What Can I Give Him? Give Him My Heart

Peiter Bruegel, The Numbering at Bethlehem

Pieter Bruegel, The Numbering at Bethlehem

Spiritual Sunday

Snow currently blankets southern Maryland as we enter the final days leading up to Christmas, making this the perfect time to print Christina Rossetti’s gorgeous poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” I love how it begins with hard and cold images and concludes with a simple gift of the heart. Although God is worshipped by angels and archangels and is too powerful for earth to sustain, the Christmas miracle is that the divine makes its appearance in humble human settings.

Rossetti’s quiet images and simple diction remind me a lot of those of Julian of Norwich, which I write about here. I also love Bruegel’s painting of Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Something momentous may be about to happen but one wouldn’t know it from appearances: the couple are lost in the crowd. (Hint: Mary is riding a donkey.)

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.

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  1. Barbara
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    I was thinking about this poem yesterday. The last stanza was the first Christmas poem I learned “by heart” aside from Clement Moore’s opus which I could recite as a toddler (and knew by page/picture so no parental “condensing” was possible when it was read to me). As I recall, it was the last page of “The Big Golden Book of Christmas” or something that I had probably gotten for being good on an extended shopping trip with my younger brother.
    (And don’t you love it when we have almost a full week after the 4th Sunday of Advent?)

  2. Susan
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    This is one of my favorite songs with its haunting melody. And as I’m slowing down to read the lyrics again (and experiencing some of the bleak midwinter feeling) I’m encouraged that the simple gifts (a breastful of milk, a mother’s kiss, heartfelt love) are enough to bring love and light into our lives. We receive what is near us, we give what we can.
    Thanks, Robin, for the introduction to the painting as well. I love the normalcy of it. A good pairing with the poem.

  3. Kelsey
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

    I heard this poem for the first time in church today. What a pleasant coincidence.

  4. Sidney
    Posted December 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m so very touched by the heartfelt love brought forth in these verses. I’m currently trying to bring it to life with my voice and guitar. A challenge, since I have only found chords for the final stanza. I’m sure The Lord will help, if it is meant to be! Thank you Ms.Rossetti.

  5. Barbara
    Posted December 20, 2010 at 8:00 am | Permalink

One Trackback

  1. By Advent and Horror at the Void on November 30, 2014 at 1:00 am

    […] lyric has the powerful simplicity of Christina Rossetti, who also wrote Advent poems and who may have been the inspiration: […]


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