Friday, December 13, 2013

THE LION'S NOEL, IV. The Lion's Noel

His stable is 

a Prince’s courte,
The cribbe His 

chaire of State;
The beastes 

are parcell of 

His pompe,
The wodden dishe, 

His plate.
Robert Southwell 

The Lion's Noël
A Book of Christmas Beasts

I V .   T h e   L i o n ' s   N o ë l

Lion, Kneeling

Bye, baby Jesu,

look who's come to please you,

come to doff his tawny skin

to wrap a brand-new baby in.

Waken merry.  Touch and see.

Jesu, you have company.

            Norma Farber, 1909-1984

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Gerard David

The Rocking Carol

Little Jesus, sweetly sleep, do not stir, do not stir,

We will lend a coat of fur,

We will rock you, rock you, rock you,

We will rock you, rock you, rock you,

See the fur to keep you warm,

Snugly round your tiny form.

Mary's little baby, sleep, sweetly sleep,

Sleep in comfort, slumber deep;

We will rock you, rock you, rock you,

We will rock you, rock you, rock you:

We will serve you all we can,

Darling, darling little man.

            Percy Dearmer, based on the traditional Czech Carol that follows:

Hajej, Nynej, Jezisku

Hajej, nynej, Jezisku, Jezisku.,
Pucime ti kozisku,
Budeme te kolibati,
Abys moh’ libe pospati,
Hajej, nynej Jezisku,
Pucime tikozisku

Hajej, nynej, milacku, milacku,
Mariansky synacku.
Budeme te kolibati,
Abys moh’ libe pospati,
Hajej, nynej Jezisku,
Pucime tikozisku

From "Hymn to Joy"

The tiger's head shall know His hand

And bow that He may stroke his ears,

The lion lend his ropey tail,

The jackal joke away His tears.

             Julia Cunningham, 1916-2008

The Peaceable Kingdom. Edward Hicks. 1816-1818

From "The Wise Men"

Go humbly -- it has hailed and snowed --

    With voices low and lanterns lit;

So very simple is the road,

    That we may stray from it.

The world grows terrible and white,

    And blinding white the breaking day;

We walk bewildered in the light,

For something is too large for sight,

    And something much too plain to say.

The Child that was ere worlds begun

    (…We need but walk a little way,

We need but see a latch undone…)

The Child that played with moon and sun 

   Is playing with a little hay.

The house from which the heavens are fed,

    The old strange house that is our own,

Where trick of words are never said,

And Mercy is as plain as bread,

    And Honour is as hard as stone.

Go humbly, humble are the skies,

    And low and large and fierce the Star;

So very near the Manger lies

    That we may travel far.

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes

    To roar to the resounding plain.

And the whole heaven shouts and shakes, 

   For God Himself is born again,

And we are little children walking 

   Through the snow and rain.

               G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936

Cover art from "Dance in the Desert" by Symeon Shimin

From "Dance in the Desert"

       Once there was a night in the desert when nobody was afraid and everybody danced.

     This was an extraordinary night, because there is terror in the desert. The man setting out with his wife and small son knew that it is not safe to cross the desert alone. He did not need to say aloud all that he knew there is to fear.
     The lion, almost invisible because he is the color of sand by moonlight, stalks with snow-soft paws until he leaps upon his unsuspecting prey.
     A small family could never make it alone across the burning drifts, fiercely hot from the brazen sun by day, dunes cold as snow under the moon by night.
     So the parents and child, wanting to cross the desert in haste, nevertheless had to wait until they found a caravan with which they could travel. For three days caravans turned them away: the mother and child would slow them down, they said.
     Therefore, the family was grateful when a rich merchant with a sizable retinue of men and beasts was willing to let them follow along.
     The desert is like the ocean. It takes time to get out of sight of land. And then suddenly there is nothing, nothing but waves of sand shifting and sliding in the wind, sand stretching out to eternity on every side. In the moonlight the fires and the tents and the camels make a small oasis for the travelers, and they draw in close, while the sands stir slowly around the caravan, spreading out into forever, and above them the stars break into distances beyond dreams.
     "The child will be frightened," one of the camel drivers said, and with his great, calloused hands began to play upon a tiny reed pipe. A scrawny donkey boy ran into one of the tents and came out with an enormous horn, certainly heavier than he was, and managed to blow into it so that a braying squawk came out the end.
    The little boy laughed and clapped with joy as he sat on the young man's knee in the circle around the largest of the fires.
     Outside the circle, from the edges of the dark, came a deep, sustained roar. The camel driver dropped his little pipe, his huge hand reaching for his knife. "It is a lion."
     The tremor of fear that ran through the group touched everybody except the child. He slid off the young man's knees and walked on his still unsteady legs to the edge of the circle.
     "Wait," the mother said, as the camel driver reached for the little boy.
     The firelight seemed dimmer, the moonlight on the sands outside brighter. At the crest of a dune stood a magnificent lion, completely still, so that he seemed like one of the stone carvings that the sands cover and then uncover on the desert floor. His tail began to twitch, not in anger or irritation, but in dignified rhythm.
     Then, ponderously, he rose on his hind legs to his full height. The child stood at the edge of the circle of firelight, holding out his arms in greeting.
     The lion dropped back to his four paws and moved slowly to the company, not menacing, not stalking, but in measured, courtly circles.
     "He's dancing!" the donkey boy said. "The lion is dancing!"
     The camel driver's grip relaxed, though he kept his hand on his knife's hilt.
     At a responsible distance from the caravan the lion knelt on his forepaws, then dropped to his haunches and lay still on the sands, watching.
     Again the child raised his arms in greeting, and suddenly from the dunes came a band of tiny desert mice, pink and grey, whiskers twitching in nervousness as they broke ranks and swept around the lion like a wave about a rock. They were so small that they were not even the size of the child's hand, and they leaped into the air in miniature minuet, little jet eyes flashing the moonlight. Dancing done, they, too, knelt on their forepaws in precise pattern, soft grey velvet with satin-pink noses and paws, held their obeisance for a fraction of a moment, and scurried off to wait at a safe distance from the lion.
     No one had noticed when the child went back to his mother, but he was in her lap, sleeping, his arms flung out, his small hands open, fingers peacefully curled. The mother's head was drooped over her child's; her arms lightly encircled him.
     The stars began to dim, and at the far horizon the desert lapped against a crystal sky. Night departed. Dawn came without fear.
     The  camel  drivers  and  the  donkey  boys  prepared  their  animals  for  the  next  day's  journey  into  Egypt.
     The  young  husband  led  the  mother  and  the  child  away  from  the  faintly  glowing  coals  of  the  fire.
     The  dance  was  over.

