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In The Bleak Midwinter


Gustav Holst


Christina Rossetti


In The Bleak Midwinter - Holst

Created 15-Sep-08 Revised 20-Apr-09

In The Bleak Midwinter

In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti was written before 1872, it was published posthumously in Rossetti's Poetic Works in 1904 and appeared in The English Hymnal in 1906.

Rossetti wrote these words in response to a request from the magazine Scribner's Monthly for a Christmas poem.

In verse one, Rossetti describes the physical characteristics of the Incarnation.

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.

In verse two, Rossetti contrasts Christ's first and second coming.

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 incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

The third verse dwells on Christ's birth and describes the simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by beasts of burden.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Rossetti achieves another contrast in the fourth verse, this time between the incorporeal angels attendant at Christ's birth with Mary's ability to render Jesus physical affection. This verse is omitted in the Harold Darke setting.

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.

The final verse may be the most well known and loved.

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.

The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times, the two most famous settings being composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Edwin Darke in the early 20th century. There is another setting less well known from the same era, by Thomas B. Strong. Eric Thiman wrote a setting for solo voice and piano. More recently Bob Chilcott, at one time a member of The King's Singers, wrote a choral setting entitled "Mid-winter". Another recent setting is that by a Canadian, Robert C L Watson. The Holst version has been recorded by a number of popular recording artists, including Bert Jansch, Julie Andrews in 1982, Allison Crowe in 2004, Moya Brennan in 2005 and Sarah McLachlan in 2006, as well as by many choirs including the Robert Shaw Chorale and the choir of St. John's College, Cambridge. The Darke version, with its beautiful and delicate organ accompaniment, has also gained popularity among choirs in recent years, after the King's College Choir included it on its radio broadcasts of the Nine Lessons and Carols. (Incidentally, Darke served as conductor of the choir during World War II.)

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Metasyntactic variable".

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In Dulci Jubilo - Bartholemew Gesius In this poor stable (Bethlehem) - Charles Gounod