Sunday, January 5, 2014

Twelfth Night, or King and Queen, by Robert Herrick

Now, now the mirth comes
With the cake full of plums,
Where bean's the king of the sport here;
Beside, we must know
The pea also
Must revel as queen in the court here.

Begin then to choose,
This night, as ye use,
Who shall for the present delight here;
Be a king by the lot,
And who shall not
Be Twelve-day queen for the night here!

Which known, let us make
Joy-sops with the cake;
And let not a man then be seen here,
Who unurged will not drink,
To the base from the brink,
A health to the king and the queen here!

Next crown the bowl full
With gentle lamb's wool*,
And sugar, nutmeg, and ginger,
With store of ale, too;
And this ye must do
To make the wassail a swinger.

Give then to the king
And queen, wassailing,
And though with ale ye be wet here,
Yet part ye from hence
As free from offence
As when ye innocent met here.

This evening is the time that Twelfth Night is celebrated these days, the eve of the celebrated but little understood "Twelfth Day of Christmas," or Epiphany, the day the Wise Men finally reached Bethlehem and found Jesus. The tradition in various countries and various times past was to have a big feast with a lot of drinking and eating, especially of a large cake baked with a single bean inside. Whoever found the bean would be declared the King of the celebration (and sometimes, as in this Herrick poem, a pea was included to find the Queen). Excess, pranks, and topsy-turvydom were observed at the time, with the low being exalted and the high debased (as in the Roman Saturnalia), and the King of the Bean was often a Lord of Misrule, presiding over it all. James Frazer in The Golden Bough claims it is connected with the choosing of the Sacrificial King.

*Lamb's Wool: sweet-spiced hot ale (or cider) and roasted apples.

No comments: