The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Shepherd's Song

A Carol or Hymn for Christmas

Words: Edmund Bolton (1575 - 1633), 1600
from England's Helicon

Source: Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pp. 107-8.

1. Sweet Music, sweeter far
    Than any song is sweet;
Sweet Music, heavenly rare,
    Mine ears (O peers!) doth greet.
You gentle flocks, whose fleeces, pearl'd with dew,
    Resemble heaven, whom golden drops make bright,
Listen, O listen! now, O not to you
    Our pipes make sport to shorten weary night.
But voices most divine,
    Make blissful harmony;
Voices that seem to shine,
    For what else clears the sky?
Tunes can we hear, but not the singers see;
    The tunes divine, and so the singers be.

2. Lo! how the firmament
    Within an azure fold
The flock of stars hath pent,
    That we might them behold.
Yet from their beams proceedeth not this light,
    Nor can their crystals such reflection give.
What, then, doth make the element so bright?
    The heavens are coming down upon earth to live.
But hearken to the song:
    "Glory to Glory's King!
And peace all men among!"
    These choristers do sing.
Angels they are, as also, shepherds, he
    Whom in our fear we do admire to see.

3. "Let not amazement blind
    Your souls," said he, "annoy;
To you and all mankind,
    My message bringeth joy.
For, lo! the world's great Shepherd now is born,
    A blessed babe, and infant full of power;
After long night uprisen is the morn,
    Renowning Bethlem in the Saviour.
Sprung is the perfect day,
    By prophets seen afar;
Sprung is the mirthful May,
    Which Winter cannot mar."
In David's city doth this sun appear,
    Clouded in flesh, yet, shepherds, sit we here?

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp. 116-7. Bullen also notes at page 262:

"This piece is subscribed “E. B.” in the original editions (1600 and 1614) of “England’s Helicon.” Other pieces in that delightful collection bear the name “Edmund Bolton” in full; so doubtless we are right in giving the present poem to Bolton. In the early editions the two last lines are printed thus:—

In Dauid’s Cittie dooth this Sunne appeare:
Clouded in flesh, yet Sheepheards sit we heere.”

"My punctuation seems preferable. Bolton is known as a poet only from his contributions to 'England’s Helicon.'"

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), pp. 91-93.

This Carol, or Hymn for Christmas, as it is termed in the original, was composed by Edmund Bolton : it is reprinted from England's Helicon, 1600.

Sylvester ends the last line of the third stanza with a period, not a question mark.

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