Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

“St. Barbara’s Branch”, by Martin Greif


Yesterday’s Advent Calendar entry was a lovely, simple winter picture called Wintersonne“, “Winter Sun”. Today’s treat is a wonderful poem by Martin Greif (1839 – 1911). I admit, as an American Protestant, I had no idea what a St. Barbara’s Branch is. There’s not even an English Wikipedia entry, here are a few sections from the German article:

St. Barbara’s Branches are branches from fruit trees, which are cut, placed in a vase, and displayed in the home according to an old custom on December 4, which is the liturgical feast day of Saint Barbara…

The custom refers to lore of the saints, according to which she, together with her garment, were caught on a branch on the way to prison. She placed the broken twig in a vessel with water, and it bloomed on exactly the day she was killed as a martyr.

The poem is charming, and I hope this gives a sense of its meter and ABCB rhyme:

Saint Barbara’s day this year I took
Three twigs from a cherry tree.
I set them in a little bowl
And said a small prayer for all three.

The first, a man would choose me
And, second, be handsome and young,
The third, that he would also have
All silver and gold under the sun.

Before the mass on Christmas morn,
there were blooms on just two of the sprigs.
I know a meager journeyman,
I’ll take him as he is.