By Deborah Hollifield, PPL Executive Director
English poet Christina Rossetti wrote the lyrics to “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872. In 1906 composer Gustav Holst set her poem to the tune “Cranham,” and the simple, mournful tune has been sung as a Christmas carol ever since.
Not everyone knows about the life of the poet – a story worth learning and pondering. Raised in London and homeschooled by religious parents, she was well-educated and pious. Her father suffered from tuberculosis and bouts of depression and the family struggled financially. Christina herself experienced bouts of depression as well, and later in life her physical health declined due to Grave’s Disease and Breast Cancer, which eventually took her life.
She began to write poetry in childhood and continued to publish prolifically throughout her life. She never married, and at the age of 29 began to volunteer with Anglican nuns in Highgate at the St. Mary Magdalene House of Charity - a rehabilitation home for former prostitutes and unmarried women – sometimes living there herself for weeks at a time. She was against the exploitation of women and girls, (particularly underaged prostitution), and worked with them to restore them to healthy lives, investing ten years of her life. Her ministry with the nuns involved reducing the women’s dependence on men, and improving conditions for the poor and young. She believed that most of the women she served had been forced into the self-harming choices that they made via poverty and the dominance of callous men. Her poem “The Goblins’ Market” is an allegory of the temptations of prostitution, its destructive effects on women, and the salvation and restoration available to them.
In our day we continue to be challenged by the legalization and pseudo-legitimization of prostitution as “sex work,” the intensity of sex trafficking, the dangerous example and pressures of our sexualized culture upon women and girls of all ages, the apathy of the church, the lack of rehabilitation resources and the cooperation and encouragement of the abortion industry in encouraging promiscuity and working to convince women they have no power over their lives unless they surrender their bodies – first, to exploitation by men and second, by surrendering their bodies to the exploitation of abortionists.
In this season, as we remember the vulnerability of Mary, the young mother of the Savior of the world, and how she and her child were targeted and pursued by powerful men, think of Christina Rossetti as you sing her poem and consider how you, your family and your church might pour your lives and resources out for the women and girls targeted by the Enemy in their midst.
Listen to Susan Boyle sing this hymn here
1. 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.
2. Our God, heaven cannot hold Him Nor earth sustain, Heaven and earth shall flee away When He comes to reign: In the bleak mid-winter A stable-place sufficed The Lord God Almighty — Jesus Christ.
3. Enough for Him, whom Cherubim Worship night and day, A breastful of milk And a mangerful of hay; Enough for Him, whom Angels Fall down before, The ox and ass and camel Which adore.
4. Angels and Archangels May have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim Thronged the air; But only His Mother In her maiden bliss Worshipped the Beloved With a kiss.
5. 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.