The Twelve Songs of Christmas – Day 4

December 28

Many religious traditions include stories of gods coming down from the heavens to interact with and learn from mankind. One of the very finest evocations of this tradition is in a Swedish poem by Hjalmar Gullberg (1898-1961) called “Förklädd gud” – translated, “The Disguised God.” In 1940 this stirring poem was set to music by Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), and although the composition is not explicitly a Christmas work, its themes and sentiments evoke the Christmas story, and it is often performed at this time of year.

“The God Disguised”
Translated into English by John Hearne

Not for the strong in the world but for the feeble. Not for the warlike, but for the humble who till the soil without a grumble
a god plays on a flute. It is a Grecian fable.

I. Recitation
2. Choir
Who plays upon a pipe as the dawn awakes the land? From heaven comes a message No one may understand. Who put the secret password into the hidden flute? Who plays for the earth, for the flesh and fruit? Who is that goodly shepherd who leads his flock through here so they may graze in peace, hearing tunes so crystal clear? Who wanders through the meadows in summer’s shining day and sleeps in the shadows on fragrant hay?

II. Recitation
Apollo stays in a Thessalonian steading. He wears no wreath around his golden hair; He’s sent to earth at high Olympia’s bidding, Doomed to forswear his state for one long year. So lives a god in a Thessalonian steading. Among the serving-folk he goes disguised And at the lowliest place he sets his bowl. His bed among the beasts is not despised. He has no stock of earthly goods, nor gold. A shepherd’s cloak conceals this “god disguised.”

III. Recitation
3. Baritone solo and Choir
Among the fire in autumn he gathers the shivering herd and tends them with skilful hands and a comforting word. His true home is a story, his soul a song and a verse. Yet he without complaint bears his burden on earth.

IV. Recitation
4. Choir
Well-being will follow the path of a god. A cloak may be covering
his golden hair, but flowers will mark where he trod. He plays for the creatures that follow his voice, for sun and for shower in new-ploughed earth, where death is no longer a force.

V. Recitation
So let us praise this husbandman, Thessalonica’s shepherd-lord. When at cock-crow he rises up, he walks a sacred road. He then who dwelt among the beasts and shared their humble fares, is brother to the sun and moon, and comrade of the stars.

VI. Recitation
5. Soprano solo and Choir
What shimmers in the forest with silver glance while pipers’ wedding-tunes make the animals dance? What means it for the land that he leaves behind, he that’s only on loan to be with man-kind? Will he recall the prison of field and shore, a world that now is vanished, that sings no more? Will he renew the music of virgin choirs, the life of holy rapture that never tires?

VII. Recitation
So gods are wandering yet upon the earth. One of them sits, perhaps, beside your hearth. Think not that any god can ever die, He walks beside you, but you shield your eye. He bears no spear, nor wears a purple gown. But by his deeds a god might be made known. It is a rule unbroken, be advised: when gods are on the earth, they go disguised!

VIII and IX. Recitation
6. Baritone solo, Soprano solo and Choir
Think you that sheep would ever graze in the glowing morn,
or grass-clad hills would flourish, if never gods came down? Think you that spring would ever grace with a flowering crown the graves of all who perish, if never gods came down?

When with a beck’ning glance we are welcomed to love’s feast and answer, cold and careless, the very least; when comes a heav’n-sent healing for souls in deep distress, and when, free from all reck’ning, a hand will bless: then comes a light to spread such joy to a soul surprised – that seated by our side was A GOD DISGUISED.