In the Bleak Midwinter

How cruel of me to choose a painting entitled, The Stormy Blast, on a day when the high temperature in the upper Midwest is forecast to be 5 degrees followed by days of subzero temperatures. As payback, our furnace went out this morning, but we are blessed to have alternative ways to heat the house. Cold weather is the reality where we live. January spoiled us a bit; February will even things out.

The artist is a Scottish Highlander named Joseph Farquharson who has captured the shepherd’s winter struggle well. Farquharson is most famous for these types of snowy landscapes and often featured sheep as a part of the scene. Can you hear the howl of the wind and feel the push of the cold against the shepherd as he braces himself against the stormy blast? Farquharson limited the color palette to shades of brown with hints of blue in the sky. And a lot of white. The scene makes me shiver.

This painting brought to my mind the song, In the Bleak Midwinter, a Christmas carol based on a poem entitled A Christmas Carol by English poet Christina Rossetti. The poem was first published in 1872 and the version we sing from our hymnals was set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906. It was a popular Christmas choice during WWI, especially among soldiers. The lyrics are as follows:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone,
Snow had fallen, snow on snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long, long ago.

Heaven could not hold him, nor earth sustain,

Heav’n and earth shall flee away, when he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed,
The Lord God almighty, Jesus Christ.

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 him my heart.

Being Human connection: With its simplicity and somberness, this carol is not like most other Christmas songs. It doesn’t shout from the rooftops about Christmas cheer; rather its humble message is that the simplest gift of all is to give our heart.

Featured art: Joseph Farquharson, The Stormy Blast, 1898