Carnal and the Crane
Words and Music: English Traditional
Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)
Also found in William Sandys, Christmas-tide, Its History, Festivities and Carols, With Their Music (London: John Russell Smith, 1852). pp. 246-51.
1. As I pass'd by the river side,
And there as I did reign [run],
In argument I chanced to hear
A Carnal and a Crane.
2. The Carnal said unto the Crane,
If all the world should turn,
Before we had the Father,
But now we have the Son!
3. From whence does the Son come,
From where [or when] and from what place?
He said, In a manger,
Between an ox and ass.
4. I pray thee,1 said the Carnal,
Tell me before thou go,
Was not the mother of Jesus
Conceived by the Holy Ghost?
5. She was the purest virgin,
And the cleanest from sin;
She was the handmaid of our Lord
And Mother of our king.
6. Where is the golden cradle
That Christ was rocked in?
Where are the silken sheets
That Jesus was wrapt in?
7. A manger was the [or his] cradle
That Christ was rocked in:
The provender the asses left
So sweetly he slept on.
8. There was a star in the West land,2
So bright it did appear,
Into King Herod's chamber,
And where King Herod were.
9. The Wise Men soon espied it,
And told the King on high
A princely babe was born that night
No king could e'er destroy.
10. If this be true, King Herod said,
As thou tellest unto me,
This roasted cock that lies in the dish
Shall crow full fences three.
11. The cock soon freshly feathered was
By the work of God's own hand
And then three fences3 crowed he
In the dish where he did stand
12. Rise up, rise up, you [or
my] merry men all,
See that you ready be;
All children under two years old
Now slain they all shall be.
13. Then Jesus, ah! and Joseph,
And Mary, that was so pure,
They travell'd into Egypt,
As you shall find it sure.
14. And when they came to Egypt's land,
Amongst those fierce wild beasts,
Mary, she being weary,
Must needs sit down to rest.
15. Come sit thee down, says Jesus,
Come sit thee down by me,
And thou shalt see how these wild beasts
Do come and worship me.'
16. First, came the lovely lion,
Which Jesus's grace did spring,
And of the wild beasts in the field
The lion shall be king.
17. We'll choose our virtuous princes
Of birth and high degree,
In every sundry nation,
Where'er we come and see.
18. Then Jesus, ah! and Joseph,
And Mary, that was unknown,
They travelled by a husbandman,
Just while his seed was sown-
19. God speed thee, man! said Jesus,
Go fetch thy ox and wain,
And carry home thy corn again
Which thou this day hast sown.'
20. The husbandman fell on his knees,
Even upon [or before] his face:
Long time hast thou been looked for, [or talked of,]
But now thou art come at last.
21. And I myself do now believe
Thy name is Jesus called;
Redeemer of mankind thou art,
Though undeserving all.4
22. The truth, man, thou hast spoken,
Of it thou may'st be sure,
For I must lose my precious blood
For thee and thousands more.
23. If any one should come this way,
And enquire for me alone,
Tell them that Jesus passed by
As thou thy seed did [or had] sow.
24. After that there came King Herod,
With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
Whether Jesus passed by.
25. Why, the truth it must be spoke,
And the truth it must be known;
For Jesus passed by this way
When my seed was sown.
26. But now I have it reapen,
And some laid on my wain,
Ready to fetch and carry
Into my barn again.
27. Turn back, says the Captain,
Your labor and mine's in vain;5
It's full three quarters of a year
Since he his seed has sown.
28. So Herod was deceived,
By the work of God's own hand,
And [or No] further he proceeded
Into the Holy Land.
29. There's thousands of children young
Which for his sake did die;
Do not forbid those little ones,
And do not them deny.6
30. The truth now I have spoken,
And the truth now I have shown;
Even the Blessed-Virgin
She's now brought forth a son.
1. Or: Aye prithee (A Good Christmas Box, 1847). Return
2. Or: There was a star in the east, and (A Good Christmas Box, 1847). Return
3. Shouts. Return
4. Husk provides the following replacement for verse 21:
Long time hast Thou been looked for,
But now Thou art come at last;
And I myself do now believe,
Thy name is Jesus called.
