thecork (thecork) wrote in asbyatt,

AS Byatt Christmas

For the 7th day of Christmas, here’s a brief paragraph from a longer Christmas excerpt from A.S. Byatt’s novel “A Whistling Woman”.  It’s about Christina Rossetti’s poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” (see below), and touches on poetry, faith, Christmas, love, grief and some other stuff.  I have a scanned version of the complete excerpt (pp 244-251) - happy to e-mail it to any who request.   To set the stage, here’s a brief cast of characters:

Bill  ... Mary’s grandfather, the strongly atheistic anti-religious father of Frederica, Stephanie and Marcus.  Highly educated man of letters and idealistic educator.

Daniel ... Mary’s father, Stephanie’s husband, an iconoclastic, non-traditional and unusual Anglican priest. 

Frederica ... Mary’s aunt, the central figure of this novel, and the other three novels that make up the “Frederica” quartet.  

Mary ... The young singer

Agatha ... Frederica’s friend and housemate

Saskia ... Agatha’s young daughter

                Best wishes for holiday blessings, … mn

From “A Whistling Woman”, by A.S. Byatt, 2002, Vintage International. 

They sang more carols.  The candles flickered more wildly as they burned down in their glass cylinders.  Finally, Mary stood up to sing "In The Bleak Midwinter," and as she did so, the choir took up their candles and extinguished them, so that the only light was the tall candles roung the creche at the crossing of the aisles.  She sang high and clear.  Frederica the unmusical heard the sound, and made sense of it because of the poet's words, could even see that the singing voice added a lightness, a soaring to those words.
It was a good poem.  It was an uncompromising description of elemental solids - snow, water, ice, iron, stone, with the adjective at work, bleak.  And, Frederica thought, the wind moaned, which is a human sound, and there was the woman with the boy child.  The earth moaning.  And then, infinity.

Mary's voice  grew sweeter as she negotiated her way through angels, maiden kiss, shepherd and lamb, to the human heart.  Her father saw her voice beat in the channel of her throat, in the movement of her lips, across the shimmer of her teeth, as she moved her lovely head with the rhythm, and the curtain of her thick red-gold hair swung in the light of her one remaining candle.  Beside him, Bill Potter coughed unhappily, phlegm rising and suppressed in his dried channels.  There was no life in Stephanie Potter, but life that had come from this cross old man had moved in her, had mixed with his own, which had come from his cross old mother and his unknown father, and there it was now, briefly alight in the shadows, singing of mik, and fleece, and snow.
Bill cleared his throat again.
"Like an angel," he said.
"Hmn?" said Daniel, thickly.
"She sings like an angel, our Mary."
"Aye," said Daniel. "She does."
"She doesn't get it from our side.  We're tone deaf."


In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

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.

                 Christina Rosetti, 1872

  • Post a new comment


    default userpic
  • 1 comment