The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Moon Shines Bright

Version 3
A May-Day Song
Hertfordshire

Lucy E. Broadwood and J. A. Fuller Maitland, English Country Songs. London: The Leadenhall Press, 1893.

1. The moon shines bright, the stars give a light,
    A little before 'tis day.1
Our heavenly Father he callèd to us
    And bid us to wake and pray.

2. Awake, awake, oh pretty, pretty maid,
    Out of your drowsy dream,
And step into your dairy below
    And fetch me a bowl of cream:

3. If not a bowl of your sweet cream
    A mug of your brown beer,
For the Lord knows where we shall meet again
    To be maying another year.

4. So dear, so dear Christ lovèd us
    And for our sins was slain,
He bids us to leave off our wicked, wicked ways.
    And turn to the Lord again.

5. Turn to the Lord and our sweet God.
    O turn to him with praise,
For when we are dead and in our graves
    We are nothing but dust and clay.

6. I have been rambling all this night
    And best part of this day.
And now have returnèd back again,
    And have brought you a branch of may.

7. A branch of may have I brought you
    And at your door it stands,
It is but a sprout, but well budded out
    By the work of our Lord's hand.

8. My song is done and I must be gone,
    No longer can I stay,
So it's good bless you all, both great and small
    And send you a joyful May.

1. In some versions, "In a little while it will be day;" Return

Sheet Music

Note from Broadwood and Fuller Maitland:

The above tune was sung, to similar words, by Mrs. Marshall, King's Langley. The words here given were sung by Thomas Gray, at Weston, near Hitchin, but to another tune (see page 2 of the sheet music, above).

Compare the "Hitchin May-day song," given in Hone's Every Day Book, i. 567, and Chambers' Book of Days. Also Chappell, Popular Music, p. 753 [See below], and Baring Gould's Songs of the West, Bells's Song's of the Peasantry, Chappell's Christmas Carols, Sussex Songs, etc. A Northamptonshire version is sung to part of the tune "Brighton Camp," known as "The girl I left behind me;" and in Northamptonshire Notes and Queries for July 1886 and April 1887, there is a tune given to these words, which does not however seem to be genuinely old. A version repeated at Letchworth Rectory in 1883, is given in the Folk-Lore Journal, iii. 185, and the words of a version sung at Tilsworth, Bedfordshire, are given in the Bedfordshire Times and Independent for June 4, 1881. An incomplete Essex version will be found on p. 98. [May-Day Carol]

William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time. London: Chappell & Co., 1859.

The May-day, or Mayers’ Song, which is printed by Hone, in his Every Day Book (i. 569), “as sung at Hitchin, in Hertfordshire,” is also to this tune [See: May Day At Hitchin]. It is semi-religious medley,—a puritanical May-song (“of great antiquity,” says Hone), and begins thus :—

“Remember us poor Mayers all,
    And thus we do begin,
To lead our lives in righteousness,
    Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all the night,
    And almost all the day,
And now, returned back again,
    We have brought you a branch of May.”

The carol is sometimes sung in a major key, and sometimes in a minor; besides which difference, scarcely any two copies agree in the second part.

See generally Christmas Carols - William Chappell.

Editor's Note:

See the note from Bullen under The Moon Shines Bright which also reproduces the Hitchin May-day song. This is a Christmas version of this carol. See also Notes On The Carol.

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