"In the Bleak Midwinter" is a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti, commonly performed as a Christmas carol. The poem was published, under the title "A Christmas Carol", in the January 1872 issue of Scribner's Monthly,and was first collected in book form in Goblin Market, The Prince's Progress and Other Poems (Macmillan, 1875).
In 1906, the composer Gustav Holst composed a setting of Rossetti's words (titled "Cranham") in The English Hymnal which is sung throughout the world.An anthem setting by Harold Darke composed in 1909 is also widely performed by choirs, and was named the best Christmas carol in a poll of some of the world's leading choirmasters and choral experts in 2008.
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
Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
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.
In verse one, Rossetti describes the physical circumstances of the Incarnation in Bethlehem. In verse two, Rossetti contrasts Christ's first and second coming. The third verse dwells on Christ's birth and describes the simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by beasts of burden. 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. The final verse shifts the description to a more introspective thought process.
Hymnologist and theologian Ian Bradley has questioned the poem's theology: "Is it right to say that heaven cannot hold God, nor the earth sustain, and what about heaven and earth fleeing away when he comes to reign?"
The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times. Two of the most famous settings were composed by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke in the early 20th century.
Holst's setting, Cranham, is a hymn tune setting suitable for congregational singing, since the poem is irregular in metre and any setting of it requires a skilful and adaptable tune. The hymn is titled after Cranham, Gloucestershire and was written for the English Hymnal of 1906.
The Darke setting, was written in 1909 while he was a student at the Royal College of Music. Although melodically similar, it is more advanced; each verse is treated slightly differently, with solos for soprano and tenor (or a group of sopranos and tenors) and a delicate organ accompaniment.This version is favoured by cathedral choirs and is the one usually heard performed on the radio broadcasts of Nine Lessons and Carols by the King's College Choir. Darke served as conductor of the choir during World War II. Darke omits verse four of Rossetti's original, and bowdlerizes Rossetti's "a breastful of milk" to "a heart full of mirth", although later editions reversed this change. Darke also repeats the last line of the final verse. Darke would complain, however, that the popularity of this tune prevented people from performing his other compositions, and rarely performed it outside of Christmas services.
The Darke setting was used in Jacob Collier's rearrangement of the song,which was released on YouTube on 14 December 2016. The rearrangement by Collier features contemporary compositional techniques such as microtonality.
Benjamin Britten includes an elaborate five-part setting of the first verse for high voices (combined with the medieval Corpus Christi Carol ) in his work A Boy was Born .
Other settings include those by Robert C L Watson, Bruce Montgomery, Bob Chilcott, Michael John Trotta,Robert Walker, Eric Thiman, who wrote a setting for solo voice and piano, and Leonard Lehrman.
It is quoted throughout the Peaky Blinders TV series.It makes an appearance in The Crown season 1 premiere. Most of the main characters sing the first verse in the Christmas episode of the BBC TV series Ghosts .
Christina Georgina Rossetti was an English poet who wrote romantic, devotional and children's poems, including "Goblin Market" and "Remember". She also wrote the words of two Christmas carols well known in the UK: "In the Bleak Midwinter", later set by Gustav Holst and Harold Darke, and "Love Came Down at Christmas", also set by Darke and other composers. She was a sister of the artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti and features in several of his paintings.
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