with Polish history: the Cossack rebellion, the Swedish invasion, and wars with the Ottoman Empire.  The novels are sweeping in scope and quite lengthy, but Sienkiewicz was a gifted writer so the size of the novel is irrelevant. One of Sienkiewicz’s most popular novels is Quo Vadis, which was another historical novel.  This one, however, takes place in Rome during Nero’s reign and involves a star-crossed romance between a Christian woman and a pagan Roman patrician.  While the Trilogy is still on my “to be read” list, I had the pleasure of reading Quo Vadis, and it is truly a great story.  You may recogize the name from the 1951 Hollywood movie, which was based on the novel.  The quality of his work is evident by the honor he received in 1905 when he won the Nobel Prize for achievement in literature.  If you enjoy historical sagas, you will enjoy Sienkiewicz!

Another of Poland’s literary greats is Adam Mickiewicz (1789-1855).  Mickiewicz was primarily a poet, but he also wrote plays.  His most famous work is Pan Tadeusz, an epic poem that takes place during the period of the partitions.  The work is so famous in Poland that it is considered to be the national epic and it is required reading in schools.  Mickiewicz was the driving force of the Polish Romantic movement, and he believed in the redemptive quality of suffering and that Poland’s destiny would emerge from the country’s brokenness (as the country did not exist as a country after the partitions). He was a patriot more than a writer, and he left his writing career at its prime to devote the rest of his life to politics.  I found a good page that not only highlights his writing, but also his politics and his family history.

Juliusz Słowacki (1809-1849) was another poet and playwright who deeply influenced Polish culture.  He was influenced himself by Byron and Shakespeare, and he shared the belief that Poland’s suffering would one day end.  I was fascinated to learn that in 1848 he wrote a beautiful poem about a future “Slavic Pope” who will be a “brother to all mankind” and lead all of humanity beyond suffering.  I’m not certain that this is an exact translation from the Polish, but the only English text I found of the poem is at this blog.  Rather prophetic…

One of my favorite authors that I encountered in college was Joseph Conrad (1857-1924).  I was surprised to learn that his real name was Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, he was born in Poland, and he learned English when he was an adult.  The novels I read were not translations from Polish, but written in English.  His prose is beautiful, and I can not fathom how talented a writer you have to be to write in a language that is not your “first”.  English was actually his third language, after Polish and French.  Yet his prose flows so fluidly, so poetically, that I can only wonder what he would have produced in his native tongue.  In The External Solitary by Gillon, Conrad is quoted as saying that Polish literature is in “too high esteem to introduce it to my poor writing.”  Among his many novels, the most famous are Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness, Nostromo, and The Secret Agent.  One interesting aspect of his work is his focus on the themes of loyalty, fidelity, and self-sacrifice, which all relate to his Polish heritage and the fate of his homeland.  The theme of being set apart in exile or being solitary from the rest of the world also permeates his work, perhaps due to his own isolation as a Pole living away from his country.

I copied this quote into my notebook when I was in college, and although it is merely from a letter Conrad wrote to a friend, it offers a fine glimpse of his talent:

…old Father Time, always diligent in his business, has put his eraser over many men, things, and memories: yet I defy him to obliterate from my mind and heart the recollection of the kindness you and yours have shown to a stranger, on the strength of a distant national connection.  I fear I have not expressed adequately to your wife and yourself all my gratitude: I do not pretend to do so now, for in my case when the heart is full the words are scarce, and the more so the more intense the feeling I wish to express.

These are only four of the many famous Polish authors in the history of Polish literature.  Jumping ahead to modern times, perhaps you are familiar with the names of the Nobel-prize-winning poet Czesław Miłosz or the science fiction writer Stanisław Lem.  One of my favorite Polish poets is none other than Karol Wojtyła, the nan more commonly known as Pope John Paul II.  He wrote poetry and dramatic works both before and after he became a priest and pope.   I will share one of his poems, one that is actually genealogy-related, in my next post.

[Written for the Polish History & Culture Challenge.]

Is that a poem in your pocket?

Tomorrow is “Poem in Your Pocket Day” and Lisa has challenged bloggers to post their favorite poems. Here we go again…you know how hard it is for me to choose a favorite. I thought about using a Polish poet in honor of my Polish ancestors. One great Polish poet is the Nobel-prize winning Czesław Miłosz who wrote some beautiful and moving poetry. Another is Karol Wojtyła, otherwise known to the world as Pope John Paul II. He wrote poetry from an early age, and it is deeply inspiring and soul-filled. His 1939 poem, “Over This, Your White Grave”, is a haunting glimpse of his love for his deceased mother. To honor my Bavarian ancestors, I could have chosen a poet from the very same town of Pfaffenhofen an der Ilm, Joseph Maria Lutz, who even wrote a poem about his “hometown”. My own hometown of Philadelphia has had many notable poets that at least stayed a while to write some poetry, including Edgar Allan Poe and Walt Whitman. But, the challenge of “Poem in Your Pocket Day” is to choose your all-time favorite poem. To quote the site noted above: “The idea is simple: select a poem you love during National Poetry Month then carry it with you to share with co-workers, family, and friends on April 17.” And that, without a doubt, is Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 30”. No need to carry it; it’s the only poem I know by heart. Let me share it with you:

Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought

I summon up remembrance of things past,

I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,

And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.

Then can I drown an eye unused to flow,

For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,

And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,

And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.

Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,

And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er

The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,

Which I new pay as if not paid before.

But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,

All losses are restored, and sorrows end.

Blogger Poem – An Ode to My Lack of Information and Time

Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, has put out a blogging challenge this week to write a poem. Terry has taken challenges to a new level with this one! So, I’ve done my “homework” as Thomas calls it, and gave a meager attempt. But first, a confession…

I admit that I’m an English major with two degrees in “English”. I admit that I’m a writer, and I’ve even been paid on occasion to write. I admit that I’m a voracious reader because I love words (though both my writing and reading have taken a hit since starting this blog). I admit that I stole my blog’s name from the World’s Greatest Poet. But, Terry, here’s my ultimate confession: “I AIN’T NO POET!” So, please ignore that I have degrees and get paid to write sometimes, because no one will pay for this one!

My ancestors came from lands far away
Once in the US, they decided to stay
Leaving no trace of their origins, to my dismay
Now I’m trudging through history
Because their lives were a mystery
And genea-blogging now takes up my whole day!