In The Bleak Midwinter
Written By: Christina Rossetti
'In the Bleak Midwinter' is a Christmas carol with an extremely
interesting background on how the carol came in to being. The poem
came in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly
for a Christmas poem. The poem is by the English poet Christina
Rossetti which had been written previously before in 1872.The
publishing of the poem was done posthumously and put in Rossetti's
Poetic Works in 1904. The poem was later to become a Christmas
carol after its appearance in The English Hymnal in 1906.
The first verse describes the circumstances of the Incarnation
in Bethlehem. The second verse however talks of Christ's first and
second coming. The third verse goes on to describe the birth of
Christ and the surroundings which are a basic stable where the
birth is watched by the beasts of burden. The fourth verse is a
contrast, this is between Mary's ability to render Jesus physical
affection and the incorporeal angels attendant at Christ's birth,
however the fourth verse is omitted from Harold Darke's
The popularity and story of the poem has led to many taking an
interest in the poem and in turn the poem being set to music many
times. The most well recognised versions have come from Gustav
Holst and Harold Edwin Darke, both took place in the early 20th
century. Harold Edwin Darke's version however omits the fourth
verse from the original poem by Christina Rossetti.
Holst's version, with the setting tune of 'Cranham', is a hymn
tune which would be considered suitable for congregational singing.
Holst's setting was written for the English Hymnal of 1906.
Harold Edwin Darke's setting was written in 1909 while he was a
student at the Royal College of Music. Darke treats each verse
slightly differently, making use of solos for soprano and tenor as
well as an organ to accompany the tune. This version has found
favour from many cathedral choirs. Darke interestingly, decided to
serve as conductor of a choir during World War II.
There have been many settings over the course of the 20th
century, the most recognised and popular settings have come from
composers of differing genres. Notable composers have been; Thomas
B. Strong, Bruce Montgomery, Bob Chilcott, Eric Thiman and Leonard
In The Bleak Midwinter Lyrics
In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, long ago.
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
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.