The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Be Still, My Blessed Babe

A Lullaby Carol

Words: English Traditional

Original Publication: William Byrd, Psalmes, sonets, & songs of sadnes and pietie made into musicke of fiue parts (London: Thomas East, the assigne of VV. Byrd, 1588), No. 32, "Lulla, Lullaby."

Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Compare: Be Still, My Blessed Babe (From Sandys, 1833)
My Sweet Little Baby (Rickert)

Lulla, la lulla, lulla lullaby,
My sweet little baby, what meanest thou to cry?

1. Be still, my blessed babe, though cause thou hast to mourn,
Whose blood most innocent to shed the cruel king hath sworn:
And lo, alas, behold what slaughter he doth make,
Shedding the blood of infants all, sweet Saviour, for Thy sake,
A King is born, they say, which King this king would kill;
And wo, and woful heavy day, when wretches have their will.

Lulla, la lulla, lulla lullaby,
My sweet little baby, what meanest thou to cry?

2. Three kings this King of kings to see, are come from far,
To each unknown, with offerings great, by guiding of a star!
And shepherds heard the song, which Angels bright did sin,
Giving all glory unto God, for coming of this King,
Which must be made away, King Herod would Him kill;
And wo, and woful heavy day, when wretches have their will.

Lulla, la lulla, lulla lullaby,
My sweet little baby, what meanest thou to cry?

3. Lo, my little babe, be still, lament no more,
From fury shall thou step aside, help have we still in store;
We heavenly warning have, some other soil to seek,
From death must fly the Lord of life, as Lamb both mild and meek:
Thus must my babe obey the king that would him kill,
And wo, and woful heavy day, when wretches have their will.

Lulla, la lulla, lulla lullaby,
My sweet little baby, what meanest thou to cry?

4. But thou shalt live and reign, as Sybils have foresaid,
As all the Prophets prophesy, whose mother, yet a maid,
And perfect Virgin pure, with her breasts shall up-breed
Both God and man that all hath made, the Son of heavenly seed;
Whom caitiffs none can 'tray, whom tyrants none can kill,
Oh joy, and joyful happy day, when wretches want their will.

Husk's Note:

This carol is taken from a scarce and curious musical work entitled "Psalmes, Sonets and songs of sadnes and pietie, made into Musicke of fiue parts: whereof, some of them going abroad among diuers, in vntrue coppies, are heere truely corrected, and th' other being Songs very rare and newly composed, are heere published, for the recreation of all such as delight in Musicke: By William Byrd on of the Gent: of the Queenes Maiesties Royall Chappell;" which was printed in London, at first without date, in the year 1587, and afterwards with the date of 1588. The work has a dedication to Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor of England, the favourite of Elizabeth, known as the "dancing Chancellor," --

"Full oft within the spacious walls,
     When he had fifty winters o'er him,
My grave Lord Keeper led the braules:
     The seal and maces dane'd before him." --

And on the back of the title are some reasons for learning to sing, so excellent and so quaintly expressed, that the reader will not regret their introduction here.

"Reasons briefly set downe by th' author, to perswade euery one to learne to sing.

First, it is a knowledge easely taught, and quickly learned, where there is a good Master, and an apt Scholler.

2. The exercise of singing is delightfull to Nature, and good to preserue the health of Man.

3. It doth strengthen all parts of the brest, and doth open the pipes.

4. It is a singular good remedie for a stutting and stamering in the speech.

5. It is the best means to procure a perfect pronounciation, and to make a good Orator.

6. It is the onely way to know where Nature hath bestowed the benefit of a good voyce; which guift is so rare, as there is not one among a thousand, that hath it; and in many, that excellent guift is lost because they want art to expresse Nature.

7. There is not any Musicke of Instruments whatsoeuer, comparable to that which is made of the voyces of Men, where the voyces are good, and the same well sorted and ordered.

8. The better the voyce is, the meeter it is to honour and serue God there-with; and the voyce of man is chiefly to bee imployed to that ende.

Omnis spiritus Laudes Dominum.
Since singing is so good a thing,
I wish all men would learne to sing."

The carol was reprinted by Sir Egerton Brydges in his Censura Literia, and has been thence copied into several collections of carols, but all these copies have defects occasioned by Sir Egerton having used the Tenor part only by Byrd's work. The present copy is given from a complete set of the original part books (the undated edition) now in the library of the Sacred Harmonic Society.

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861)

This carol is taken from "Tenor Psalmes, Sonets, and Songs of Sadnes and Pietie, made into Musick of Five Parts, &c. by William Byrd, one of the Gent. of of the Queenes Maiestie's Royall Chapell, &c. London, 1587," and printed therefrom in "Cens. Liter." Vol. x. pp. 187-8. Herod's cruel massacre is a common subject in children's carols.

Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvestre" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.

Scores are available at several on-line sources, including

Also available through the Early English Books initiative, phase II (EEBO-TCP Phase 2) <> (not yet open to the general public as of Jan. 2017).

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