Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Frosty Wind Made Moan

Midwinter-blogging, essay 3 of 12 blog entries on
“In the Bleak Midwinter,” a poem by Christina Rossetti

Frosty Wind Made Moan

The Little Match Girl, illustration by Bertall.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“Frosty wind made moan.”  This line, the second line in the first stanza of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter,” reverberates for me.

In the bleak mid-winter
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 mid-winter
Long ago.

Here’s the uncomfortable connection I make with that line.

I take the train into Philadelphia every workday.  If you turn to the left after you pass through the turnstile exit, you enter into a vast underground concourse connecting various Center City stations.  Very wide passageways lead into the distance, punctuated by columns.  Homeless people sleep down here, especially in winter.  It’s cold, but they can escape the frosty winds that blow outside.

On the way to work, I pass other areas where homeless people sleep.  There’s one church that hospitably allows a homeless man to rest in his sleeping bag on the top step of a side entrance.  He always has his back turned as I walk by.  The wind blows off the Schuylkill River and down the street, sometimes creating a fierce wind tunnel.

In winter, I leave the heated train, walk a brisk eight blocks through the cold, and find sanctuary in a toasty office.  Outside, the frosty winds still make moan but I’m comfortable inside.

Christina Rossetti writes about people living outside in the cold.  An inn would have been cold but at least the walls protected visitors from the winds.  For Joseph and Mary, however, a stable-place sufficed.  Along with the animals, they were exposed to the elements, with about as much protection as the homeless man who sleeps by the church door.  This is where Mary gives birth to her baby.

There was poverty in Bethlehem.  There was poverty in Rossetti’s London, where an estimated 30,000 children were living homeless on the streets.  There’s poverty today. 

The frosty winds still blow, the poor remain with us, and Rossetti’s final question continues to haunt:

What can I give him
Poor as I am?

especially when viewed in context of the challenge that Jesus posed as an adult (Matthew 23:45):  “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

The little match girl, warming herself with matches, dreams of a
Christmas tree in Jean Renoir's The Little Match Girl (1928).
The Music Room

Celtic Woman, an all-female ensemble, performs “In the Bleak Midwinter,” featuring violinist Máiréad Nesbitt…

Reference Sources

Poems of Christina Rossetti, edited by William M. Rossetti
Selected Poems of Christina Rossetti, edited by Marya Zaturenska
Christina Rossetti: A Writer’s Life by Jan Marsh
The Achievement of Christina Rossetti, edited by David A. Kent
Christina Rossetti (Bloom’s Major Poets), edited by Harold Bloom
Christina Rossetti’s Faithful Imagination by Dinah Roe
Christina Rossetti: Faith, Gender and Time by Diane D’Amico
Genius by Harold Bloom
The Man Who Invented Christmas by Les Standiford
The Pre-Raphaelites by Andrea Rose
Victorian Painting by Christopher Wood
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

© 2011 Lee Price

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