                 Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Fra Bartolomeo

A Journey into Egypt, 
from "The Crow and the Crane"

Rise up, rise up, you family three,
    See that you ready be;
All children under two years old
    Now slain they all shall be.

Then Jesus, aye, and Joseph,
    And Mary that was so pure,
They travelled into Egypt,
    As you shall find it sure.

And when they came to Egypt's land,
    Amongst those fierce wild beasts,
Mary, she being weary,
    Must needs sit down to rest.

"Come sit thee down," says Jesus,
    "Come sit thee down by me,
And thou shalt see how these wild beasts
    Do come and worship me."

First, came the lovely lion,
    Of Jesus grace asking;
And of the wild beasts in the field
    The lion shall be king.

We'll choose our virtuous princes
    Of birth and high degree,
In every sundry nation,
    Where'er we come and see.

The truth now I have spoken,
    And the truth now I have shown;
Even the Blessed-Virgin
    She's now brought forth a son.

             Anonymous, also entitled "The Carnel and the Crane" 
                      (Carnel: from corneille, French for crow)

Bronze Lion by C. V. B. Truong

Son of the 
Great Emperor,
Lion of Narnia

The Lamb, The Lion

     And of course, as it always does in a perfectly flat place without trees, it looked as if the sky came down to meet the grass in front of them. But as they went on they got the strangest impression that here at last the sky did really come down and join the earth -- a blue wall, very bright, but real and solid, more like glass than anything else. And soon they were quite sure of it. It was very near now.
     But between them and the foot of the sky there was something so white on the greengrass that even with their eagles' eyes they could hardly look at it. They came on and saw that it was a Lamb.
     "Come and have breakfast," said the Lamb in its sweet milky voice.
     Then they noticed for the first time that there was a fire lit on the grass and fish roasting on it. They sat down and ate the fish, hungry now for the first time for many days. And it was the most delicious food they had ever tasted.
     "Please, Lamb," said Lucy, "is this the way to Aslan's country?"
     "Not for you," said the Lamb. "For you the door into Aslan's country is from your own world."
     "What!" said Edmund. "Is there a way into Aslan's country from our world too?"
     "There is a way into my country from all the worlds," said the Lamb; but as he spoke his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.
     "Oh, Aslan," said Lucy. "Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?"
     "I shall be telling you all the time," said Aslan. "But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder. And now come; I will open the door in the sky and send you to your own land."
     "Please, Aslan," said Lucy. "Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon."
     "Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
     "Oh, Aslan!" said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
     "You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and  you  must  begin  to  come  close  to  your  own  world  now."
     "It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"
     "But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
     "Are -- are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
     "I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there. Come, I am opening the door in the sky."
     Then all in one moment there was a rending of the blue wall (like a curtain being torn) and a terrible white light from beyond the sky, and the feel of Aslan's mane and a Lion's kiss on their foreheads and then -- the back bedroom in Aunt Alberta's home at Cambridge.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, from "The Chronicles of Narnia, The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader', Chapter XVI. The Very End of the World."

Hark! Laughter like a lion wakes
    To roar to the resounding plain.
And the whole heaven shouts and shakes, 
   For God Himself is born again!

Here ends
The Lion's Noël


The verse from the title page in modern typeface:

His stable is a Prince's courte,
     The cribb His chaire of State;
The beastes are parcell of His pompe,
     The wodden dishe, His plate.

     Robert Southwell, from New Prince, New Pomp 

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