Poetry, VOLUME 7

St. Stephen and King Herod [Poem]

St. Stephen Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, whose story is told in Acts 6:8-8:2

 
 
Here is a poem of uncertain medieval origin for the occasion.

(This version in modern English is from The Oxford Book of Ballads, Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed., 1910)
 
 
 
 

St. Stephen and King Herod.

I

SAINT STEPHEN was a clerk
In King Herod’s hall,
And servéd him of bread and cloth
As every king befall.

II

Stephen out of kitchen came
With boar’s head on hand,
He saw a star was fair and bright
Over Bethlehem stand.

III

He cast adown the boar’s head
And went into the hall:
‘I forsake thee, Herod,
And thy workés all.

IV

‘I forsake thee, King Herod,
And thy workés all,
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

V

‘What aileth thee, Stephen?
What is thee befall?
Lacketh thee either meat or drink
In King Herod’s hall?’—         

VI

‘Lacketh me neither meat ne drink
In King Herod’s hall;
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Is better than we all.’—

VII

‘What aileth thee, Stephen?
Art wode or ’ginnest to brede?
Lacketh thee either gold or fee,
Or any rich weed?’—

VIII

‘Lacketh me neither gold ne fee
Ne none rich weed;           
There is a child in Bethlehem born
Shall helpen us at our need.’—

IX

‘That is all so sooth, Stephen,
All so sooth, I-wys,
As this capon crowé shall
That li’th here in my dish.’

X

That word was not so soon said,
That word in that hall,
The capon crew Christus natus est
Among the lordés all.

XI

‘Risit up, my tormentors,
By two and all by one,
And leadit Stephen out of this town,
And stonit him with stone.’

XII

Tooken they Stephen
And stoned him in the way;
And therefore is his even
On Christe’s own day.

——-

Gloss:
leve -> dear.  wreke -> avenged.  wode -> mad.
brede -> become (mad).  weed-> clothing.  capon -> male chicken for eating

 

Image Credit: St. Stephen by Luis de Morales  via Wikimedia Commons.

 



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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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