The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Jesu, Son Most Sweet and Dear

For Christmas

Words: Anonymous English

Music: Dr. Colin Brumby (b 18 June 1933)

Jesu, son most sweet and dear,
Mean the bed you lie on here,
     And that afflicts me sore,
For your cradle's like a bier,
Ox and ass are with you here,
     And I must weep therefore.

Jesu, sweet one, show no wrath.
I have not the poorest cloth
     To wrap you in its fold.
Not a rag in which to wrap,
Hold you safe upon my lap,
     And shield you from the cold.


With thanks to Katherine who took the time to write and share these lyrics with all of us. She added that these lyrics were copied from a concert program, and that the Louisville Chorus has a wonderful recording on YouTube at There are other YouTube recordings available, as well as recordings by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and others. Sheet music is also available.

Dr. Brumby's very popular 1977 composition is widely performed. Jackson Berkey’s arrangement is said to be "hauntingly beautiful." The sheet music is available individually and as part of a group of carols and hymns for which Dr. Brumby has created the music.

It has been written that Dr. Brumby found the text in an 1866 edition of Political, Religious and Love Poems (From the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lambeth ms. no. 306, and other sources) collected by Frederick J. Furnivall of The Early English Text Society.

Subsequently, I found a copy of this poem in Medieval English Verse (Penguin, 1973). It differs in the last few lines:

Not a rag in which to wrap
You safe or hold you on my lap;
So put your feet against my pap,
     And shield you from the cold.

Note that the length of this portion of the second verse, four lines instead of the three, disrupts the regular flow of the poem, which would explain why the change to the text above was made.

Finally, the original text was found in Furnivall's volume:

The Virgin's Song to Her Baby Christ
From the British Museum's Harleian Manuscript 7322, Fol. 135, back.

Iesu, swete sone dere!
On porful bed list žou here,
And žat me greusž sore;
For ži cradel is asa a bere,
Oxe and asse beth ži fere;
Weope ich mai žar-fore.

Iesu, swete, beo nož wrož
žou ich nabbe clout me clož
že on for to folde,
že on to folde ne to wrappe;
For ich nabbe clout ne lappe;
Bote ley žou ži fet to my pappe,
And wite že from the colde.

Note that the "ž" character is usually replaced by the letters "th."

Source: Frederick J. Furnivall, Political, Religious and Love Poems (London: Published for the Early English Text Society, 1866), pp. 226-227. Copies are available at both the Internet Archive and Google Books.

According to the British Museum, the Harley library was founded in October 1704, when Lord Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer (1661-1724), purchased more than 600 manuscripts from the collection of the antiquary Sir Simonds d’Ewes (d. 1650). Lord Harley and his son Edward continued to add to the library, which was eventually sold to the British Government for a fraction of its value under the Act of Parliament that also established the British Museum. The Harleian collection today comprises more than 7,000 manuscripts, 14,000 charters and 500 rolls.

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