The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

This Winter's Night, I Saw A Sight

For Christmas Eve, For Christmas

The Virgin and Child

Version 2

Words: English Traditional from Ms. Eng. Poet. e. 1.

Music: Unknown

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

This winter's night
I saw a sight,
A star as bright as day,
And ever among
A maiden sung,
Lullay, by by, lullay.

1. This lovely lady sang and sang and to her child she said:
"My son, my brother, my father dear, why lyest thou thus in hayd --
My sweet bird,
Though it betide
Thou be not king veray;1
But, nevertheless, I will not cease
To sing, by by, lullay.

2. The Child then spake; in his talking he to his mother said:
"It happeneth, mother, I am King, in crib though I be laid,
For angels bright
Did down alight,
Thou knowest it is no nay,
And of that sight
Thou mayst be light2
To sing, by by, lullay."

3. "Now, sweet son, since thou art King, why art thou laid in stall?
Why not thou ordain thy bedding in some great king's hall?
Me thinketh 'tis right
That king or knight
'Should be in good array
And then among
It were no wrong
To sing, by by, lullay."

4. "Mary, mother, I am thy child, though I be laid in stall,
Lords and dukes shall worship me, and so shall kings all;
Yet shall we see
That kings three
Shall come on the twelfth day;
For this behest
Give me thy breast
And sing, by by, lullay."

5. "Now tell me, sweet son, I thee pray, thou art my love and dear,
how should I keep thee to thy pay,3 and make thee glad of cheer;
For all thy will
I would fulfil
Thou knowest full well in fay,4
And for all this
I will thee kiss
And sing, by by, lullay."

6. "Now, sweet son, since it is so, all things are at thy will,
I pray thee grant to me a boon, if it be right and skill,5
That child or man
That will or can
Be merry upon my day;
To bliss them bring,
And I shall sing
Lullay, by by, lullay."


1. In truth. Return

2. Quick. Return

3. Satisfaction. Return

4. In truth. Return

5. Reasonable. Return

Sylvester's Note:

The present carol has been copied from a reprint of the ancient manuscript in the possession of Thomas Wright, Esq. Another version of it will be found in the "Reliquæ Antiquæ," printed from a MS. in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. It may be remarked that there is a gracefulness and tenderness in many of the touches, not often met with in poems of this early date.

Editor's Notes.


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.

Since Mr. Sylvester first mentions an unnamed manuscript in the possession of Mr. Wright, but then mentions "another version" that was reprinted in Reliquae Antiquae, it is fair to assume that the source was that from the 1847 Songs and Carols, which was Ms. Eng. Poet. e. 1.

Also found in Henry Vizetelly, Christmas With The Poets (London: David Bogue, 1851). His note and footnotes to this carol is identical to that of Sylvester.

Editor's Note:

There are numerous carols with a very similar title, and at least five manuscript sources for versions of these two songs, including, but not limited to:

1. Versions from Addit. Ms. 5465, British Library:

2. Versions from Ms. Eng. Poet. e. 1.:

3. Versions from the Advocates Library, Edinburgh:

4. A Version from the Ms. Royal Appx. 58:

5. A Version from the Balliol MS. 354, the Richard Hill Commonplace Book:

6. A Version from Ritson's Manuscript, Add. MS 5665

Because of the similarity of the texts from Add. MS 5465 (Fairfax Ms.) and Add. MS 5665 (Ritson's Ms.), it is impossible to determine the source of Edith Rickert's second version of this carol, This Endernight I Saw A Sight (Burden: "Ah, my dear Son," said Mary, "ah, my dear,), pp. 62-63.

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