Love, the Rose is on the way (photo by k.landerholm, from flickr creative commons)
The story behind Eleanor Farjeon’s text, People Look East is a writer’s dream: she was asked by the editors of the Oxford Book of Carols (1928) to write a carol. They used the text, set to a jaunty French folk tune, and then it became a classic. Not bad for a commission!
Then again, Farjeon had a good track record as a poet and musician. She’s also the author of “Morning has Broken.” Who knows how many not-so-great pieces she had to write in order to arrive at those two classics?
What she does brilliantly is give the sense of joy in the midst of awaiting. Love is a guest, a rose, a star, and a bird, all “on the way” even in the midst of signs of barrenness and winter.
Christ is several times compared to a rose in carols as a sign of unlikely beauty. The biblical reference is actually to a “crocus” mentioned in Isaiah 35:1, a blossom that springs up in the desert, a sign of God’s abundance poured out upon the earth. Presumably the Europeans, whose flora are a bit different from Palestine’s, preferred the more familiar term for a flower that symbolizes love.