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How all the Welkin rings

January 1, 2017

My favorite Christmas carol has long been “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Its was written by Charles Wesley, but the first two verses, especially, have been heavily modified. (Songs, unlike poems that sit inert on the page, tend to be transformed in the mouths of their cantors.) I almost wish the first line had been retained, if only for the wonderfully English word “welkin” (which means sky, celestial sphere, etc):

HARK how all the Welkin rings
“Glory to the Kings of Kings,
“Peace on Earth, and Mercy mild,
“GOD and Sinners reconcil’d!

Joyful all ye Nations rise,
Join the Triumph of the Skies,
Universal Nature say
“CHRIST the LORD is born to Day!

I also like the emphasis on the welkin, rather than its angels. It reminds me of Giotto’s Adoration of the Shepherds—though this is something of an historical accident; much like the sky itself compared to the earth, the blue paint has retained its riches where the other colors have succumbed to the ravages of time.

Adoration of the Shepherds by Giotto in the Cappella degli Scrovegni

Adoration of the Shepherds by Giotto in the Cappella degli Scrovegni

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