The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Can I Not Sing But Hoy?

For Christmas

Words: English Traditional, Before 1536
Balliol College, Oxford. Ms. 354. XVI Cent.

Compare: Can I Not Sing But 'Hoy' (Chambers and Sidgwick)
The Shepherd Upon A Hill He Sat (Weston)
The Shepard Vpon A Hill He Satt  (Flügel)

Source: Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), pp. 99-102.

Can I not sing but hoy,
When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

1. The shepherd upon a hill he sat,
He had on him his tabard1 and his hat,
His tar-box, his pipe, and his flagat; 2
For name was jolly, jolly Wat;
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

2. The shepherd upon a hill was laid,
His dog to his girdle was tied;
He had not slept but a little braid,3
But "Gloria in excelsis" was to him said.
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

3. The shepherd on a hill he stood,
Round about him his sheep they yode;4
He put his hand under his good,
He saw a star as red as blood.
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

4. "Now farewell Mall and also Will,
For my love go ye all still
Unto5 I come again you till,5
And evermore, Will, ring well thy bell."
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

5. "Now must I go where Christ was born;
Farewell! I come again to-morn.
Dog, keep well my sheep from the corn,
And warn well Warrock when I blow my horn."
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

6. When Wat to Bethlehem come was,
He sweat; he had gone faster than a pace;
He found Jesus in a simple place,
Between an ox and an ass.
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

7. The shepherd said anon right:
"I will go see yon ferly6 sight,
Whereas the angel singeth on height,
And the star that shineth so bright."
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

8. "Jesu! I offer to Thee here my pipe,
My script, my tar-box, and my skirt;
Home to my fellows now will I skip,
And also look unto my sheep."
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

9. "Now, farewell, my own herdsman Wat!"
"Yea, for God, Lady, even so I hight;7
Lull well Jesu in thy lap,
And farewell, Joseph, with thy round cape!"
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.

10. "Now may I well both hope and sing,
For I have been at Christ's bearing;
Home to my fellows now will I fling;
Christ of heaven to His bliss us bring!"
For he was a good herd's boy,
        Ut hoy!
For in his pipe he made so much joy.
    Can I not sing but hoy,
        When the jolly shepherd made so much joy.


Notes from Rickert

1.  Short court. Return

2. Bottle. Return

3. Time. Return

4. Went. Return

5. Until . . . to, Return

6. Strange. Return

7. Am called.  Return

On page 154-155, Rickert writes:

"This most realistic picture of the sixteenth-century shepherd suggests the similar handling of the theme in the mystery plays. See especially the Secunda Pastorum [Towneley Plays], where the homely gifts are a bob of cherries, a bird, and a ball, and the Pageant of the Sherman and the Tailors, where a pipe, a hat, and mittens are offered. In the carol it is a pipe, script, tar-box, and skirt. Altogether, the poem reads very much like a short lyrical account of such a scene, and the phrase "Joseph with the round cape" suggests that the author had a mental image derived either from the stage or from some picture."

Note: The Towneley Plays are from the fifteenth century, and are also known as the Wakefield Cycle (due to the fact that Towneley is near Wakefield in Yorkshire). The complete cycle consisted of 32 mystery plays. Other contemporary cycles were conducted at York (48 plays), Chester (24 plays), and N-Town (42 plays). Source: "Quick Reference Guide to Medieval English Drama."

At one time, there had been some helpful files concerning Secunda Pastorum at the University of Dusseldorf. Unfortunately, those resources have disappeared, although there may be one item; see: www.alt.phil-fak.uni-duesseldorf.de/anglist1/HS0405_Drama_SecPast.pdf. This song is sung near the end of The Second Shepherds' Play (in the vicinity of line 1025 in some versions). See also: Hail, Comely and Clean.. Return

There are many resources available concerning The Second Shepherds' Play on the World Wide Web.

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