The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Cherry-Tree Carol

Joseph Was An Old Man

Words and Music: Unknown
See: The Cherry Tree Carol - Notes

Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

1. Joseph was an old man,
And an old man was he,
And he married Mary
The Queen of Galilee.

2. When Joseph was married
And Mary home had brought,
Mary proved with child
And Joseph knew it not.

3. Joseph and Mary walked
Through a garden gay,
Where the cherries they grew
Upon every tree.

4. O then bespoke Mary,
With words both meek and mild,
“O gather me cherries, Joseph,
They run so in my mind.”

5. And then replied Joseph
With his words so unkind,
“Let him gather thee cherries
That got thee with child.”

6. O then bespoke our Saviour,
And in His mother's womb,
“Bow down, good cherry-tree,
To my mother's hand.”

7. The uppermost sprig
Bowed down to Mary's knee,
“Thus you may see, Joseph,
These cherries are for me.”

8. “O eat your cherries, Mary,
O eat your cherries now,
O eat your cherries, Mary,
That grow upon the bough.”

9. As Joseph was a walking
He heard an Angel sing: --
“This night shall be born
Our Heavenly King;

10. “He neither shall be born
In housen, nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox's stall;

11. “He neither shall be clothed
In purple nor in pall,
But all in fair linen,
As were babies all;

12. “He neither shall be rocked
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle,
That rocks on the mould;

13. “He neither shall be christened
In white wine nor red,
But with fair spring water
With which we were christened.”

14. Then Mary took her young Son
And set him on her knee: --
“I pray thee now, dear child,
Tell how this world shall be?”

15. “O, I shall be as dead, Mother,
As the stones in the wall;
O, the stones in the street, Mother,
Shall mourn for me all.

16. “And upon a Wednesday
My vow I will make,
And upon Good Friday
My death I will take;

17. “Upon Easter-day, Mother,
My rising shall be;
O, the sun and the moon,
Shall uprise with me.”

18. The people shall rejoice,
And the birds they shall sing
To see the uprising
Of the Heavenly King.

Sheet Music from William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Husk's Note:

This carol has long been a favourite with the people, and is met with on broadsides printed in all parts of England. The legend of the cherry-tree is very ancient. The fifteenth of the mysteries represented at Coventry on the feast of Corpus Christi in the fifteenth century, if not earlier, is entitled “The Birth of Christ,” and the opening scene represents Joseph and Mary on their way to Bethlehem. Mary, perceiving a cherry-tree, requests her husband to pluck her some of the fruit for which she has a longing. Joseph rudely refuses in much the same terms of the carol. Mary prays God to grant her the boon to have of the cherries, and the tree immediately bows down to her. Joseph, seeing this, repents of his jealousy and unkindness, and asks forgiveness.

There are many versions of this carol, some with omissions, others with additions, but that now given seemed the most preferable. The latter portion, commencing at the verse “As Joseph was a walking,” is sometimes given as a separate carol under the title of “Joseph and the Angel.” Joseph's advanced age is mentioned in many places in the Apocryphal New Testament; as in the Gospel of the birth of Mary, where he is called “a person very far advanced in years,” and in the Protevangelion, where he is represented as saying, “I am an old man.” Hone, who gives a version of this carol, says, “The admiration of my earliest days, for some lines in the Cherry carol still remains, nor can I help thinking that the reader will see somewhat of the cause for it.”

Editor's Note:

The Miracle of the Instantaneous Harvest is said to be a paraphrase from The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter 20:

And it came to pass on the third day of their journey, while they were walking, that the blessed Mary was fatigued by the excessive heat of the sun in the desert; and seeing a palm tree, she said to Joseph: Let me rest a little under the shade of this tree. Joseph therefore made haste, and led her to the palm, and made her come down from her beast. And as the blessed Mary was sitting there, she looked up to the foliage of the palm, and saw it full of fruit, and said to Joseph: I wish it were possible to get some of the fruit of this palm. And Joseph said to her: I wonder that thou sayest this, when thou seest how high the palm tree is; and that thou thinkest of eating of its fruit. I am thinking more of the want of water, because the skins are now empty, and we have none wherewith to refresh ourselves and our cattle. Then the child Jesus, with a joyful countenance, reposing in the bosom of His mother, said to the palm: O tree, bend thy branches, and refresh my mother with thy fruit. And immediately at these words the palm bent its top down to the very feet of the blessed Mary; and they gathered from it fruit, with which they were all refreshed. And after they had gathered all its fruit, it remained bent down, waiting the order to rise from Him who bad commanded it to stoop. Then Jesus said to it: Raise thyself, O palm tree, and be strong, and be the companion of my trees, which are in the paradise of my Father; and open from thy roots a vein of water which has been hid in the earth, and let the waters flow, so that we may be satisfied from thee. And it rose up immediately, and at its root there began to come forth a spring of water exceedingly clear and cool and sparkling. And when they saw the spring of water, they rejoiced with great joy, and were satisfied, themselves and all their cattle and their beasts. Wherefore they gave thanks to God.

Source: Benjamin Harris Cowper, Trans., "The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, or Of The Infancy of Mary and of Jesus," in The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents Relating to the History of Christ. 2nd Edition (London: Williams and Norgate, 1867), Part II, Chapter XX, p. 59.

This miracle is repeated in numerous other carols, including The Miraculous Harvest, King Pharaoh, The Carnal and the Crane, and The Carnal and the Crane - Herefordshire Version.

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