A Good Christmas Box provides the following replacement for verse 21:
There's none can any longer doubt
But thou are the true Messias,
And I myself do now believe
Thy name is called Jesus. Return
5. Or: Our labor is in vain; (A Good Christmas Box, 1847) Return
6. A Good Christmas Box provides the following replacement for verse 29:
There's thousand children young
For whose sake Christ did die;
Do not forbid those little ones,
Nor do not them deny. Return
Also found in G. Walters, A Good Christmas Box (Dudley: G. Walters, 1847, Reprinted by Michael Raven, 2007), pp. 46-48.
This [is] taken from popular broad-side carols, [and contains] rather curious legends, of which may have already been observed in the old carol for St. Stephen [Saint Stephen Was An Holy Man].
Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861):
The same legend that is given in this carol is to be observed in the more ancient one to St. Stephen. Ritson has inserted the latter in his "Ancient Ballads" from an old MS. of the reign of Henry VI.
The Carnal is a bird; the word corrupted by the printer into reign is the obsolete word rein, formerly used in the sense of run. The composition has other marks of age independent of the legend. Hone terms it a Warwickshire carol.
Note that Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvester" is a pseudonym for a collaboration between William Sandys (1792-1874) and William Henry Husk (1814-1887). See Appendix 4.
William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity. London: John Camden Hotten, 1868:
Although no copies of this carol of an earlier date than the middle of the last century have been met with, there is sufficient internal evidence to prove that it is of considerable age. The Crane has long ceased to be a visitant to this country, although formerly it abounded here, and was highly prized as a table dainty on account of the savour and delicacy of its flesh. At the inthronization of George Nevell, Archbishop of York, in the reign of Edward IV, no fewer than 204 cranes were brought to the table. In the "Northumberland Household book," 1512, one of the regulations concerning the purveyance of provision runs thus: -- "It is thought that Cranys must be hadde at Crystynmas and other principal Feests for my Lordes own Mees so they be brought at xvid a pece." Legislative attempts were made in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI to preserve these birds by the imposition of a penalty of 20d. for every crane's egg taken and destroyed. The crane chiefly frequented the fenlands of Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, and it is probably to the drainage and inclosure of those lands that the present absence of the bird from England is to be attributed.
Thus much for the crane; -- but what of the Carnal? The word is not to be found in any dictionary of old or obsolete words which has been consulted; neither does it occur in any other composition than this carol. Hone, in noticing this carol, says merely, "The Carnal is a bird." It may possibly, having regard to the place and company in which is is found, be considered as a not too far-fetched conjecture, to suppose it to have been one of those river-birds, such as the heron or stork, which feed on flesh as well as name. The introduction of the legend of the cock, which also occurs in the earlier carol on St. Stephen's day, is strong confirmation of the carol, but it seems more probably that it had its origin in a more eastern part of the country. The oldest broadsides known were printed at Worcester.
The obsolete word "renne," or "rein," i.e., "to run," used in the second line, is corrupted by the broadside printers into "reign" and "range."
Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 91. Dr. Rickert identifies the carnal as a crow, and also notes that “rein” in the second line of the first verse means “run.” In the last line of the tenth verse (“Shall crow full fences three”), she identifies the word “fences” as meaning “rounds” and refers the reader, following the word “three,” to the carol Saint Stephen was a Clerk, which she reproduces at page 123 of the 1914 edition.
She notes at page 153:
“The Holy Well and the three following [The Bitter Withy (Three Jolly Jerdins), The Cherry-Tree Carol, and The Carnal And The Crane] belong to a mass of traditions such as appear in the Vita Christi (MS. 29,434, circa 1400, in the British Museum), of which seemingly only these few have survived, at least in carol form."
She also notes at page 154:
“There is evidence of long tradition in the corruption of the text of this carol. It falls into two distinct sections: a generalised account of the Nativity, and a detailed account of the Flight into Egypt. Notwithstanding the disproportion of parts, there is no special reason for holding that they ever existed separately. The device of a theological discussion between two birds is a sufficiently mediaeval introduction to a legend which was evidently popular in the fifteenth century, if we may judge from its frequent appearance as an illustration in Book of Hours of that period (cf. MSS. 17,280, 202b; 25, 694, 65 in the British Museum. Doubtless there are many others). The incident of the “lovely lion” appears in the Vita Christi, MS. 29,434.”
Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), p.49.
Compare: King Pharaoh