The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Moon Shines Bright

English Folk Carol, 16th - 18th Century

Version 1
See: Notes On The Carol

Tune: Traditional English

Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), page 159.

1. The moon shines bright and the stars give light
A little before the day
Our Lord, Our God, he called on us1
And bid us awake and pray!

2. Awake, Awake! good people all
Awake and you shall hear
The Lord our God, died on the cross
For us whom he loved so dear

3. O fair, O fair Jerusalem,
When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end,
Thy joy that I may see?

4. The fields were green as green could be,
When from His glorious seat,
Our Lord, our God, he watered us,2
With His heavenly dew so sweet.

5. And for the saving of our souls
Christ died upon the cross,
We ne'er shall do for Jesus Christ
As he has done for us.

6. The life of man is but a span,
And cut down in its flower,
We are here to-day, and to-morrow gone,
We are all dead in an hour.3

7. O pray teach your children, man4
The while that you are here;
It will be better for your souls,
When your corpse lies on the bier.

8. To-day you may be alive, dear man 
Worth many a thousand pound;
To-morrow may be dead, dear man,
And your body be laid under ground.5

9. With one turf at your head, O man,
And another at your feet;
Thy good deeds and thy bad, O man,
Will all together meet.

10. My song is done, I must be gone,
I can stay no longer here;
God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a happy new year!

Notes:

1. Or: "Our Mighty Lord He looked on us." Some versions repeat the last two lines. Return

2. Or: "Our blessed Father watered us," Return

3. Or: "The creatures of an hour." Return

4. Or: "Instruct and teach your children well," Return

5.  Or:

"To-day you may be alive, and well,
Worth many a thousand pound;
To-morrow dead and cold as clay, 
Your corpse laid underground." Return

Sheet Music from Bramley and Stainer

Waits_Song_24.gif (409449 bytes)

Sheet Music from Charles L. Hutchins, "Carols Old and Carols New" (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol 492
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Moon_Shines_Bright_492.gif (107503 bytes)

Sheet Music from Rev. Richard R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1894), Carol #109; Chope identifies the tune as being from Lancashire, and as being a carol for New Year's Eve or Day.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

Sheet Music from Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, First Series (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1913), Carol #30

Sheet Music from Ralph Dunstan, The Cornish Song Book (London: Reid Bros., Ltd., 1929), p. 44, under the title "The Old Waits Carol."

Sheet Music from Lucy E. Broadwood and John Broadwood, Sussex Songs (Popular Songs of Sussex). London: Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co., 1890. Arrangements by H. F. Birch Reynardson
Preface

Additional music resources:

Gordon Cox, "The Christmas Carolling Tradition of Green's Harbour, Trinity Bay, Newfoundland" (printed in the Canadian Journal for Traditional Music, 1975). Sequenced from the handwritten melody line recorded by Mr. Cox.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

"A Little Before 'Tis Day" from "Soundprint," produced and recorded by Chris Brooke, hosted by Lisa Simeone. This was my best shot at sequencing the tune; others with greater skill may be able to produce a more accurate accounting.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML

A musical score of this carol (and 25 others) are found in the book "Comfort and Joy - Christmas Songs of Newfoundland and Labrador," edited and arranged by Eric West. (http://www.vinlandmusic.ca/musicbooks/comfort_and_joy/comfort_joy.html; accessed February 4, 2007). MIDI sequences of the music can be heard on this page. The MIDI of this tune is different from the two immediately above, and appears to be new.

Versions of this carol on this site:

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

As in the case of some of the preceding, there are, doubtless, expressions in this simple effusion at which it is difficult to abstain from smiling. The perfect earnestness of these Carols, however, and the charm they have long held over the people, are sufficient apologies for inserting them here. Often they are the sole vehicles of ancient religious stories that have come down to us in this form when they have perished in the more dignified chronicles. On a broadside copy printed about 1750, I observe that it is entitled " A New Christmas Carol ; '' but I scarcely think it was composed later than the early part of the preceding century.

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.

Also found in William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity. London: John Camden Hotten, 1868:

This carol is much in use in the midland and western counties. A shorter version is found on sheets issued by the Seven Dials printers and likewise on west-country broadsides (on which the present version also appears), under the title of "The Bellman." In the Seven Dials copy the four line runs, "And hark! the bellman of the night." Both versions have much the appearance of being what were formally called "Bellman's Verses."

The functionary known in bygone times as the Bellman was a kind of night watchman, who, in addition to his staff and lantern, carried a bell, and at a certain period of the year was wont to arouse the slumbering inhabitants of the town to listen to some such effusion as that now printed. For this service (?) he looked for some gratuity at Christmas.

Herrick has a little poem called "The Bellman," which takes the form of these nocturnal addresses: --

"From noise of scare-fires rest ye free,
From murders Benedicite;
From all mischanges that may fright
Your pleasing slumbers in the night
Mercy secure ye all, and keep
The goblin from ye while ye sleep.
Past one o'clock, and almost two;
My masters all, Good day to you."

And we must not forget Milton's mention in his "Il Penseroso" of

    "The belman's drowsy charm
To bless the doors from nightly harm."

In a scarce and curious tract, first published in 1608, by Thomas Dekker, the dramatist and satirist, under the title of "The Belman of London, bringing to light the most notorious villanies that are now practised in the kingdome," there is a woodcut engraving representing a Bellman of the period going his rounds, who carries a staff, lantern, and bell, and is followed by his dog.

