These four eight-line verses described as "Lincolnshire (?) Carol" in the heading to "A Burgher of the Free State", were also published in slightly amended form, entitled "A Carol", at the end of Rewards and Fairies (1910) following "The Tree of Justice", and in Songs from Books (1913); Also in the Inclusive Edition and Definitive Edition of Kipling's verse, and in the Sussex Edition in vol. xv p. 325, and vol. 34 p. 29 as "A Carol", and in vol. xxx p. 143 as a 'Heading'. See ORG pp. 5386-8.
Ann Weygandt notes that this poem is a direct echo of a mediaeval carol, "Joys Seven":
"Our Lord who did the Ox command" sings perfectly to "The first good joy that Mary had," and the repetition in the fourth and fifth lines, followed by "good sirs" exactly corresponds to the similar catching up of the fourth line, and concluding "good Lord," of his version of the original." Nor does he seem to have contented himself with borrowing from one source; the opening of stanza four comes from the "Wassail Song." This is the only instance in which we can assert with confidence that he is indebted to a specific carol for metre or words.We have set out the third stanza of "Joys Seven" below, so that readers can compare them with Kipling's text:
The next good joy that Mary had
Some critical comments
J M S Tompkins (pp. 83-84) discusses the linking of this poem to two very different tales; first she refers to "The Tree of Justice" in Rewards and Fairies
The dominant image of the tree of justice appears first as a reinforcement of the conception of Norman rule. Sir Richard finds the keeper's victims nailed to a beech, and says that in his time that sort of tree bore heavier fruit. The threat of the gallows hangs over the countryside during the King's sport. When Harold is exposed in the King's court, he too is nailed to the tree of justice, though he is not judged. Nails and the tree bring in, by more than a verbal association, the thought of crucifixion, and suggest the long crucifixion of Harold's sufferings. A tree appears again in the carol that closes the book. In the iron time of frost, sing the carollers:We hear the cry of a single treeThis `Carol' first appeared in 1900, together with a tale of the Boer War, "A Burgher of the Free State". We can go back five years more and find in `Leaves from a Winter Note-Book', afterwards gathered into From Tideway to Tideway, a note of how Kipling first heard this awesome sound, during winter in Vermont.
OUR Lord Who did the Ox command To kneel to Judah's King, This must refer to the birth of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem. In Christian interpretations of Jewish prophecy Jesus was to be the King of the Jews, 'Judah's King'.
There is an ancient Christian tradition that at the birth of Jesus an ox and an ass bowed down to him in the stable. This is not recorded in the New Testament accounts, but was clearly a belief among the early Christians.
The ox, the ass, and the infant Jesus are to be seen in one of the earliest depictions of the nativity on a Roman sarcophagus of the fourth century, and in later paintings of the Nativity.
The 'Pseudo-Matthew Gospel' of the eighth century recounts:
And on the third day after the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, Mary went out of the cave, and, entering a stable, placed the child in a manger, and an ox and an ass adored him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by the prophet Isaiah, 'The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master's crib.' Therefore, the animals, the ox and the ass, with him in their midst incessantly adored him. Then was fulfilled that which was said by Habakkuk the prophet, saying, 'Between two animals you are made manifest.'There is a very old tradition that if you go into the stables or barns at midnight on Christmas Eve, all the farm animals will be kneeling down in homage to the birth of Jesus. Kipling echoes this in his poem "Eddi's Servce" linked to "The Conversion of St Wilfrid" in Rewards and Fairies (1910). as does Thomas Hardy, in "The Oxen":
Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.As Wikipedia notes, considerable symbolism is attached to the ox and the ass. The ox traditionally represents patience, the nation of Israel, and Old Testament sacrificial worship, while the ass represents humility, readiness to serve, and the Gentiles. One can see some of these qualities in Allen, Kipling's master-printer in "A Burgher of the Free State", doing his duty amidst the fears and moral confusions of war.
When we poor fenners skate the ice The marshes of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire in Eastern England are called 'the fens'; they tend to be flooded in wet winters.
shiver on the wold wold is an old English word meaning 'open uncultivated country', heathland. [O.E.D.] Here it simply means 'out in the open'.
guard the fens from pyrat folk Before the Norman Conquest the Lincolnshire fens were vulnerable to raiding Saxon or Viking pirates from across the North Sea.
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