The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Also seen occasionally as "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear"
 Erik Routley, University Carol Book (Brighton: H. Freeman & Co., 1961)

Words: Edmund Hamilton Sears, in the Christian Register (Boston, Massachusetts: December 29, 1849), Vol. 28, #52, p. 206.

Afterwards published in Sermons and Songs, 1875, 5 stanzas of 8 lines.

Source: Edmund H. Sears, Sermons and Songs of the Christian Life (Boston: Noyes, Holmes, and Company, 1875), pp. 17-18.

Music: "Carol," Richard Storrs Willis, 1850
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

1. It came upon the midnight clear,
    That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
    To touch their harps of gold;
"Peace on the earth, good will to men
    From heaven’s all-gracious King" –
The world in solemn stillness lay
    To hear the angels sing.

2. Still through the cloven skies they come
    With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
    O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
    They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o'er its Babel-sounds
    The blessed angels sing.

3. But with the woes of sin and strife
    The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
    Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
    The love song which they bring; –
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
    And hear the angels sing!

4. And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
    Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
    With painful steps and slow,
Look now! for glad and golden hours
    Come swiftly on the wing; –
Oh, rest beside the weary road
    And hear the angels sing!

5. For lo! the days are hastening on
    By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever circling years
    Shall come the age of gold;
When Peace shall over all the earth,
    Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song,
    Which now the angels sing.

According to Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols (London: Penguin, 1999), this alternate fifth verse was written by Edward Bickersteth for his Hymnal Companion To The Book of Common Prayer (1870):

5. For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old
When with the ever circling years,
Shall come the time foretold
When the new heaven and earth shall own
The prince of peace their King
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Editor's Note: Some versions contain a mixture of these two versions of the fifth verse. Others omit it entirely. The greatest concern among writers appears to be the fourth line of the fifth verse above ("Shall come the age of gold"). Erik Routley in University Carol Book (1961), also re-worked the fifth verse, as did Elizabeth Poston, The Second Penguin Book of Christmas Carols (1970).

Again according to Bradley, an alternate fourth verse was composed for Church Hymns (1874):

4. O Prince of Peace, thou knowest well
This weary world below;
Thou seest how men climb the way
With painful steps and slow.
O still the jarring sounds of earth
That round the pathway ring,
And bid the toilers rest awhile,
To hear the angels sing.

Additional 5th verse from Rev. Edgar Pettman, ed., The Westminster Carol Book (London: Houghton & Co., 1899).

O Prince of Peace, on Whom we Cast
Our every cross and care,
Come enter Thou our longing hearts,
And make Thy dwelling there;
And may we 'mid our daily toil
To Thee our praises bring,
Until on high we learn the song
That now the angels sing.

Sheet Music by Richard S. Willis from Charles L. Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #607
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Melody only; for SATB, see above.

It_Came_Upon_The_607.gif (183839 bytes)

Sheet Music by J. R. Higinbotham from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #195
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

It_Came_Upon_The_195.gif (351766 bytes)

Sheet Music "Noel" arr. by Arthur Sullivan from Mary Palmer and John Farmer, eds., Church Sunday School Hymn-Book (London: Church of England Sunday-School Institute, 1892), #211.

Sheet Music by Mr. S. Smith from Rev. Richard R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1894), Carol #34
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Carol-034a.gif (240237 bytes) Carol-034b.gif (255804 bytes)

Note that this arrangement repeats the last two lines of the verse.

Sheet Music from Edgar Pettman, ed., Modern Christmas Carols (London: Weekes & Co., 1892), #20:

20-It_Came_Upon_The_Midnight_Clear.jpg (109012 bytes)

Note from Pettman: No. XX.—This beautiful composition (adapted by Mr. Barnby) may be sung as a quartette, at verses 2 and 4.

Sheet Music from Rev. Edgar Pettman, ed., The Westminster Carol Book (London: Houghton & Co., 1899), No. 12, p. 16.

Pettman_12-It_Came_Upon_The_Midnight_Clear.jpg (490082 bytes)

Sheet Music "Carol" by R. S. Willis from O. Hardwig, ed., The Wartburg Hymnal (Chicago: Wartburg Publishing House, 1918), #107

Sheet Music "Carol" by R. Storrs Willis, 1849, from Henry Sloane Coffin and Ambrose White Vernon, eds., Hymns of the Kingdom of God. New York: The A. S. Barnes Company, 1910, #45, p. 81.

"Noel", a traditional air ("Eardisley") rearranged by Sir Arthur Sullivan
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Public Domain Recordings:

See Also the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive: A Sullivan Christmas - Christmas Music by Sir Arthur Sullivan for Noel (with a MIDI file and a printable score) and the second setting for this carol by Sullivan, including both a MIDI file and a printable score (information kindly submitted by Paul Hawarth)

Also found in


These notes are being rewritten, and will be republished shortly.


May 25, 2012.

See: It Came Upon The Midnight Clear

Ron Clancy, author of the Christmas Classics series of Christmas carol books, has now created a number of "The Story Behind The Music" YouTube videos recounting the histories of numerous Christmas carols, including this carol.

The Stories Behind The Music Of
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear

For links to all of Clancy's carol videos, go to
Christmas Classics Videos

I do not have any financial or other relationship with Ron Clancy, The Christmas Classics, or YouTube.

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