One of the verses of Shakespeare's song, "It was a lover and his lass" (sung by the two pages in "As you like it"), runs thus: --

"This Carroll they began that houre
  With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino;
How that a life was but a flower
  In the spring time," &c

which may possibly allude to the present carol, or to some other containing a passage similar to the sixth verse of this [e.g., The life of man is but a span...].

Several lines of this carol are incorporated into a Mayers' Song, sung in Hertfordshire, a copy of which is given in Hone's "Every-day Book," vol. i col. 567, and some lines are also found in another version of the same song, which continues in use in Huntingdownshire, a copy of which may be seen in "Notes and Queries," 3rd series, ix. 388.

Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw, eds., The Oxford Book of Carols. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1928.

In their note to "The Bellman's Song" (#46), the editors note that verse three is a variant of the first verse of "Jerusalem, my happy home" (#132 in OBC, a Passiontide carol), the 26 verses of which are in the English Hymnal and Songs of Praise. The balance of the hymn, however, does not share any other verses with this carol.

Edith Rickert, in the notes to her version, also observed that verses 3 through 6, inclusive, are sometimes found as a separate poem under the title "O Fair Jerusalem!"

O fair, O fair Jerusalem!
    When shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
    Thy joys when shall I see?

Thy fields were green as green could be,
    When from his glorious seat
The Lord our God he watered us
    With his heavenly dew so sweet.

And for the saving of our souls
    Christ died upon the cross:
We ne'er shall do for Jesus Christ
    As he hath done for us.

The life of man is but a span,—
    It is cut down in its flower;
We are here to-day, and to-morrow are gone;
    We are all dead in an hour.

From Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Early Christmas Carols (ca. 1850). Source: The Rossetti Archive, (http://www.rossettiarchive.org/docs/12-1851.fizms.rad.html; accessed February 4, 2007.)

A broadside containing "O Fair Jerusalem," printed by D. Wrighton at Birmingham between 1812 and 1830, can be seen at the Bodleian Library: Douce adds. 137(21) (Accessed February 4, 2007). It contains 12 verses, some of which correspond to this version.

Ian Bradley, The Penguin Book of Carols, prints the first six verses and the tenth verse. The  version is the same as Sandys, except for the third line of verse 6:

The life of man is but a span,
And cut down in its flower,
We are here to-day, and tomorrow are gone,
We are all dead in an hour.

Lyrics from Lucy E. Broadwood and John Broadwood, Sussex Songs (Popular Songs of Sussex). London: Stanley Lucas, Weber & Co., 1890.

1. The moon shines bright, and the stars give a light
In a little time it will be day;
The Lord our God, He calls upon us all
And bids us awake and pray.
    The Lord our God, He calls upon us all
    And bids us awake and pray.

2. Awake, awake, good people all!
Awake, and you shall hear
How Christ was born all upon this morn,
For the Lord loved us so dear.
    How Christ, etc.

3. So dear, so dear Christ loved us,
And for our sins was slain,
So pray leave off your wicked wickedness,
And turn to the Lord again.
    So pray, etc.

4. The fields so green, so wondrous green,
As green as any leaf;
The Lord our God, He watered them
With His heavenly dew so sweet.
    The Lord, etc.

5. The life of man, it is hut a span,
His beauty is like any flower;
To-day he is strong, and to-morrow he is gone,
For he fadeth in less than an hour.
    To-day, etc.

6. Repent, repent, good people all,
Repent, while yet you may,
For it is too late for to repent
When dead and turned to clay.
    For it is, etc.

7. Now my song it is done, and I must be tone,
No longer can I tarry here;—
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a happy new year.
    So God, etc.

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp.58-60. At pp. 254-5, he notes:

Robert Bell, in his “Songs of the Peasantry” (1857), gives a May-day song (which used to be sung at Hitchin), containing some of the stanzas found in this carol. Here is the song—

Remember us poor Mayers all!
And thus do we begin
To lead our lives in righteous ways,
Or else we die in sin.

We have been rambling all the night
And almost all the day;
And now returned hack again,
We have brought you a branch of May.

A branch of May we have brought you,
And at your door it stands;
It is but a sprout,
But it’s well budded out
By the work of our Lord’s hands.

The hodges and trees they are so green,
As green as any leek;
Our heavenly Father he watered them
With his heavenly dew so sweet

The heavenly gates are open wide,
Our paths are beaten plain
And if a man be not too far gone,
He may return again.

The life of man is but a span,
It flourishes like a flower;
We are here to-day and gone to-morrow,
And we are dead in an hour.

The moon shines bright and the stars give a light,
A little before it is day;
So God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a joyful May!”

William Chappell, The Ballad Literature and Popular Music of the Olden Time. London: Chappell & Co., 1859.

The May-day, or Mayers’ Song, which is printed by Hone, in his Every Day Book (i. 569), “as sung at Hitchin, in Hertfordshire,” is also to this tune [See: May Day At Hitchin]. It is semi-religious medley,—a puritanical May-song (“of great antiquity,” says Hone), and begins thus :—

“Remember us poor Mayers all,
    And thus we do begin,
To lead our lives in righteousness,
    Or else we die in sin.
We have been rambling all the night,
    And almost all the day,
And now, returned back again,
    We have brought you a branch of May.”

The carol is sometimes sung in a major key, and sometimes in a minor; besides which difference, scarcely any two copies agree in the second part.

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