Merry Christmas from all of us - and here's a guest poem sent in by Mac Robb:
(Poem #1794) The Huron Carol
Twas in the moon of wintertime, When all the birds had fled, That mighty Gitchi Manitou Sent angel choirs instead; Before their light the stars grew dim, And wondering hunters heard the hymn: Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria. Within a lodge of broken bark The tender babe was found, A ragged robe of rabbit skin Enwrapped His beauty round; But as the hunter braves drew nigh, The angel song rang loud and high: Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria. The earliest moon of wintertime Is not so round and fair As was the ring of glory on The helpless Infant there. The chiefs from far before Him knelt With gifts of fox and beaver pelt. Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria. O children of the forest free, O sons of Manitou, The holy Child of earth and Heavn Is born today for you. Come kneel before the radiant Boy, Who brings you beauty, peace and joy. Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born, In excelsis gloria.
c.1643 (Old Huron); tr. Jesse Edgar Middleton, 1926 The approach of Christmas in hot Australia makes northern hemisphere natives acutely nostalgic for white Decembers (and not only northern hemisphere natives: a Tamil Christian friend of mines parents retired from Singapore to Canada instead of India precisely because they love chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose, and all that). So here is that belovèd chestnut, St. Jean de Brébeufs Huron Carol. The Huron Carol used to embarrass me mightily when I was 8 and 9 years old and we were obliged to sing it in school assemblies as Christmas drew nigh. The symbolism was so obvious, and so patronising; the reference to "Gitchi Manitou" so bogus -- and certainly in todays terms it is politically incorrect. But nobody seems to mind, and Ive mellowed. Brébeuf, a Jesuit missionary in New France, first stayed among the Huron at Georgian Bay (in modern Ontario) in 1628 and wrote the original "Jes8s ahatonhia" in 1643. Verse 1 is as follows: Estennialon de tson8e Jes8s ahatonhia Onnawatewa d' oki n'onwandaskwaentak Ennonchien skwatrihotat n'onwandilonrachatha Jes8s ahatonhia, Jes8s ahatonhia. The Old Huron language, more accurately the Wendat dialect, became extinct, though it can be reconstructed through 17th century French-Wendat dictionaries. The Jesuits orthography for Old Huron is essentially a representation of corresponding French vowel and consonant sounds with the "8", actually a "u" over an "o", representing the French "u" before a consonant. The Iroquois finally dispersed the Huron in 1650 and during the course of that dispersal massacred Brébeuf and his companions in 1649. (For a literary reconstruction of the episode, see E.J. Pratts 1940 epic poem "Brébeuf and His Brethren.") The Canadian Martyrs, as they came to be known, were in due course canonised by the Catholic Church (Feast Day September 26: curiously, in the USA it is observed as the Feast of the North American Martyrs [sic] on October 19) and there are numerous "Canadian Martyrs" parishes throughout Canada. The 1926 English version of the Huron Carol set out here -- actually more an interpretation than a translation -- is by Jesse Edgar Middleton (1872-1960), a Toronto journalist and church musician. Little needs to be said of the hymn itself in Middletons version; strictly speaking it is not a carol at all, having been written by an author -- two authors -- known to history, but that is perhaps a minor point of pedantry. Despite its slightly clichéd and inauthentic aboriginal Canadian terms it is considered something of a national treasure in Canada; it has been commemorated in postage stamps, paintings gift books and children's picture books. (I may seem to praise it with faint damns but I really am now very fond of it, doubtless mostly for reasons of sentiment.) It is of course simply the nativity story of St Lukes Gospel locally adapted. Gitchi Manitou is "the Great Spirit", or "the Mighty Lord of All the World" (cf the several Lake Manitous and Lake Manitoba as well as the province of of that name). Verse 3, concerning the magi-chieftains, does not work quite as well as the other verses since, although furs became an extremely valuable trade item for aboriginal hunters and trappers in New France and, later, Canada, they lack the scriptural significance of gold (for a king), incense (for a god) and myrrh (for mortality). Possibly for this reason the verse is often omitted when the hymn appears in English and American Christmas collections and hymnals. A literal English translation of Brébeufs hymn has been made by John Steckley Teondecheron; it is perhaps mostly of scholarly interest: Have courage, you who are humans; Jesus, he is born Behold, the spirit, who had us as prisoners, has fled Do not listen to it, as it corrupts the spirits of our minds Jesus, he is born They are spirits, sky people, coming with a message for us They are coming to say, "Be on top of life [Rejoice]" Marie, she has just given birth. Rejoice" Jesus, he is born Three have left for such, those who are elders Tichion, a star that has just appeared on the horizon leads them there He will seize the path, he who leads them there Jesus, he is born As they arrived there, where he was born, Jesus the star was at the point of stopping, not far past it Having found someone for them, he says, "Come here!" Jesus, he is born Behold, they have arrived there and have seen Jesus, They made a name [praised] many times, saying "Hurray, he is good in nature." They greased his scalp [greeted him with reverence], saying "Hurray." Jesus, he is born "We will give to him praise for his name, Let us show reverence for him as he comes to be compassionate to us. It is providential that you love us and wish, I should adopt them." Jesus, he is born Mac Robb Brisbane, Australia