Friday, December 10, 2010

Here I Come A-Caroling

In the Bleak Mid-Winter
by Christina Rossetti  (1830-1894)

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,


Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter,
Long ago.

Rossetti wrote this poem in 1872 in response to a request from Scribner's magazine for a Christmas poem. It was published after her death and set to music as a Christmas hymn by Gustav Holst in 1906. It has since been recorded by many artists, including James Taylor, Sarah MacLachlan and this year Annie Lennox, among many others. I love this first verse because it speaks so well to this time of year and our recent weather, but the rest of the poem is lovely too and includes verses about the birth of Christ. The last verse is especially poignant:

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.

This is not a carol we hear often, but it is a favorite of mine, along with one I call The Holly and the Ivy,  but is actually the Sans Day Carol, which is from Cornwall in the 19th century and was collected from the singing of a man named Thomas Beard. It is listed as hymn #35 in the Oxford Book of Carols. It's also called The Holly She Bears a Berry. Ralph Dunstan published a collection of Cornish carols in The Cornish Song Book in 1929 and included this song under the title The Holly and the Ivy. Confusing? You bet! But the song is lovely, whatever version or title you use:

Oh, the holly she bears a berry as white as the milk,
And Mary she bore Jesus all wrapped up in silk.
And Mary she bore Jesus our Savior for to be
And the first tree that's in the greenwood it was the holly.

The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.
and Mary she bore Jesus our Savior for to be

and the first tree that's in the greenwood it was the holly.

Oh , the holly she bears a berry as green as the grass,
And we trust in our savior who died on the cross.
And Mary she bore Jesus our Savior for to be
And the first tree that's in the greenwood it was the holly.

Oh, the holly she bears a berry as blood it is red,
And we trust in our savior who rose from the dead.
And Mary she bore Jesus our Savior for to be
And the first tree that's in the greenwood it was the holly.

Oh, the holly she bears a berry as black as the coal,
And Mary she bore Jesus who died for us all
And Mary she bore Jesus, our savior for to be
And the first tree in the green wood it was the holly.

The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.
And Mary she bore Jesus our Savior for to be
And the first tree that's in the greenwood it was the holly.
And the first tree in the green wood it was the holly.



Cecil Sharp, the renowned ballad collector, published a carol called The Holly and the Ivy which is a good bit different from this song. I combine some of those verses with those the Sans Day Carol (The name is from a reference to a Cornish saint named St. Day, or St. Day, who was worshipped in that area and where there is still a village named after him). I wanted to make it a little longer than The Holly She Bears a Berry as I first learned it from the CD by the Chieftains called Bells of Dublin (and my all-time favorite Christmas album) just because I love the melody and the refrain.

What are your favorite holiday or Christmas songs (recognizing that there are many other holidays also being celebrated at this time of year)? Are there some albums you listen to over and over and never get tired of? Ones that drive your family crazy, like I do with the Chieftains? 'Tis the season for singing, so please do share.

3 comments:

Farmchick said...

Funny you should say...but, I also love the Chieftans and my family really doesn't! I love the Peanuts Christmas music by Vince Guraldi. I loved listening to it as a child and now love it even more.

MimiRock said...

My favorite that dates back to when I was 8, and still love it is THE NUTCRACKER SUITE. When my children were young back in the '60's, we all loved a German Christmas album but played it so much that it got so scratched we can no longer enjoy it. However, I've found some of its songs on CHRISTMAS GOES BAROQUE performed by the CSSR State Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Peter Breiner. But the cd I play over and over again now is INDIGO CHRISTMAS, "a nostalgic, 'jazzy' collection of holiday favorites..." to quote its cover. Mimi

Granny Sue said...

That's funny, Farmchick--I love the Chieftains but can't stand the Chipmunks! Actually, most of the parody Christmas music leaves me cold. Maybe it's a leftover from my childhood when my parents completely disapproved of it. But the Chieftains--I own two copies of that CD, one for the car and one for the house. Now that's bad.

The Nutcracker is amazing, Mimi. And that reminded me of another absolute favorite, the Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah by Handel. I get chills every time I hear it.

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