The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Babe Is Born, Our Blysse To Brynge

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional, Laud Ms. 683, Fol. 105b

Source: Letter to the Editor from Henry Noble MacCracken in Modern Language Notes, Volume XXIV, No. 7 (Baltimore: November, 1909), p. 225.

Here Begynneth A Cristemasse Song

Synge we with angelis. gloria in excelsia a

A babe is born, our blysse to brynge,1
A maide ther was dyd2 lully and synge ;
She saide : “dere sone, leve thy wepynge,
    Thy ffader ys the kyng of blys."
    Synge we, [with angelis, gloria in excelsis].

“ Lullay," she sange and saide3 also,
“ My nowne4 dere sone, why artow5 wo?
Haue I not do that6 I sholde do?
    Thy grevaunce, telle me what it is! ”
    Synge we, [etc.]

“ Nay, modir,7 for this8 wepe I nought,
But for the wo that shal be wrought
To me, er9 I mankynde haue bought :
    Was neuer no10 sorwe so lyk, I wys." 11
    Synge we, [etc.]

“ A, pore dere sone ! 12 telle me not soo,
Thow art my child, I haue no moo ;
Sholde I se men myn owne sone alo ?
    Allas l dere child,13 what menyth14 this?"
    Synge we, [etc.]

“ Yis, modir, myn handis,15 that ye here16 se,
They17 shal be nailled to18 a tre,
My ffeet also fastened19 schul be ;
    That man shal wepe that seeth20 this."
    Synge we, [etc.]

“ Allas, dere child ! 21 hard ye myn22 happe,
To se my sone that sook23 my pappe,
His handys, or24 feet, that I sholde lappe,25
    Be nailled so sore,26 that neuer dyd amys."
    Synge we [with angelis, gloria in excelsis].

Mr. MacCracken's footnotes to this carol:

Variants in Hill’s version:

Refrain a. Now synge (in every case). This points to the dropping of final -e as a song syllable, in Hill’s version. Return

1. to blys us brynge. Holthausen corrected to “ us blis to brynge"; but Dyboski defended Hill, and said brynge might be subjunctive. Return

2. I hard at mayd. Return

3. said & songe. Return

4. Myn own. Return

5. art žow. Return

6. as. Return

7. Nay dere moder. Return

8. že. Return

9. or. Return

10. om. Hill. Return

11. ywis. Return

12. Pesse dere sone. Return

13. my dere son! Return

14. menys. Return

15. My hondis, moder. Return

16. may. Return

17. om. Hill. Return

18. vnto. Return

19. all so fast. Return

20. Men shall wepe that shall se. Return

21. A, dere son! Return

22. my. Return

23. sokid. Return

24. his. Return

25. dide wrappe. Return

26. Be so naylid. Return

Henry Noble MacCracken

Editor's Note:

Mr. MacCracken prefaced the text of this carol with the following:

"An Unprinted Version of A Cristemasse Song."

To the Editors of Mod. Lang. Notes.

SIRS :—Among the beautiful carols of the Virgin and her Child, published by Dr. Dyboski from Richard Hill’s Commonplace-book,1 there is none more touching than the Gloria in Excelsis, as it might be called. The dialogue between the holy mother and her son, carried through eleven stanzas, depicts the heart-wrung Maiden, distraught at the grief of her Child, learning for the first time of the sorrows that are in store. At the same time there ring above this poignant sorrow the joyous notes of the angels singing in heaven. “The poem,” says Professor Padelford,2 “portrays the crushing grief of the Virgin with the näive fidelity and tenderness characteristic of medieval workmanship.”

It needs no excuse, therefore, if I call the attention of students of the period, and particularly of the editors of future carols, to a manuscript containing the first stanzas of this carol, in an unnoticed version decidedly better than that published by Dr. Dyboski. This MS., Laud 683, is probably not later than 1460, and it therefore antedates the Hill version by at least seventy years. Its version corrects that of the worthy song-loving freeman of Grocers Hall, to an extent that makes printing the whole text advisable. I therefore subjoin a literal transcript of the Laud copy, which is on the last folio, 105b, an odd page left vacant. The leaves which contained the rest of the song, and possibly other carols, are lost. As is customary in such texts the refrain is given as a heading, and not repeated in full thereafter.

MacCracken's Footnotes:

1. Early English Text Society, Extra Series, CI (1903). The poem is printed pp. 21—23. It has also been printed by Flügel in Festschrift für R. Hildebrand, 1894, and in Anglia, XXVI, 247 (1903). Prof. Holthausen corrected his [1894] text in Anglia, XVII, 444 [1895]. See below for link to text. Return

2. Cambridge History of English Literature, II, 382. He seems ignorant of this Laud text. [Ed. Article available at Bartleby's, http://www.bartleby.com/212/1604.html; the complete volume is available at Google Books, https://books.google.com/books?id=_vxZAAAAMAAJReturn

More complete references:

Mr. MacCracken noted "The leaves which contained the rest of the song, and possibly other carols, are lost." There are 6 stanzas in this manuscript, while other versions of this carol, from other manuscripts, contain as many as 11 stanzas.

Editor's Note

This is one of several carols found in multiple manuscripts, with various versions, including:

1. Oxford, Balliol College Ms. 354. Versions include:

2. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Laud misc. 683 (SC 798), f. 105v, with a first Line of "A babe is born our blysse to brynge." A copy was posted by Henry Noble MacCracken in Modern Language Notes, Vol. XXIV, No. 7. (Baltimore: November, 1909), p. 225:

3. National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, Porkington 10, ff. 201-202. According to Richard Greene (and also see DIMEV, http://www.dimev.net/record.php?recID=5), this version includes Stanzas 1, 3-8, and 11, alternating with stanzas of the Latin Hymn, "Christe qui lux es et dies," described as a hymn for Compline often sung during Lent 'A Clerk At Oxford' gives a background plus an English translation, http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2012/03/christe-qui-lux-es-et-dies.html. Greene gives a number of the differences from "A Babe is born to blis vs brynge." Richard Greene, The Early English Carols (Oxford, 1935), pp. 112-113.

4. Harvard University, Cambridge Mass., H.C.L. 25258.27.5, p. 8, with a first line: "There is a child born to our blessing shall bring." According to DIMEV (http://www.dimev.net/record.php?recID=5), it is the basis of the version found in William Sandys, ed. Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern. (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp. 122-3. The text differs in the first line, but other texts given at DIMEV are found in Sandys' text:

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