The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Fitz-Ralph's Cherry Tree Carol

See: The Cherry Tree Carol - Notes

This is the entry from Notes and Queries, 4th Series, Volume X, p. 73 (July 27, 1872).

I may take this opportunity of making another personal statement. A Christmas carol, which appeared in The Guardian (Dec. 27, 1871), and which was afterwards quoted at some length in your columns, was compiled by me from several ancient sources, including the carol in Sandys "Joseph was an old Man." It will be understood by those who are acquainted with Mr. Sandys' volume, that the poem as he gives it is not exactly suited to a modern publication; and in taking liberties with it I had one or two other versions, and the representations on old tapestry and illuminations, and in sixteenth century etchings to guide me. I should certainly have avoided publicity for my efforts at adaptation if I had known how much controversy would come of them. I can now only make the amend of acknowledging their paternity; and I beg you to forgive what seems to be a merely personal explanation, and therefore of no importance to any one except
FITZ-RALPH.

Lest there be any confusion, here is the version Fitz-Ralph compiled for The Guardian, Tuesday, Dec. 27, 1871, page 25.

A curious old carol is the following. The story is well known, and occurs in the lore of all Christian countries. It is often depicted on tapestry and in illuminations. This version is modernised and in a sense spoilt, but is better adapted for our column than that of Sandys (Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern, 1833 [Joseph Was An Old Man]) or that of the Mystery Plays [in the Notes]. The lines, especially the last, are rude and quaint, but suggestive:

Joseph was a old man,
    And an old man was he,
When he married Mary
    In the land of Galilee.

Joseph and Mary walked
    In an orchard good
Where were berries and cherries
    As red as the blood.

Joseph and Mary sate
    In an arbour green
Where the berries and cherries
    Were as thick as might be seen.

O then bespoke Mary,
    Dear husband tell to me
How I may have the berries
    That grown on yonder tree.

Pluck me a berry, Joseph,
    Said Mary meek and myld.
Pluck me cherry, Joseph,
    And a berry, for the Child.

O then bespoke Joseph
    It is a work too wild;
How can I reach the berries,
    Or cherries for the Child?

O then bespoke Joseph,
    With words full of scorn,
Let Him reach thee cherries
    That is but newly born.

Then out and spake the Child
    Upon his mother's knee,
Bow down unto my Mother,
    Bow down thou cherry tree!

Then bowed down the tallest tree
    Unto its Lord command.
O spouse behold and see
    I have cheries to my hand.

O then spake Josephh
    I have done thee despite,
And to the Trinity
    That dwelest in the height.

To the King's Son of Bliss
    I prithee, Mary, pray,
That he of his mercy
    Would do my sin away.

Then Marry took her Babe
    And set him on her knee:
Tell me, my dear Son,
    What in the world will be.

O, I shall be as dead, Mother
    As the stones in the wall:
O, the stones in the street
    Shall mourn for me all.

On Easter Day in the morn
    My arising shall be:
And the Sun, and the Moon,
    Shall both rise with me.

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