The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

The Eve Of Christmas

Alfred, Lord Tennyson
In Memoriam A.H.H.

Source: "Christmas Carols - Old & New." London: G. G. Harrup & Co., ca. 1918, pp. 39-41.

The time draws near the birth of Christ:
    The moon is hid; the night is still,
    The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
    From far and near, on mead and moor,
    Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
    That now dilate, and now decrease,
    Peace and good will, good will and peace,
Peace and good will, to all mankind.


A fuller excerpt located on the world wide web:


The time draws near the birth of Christ:
    The moon is hid; the night is still;
    The Christmas bells from hill to hill
Answer each other in the mist.

Four voices of four hamlets round,
    From far and near, on mead and moor,
    Swell out and fail, as if a door
Were shut between me and the sound:

Each voice four changes on the wind,
    That now dilate, and now decrease,
    Peace and goodwill, goodwill and peace,
Peace and goodwill, to all mankind.

This year I slept and woke with pain,
    I almost wish’d no more to wake,
    And that my hold on life would break
Before I heard those bells again:

But they my troubled spirit rule,
    For they controll’d me when a boy;
    They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.


With such compelling cause to grieve
    As daily vexes household peace,
    And chains regret to his decease,
How dare we keep our Christmas-eve;

Which brings no more a welcome guest
    To enrich the threshold of the night
    With shower’d largess of delight
In dance and song and game and jest?

Yet go, and while the holly boughs
    Entwine the cold baptismal font,
    Make one wreath more for Use and Wont,
That guard the portals of the house;

Old sisters of a day gone by,
    Gray nurses, loving nothing new;
    Why should they miss their yearly due
Before their time? They too will die.


With trembling fingers did we weave
    The holly round the Christmas hearth;
    A rainy cloud possess’d the earth,
And sadly fell our Christmas-eve.

At our old pastimes in the hall
    We gambol’d, making vain pretence
    Of gladness, with an awful sense
Of one mute Shadow watching all.

We paused: the winds were in the beech:
    We heard them sweep the winter land;
    And in a circle hand-in-hand
Sat silent, looking each at each.

Then echo-like our voices rang;
    We sung, tho’ every eye was dim,
    A merry song we sang with him
Last year: impetuously we sang:

We ceased: a gentler feeling crept
    Upon us: surely rest is meet:
    ‘They rest,’ we said, ‘their sleep is sweet,’
And silence follow’d, and we wept.

Our voices took a higher range;
    Once more we sang: ‘They do not die
    Nor lose their mortal sympathy,
Nor change to us, although they change;

‘Rapt from the fickle and the frail
    With gather’d power, yet the same,
    Pierces the keen seraphic flame
From orb to orb, from veil to veil.’

Rise, happy morn, rise, holy morn,
    Draw forth the cheerful day from night:
    O Father, touch the east, and light
The light that shone when Hope was born.


Like Alfred Burt before her, from 1976 to 2001, the late cellist and composer Lesley Hopwood Meyer of Rose Valley, PA, created a series of 26 Christmas cards based on Christmas carols, the texts for many drawn from Edith Rickert's 1910 collection Ancient English Christmas Carols (London: Chatto & Windus) – a volume that she borrowed in her annual pilgrimage to the Free Library of Philadelphia. Many of those carols were performed for friends who attended the annual Christmas parties hosted by Lesley and her husband, Richard.

Verses were drawn verbatim from poems by Jonson, Herrick, Tennyson and others, including traditional sources from as early as 1360; but by the fourth year in the series, Mrs. Meyer's songs had also become slyly autobiographical, as she began to use the centuries-old texts to record the varying fortunes of her own life. She gave double meaning to the words of Robert Herrick: "..where is the babe but lately sprung" from "The Star Song" (1981) on the arrival of her first child. After losing her daughter at 16 months, she selected a 15th Century verse to announce the arrival of her second child, a son: "Now All is Well That Ever Was Woe" (1983). Later on, the tune for "A, A, A, A, Nunc Gaudet Maria" was written during her son's early childhood as variations on "Mary Had A Little Lamb.

In 2007, a private CD was issued containing all 26 of Lesley's carols recorded by St. Luke's Chamber Singers, Jonathan Bowen, Organist and Choirmaster, at The Church of St. Luke and the Epiphany, Philadelphia. The songs were recorded during several sessions from between Nov. 14, 2001 and Nov. 15. 2007. The liner notes included this comment about the words:

Lesley was drawn into this project because the 13th Century sentiment “Kick and beat the grumblers out” appealed to her. Whether “The prunes so lovely” (15th C), “Squadrons of spirits” (16th C), or the autobiographical “A babe is born all of a may, in the salvation of us...”, there was always a bite of charmed language that set the music in motion. In some cases, the preservation of these old texts in Lesley's settings may be their salvation.

In recent years, American composer Robert A. M. Ross had the opportunity to see those Christmas carol cards, and has begun to create arrangements for many of them, including Nunc Gaudet Maria (“Now Mary Rejoices,” first line is “Mary Is A Lady Bright”) and The Time Draws Near. Both of those arrangements were performed by the Lady Chapel Singers, and are included on their second CD, “Magdalene and the Other Mary, Songs of Holy Women.” That CD is available from Church Publishing and also from Also, Mr. Ross' arrangement to Nunc Gaudet Maria has been published by Oxford University Press.

Mr. Ross's arrangements of three of Lesley Hopwood Meyer's carols were first performed by the Philadelphia group “Voces Novae et Antiquae” during their January 2004 concert From Our Home to Yours. An additional three of Lesley's carols were performed during their 2006 concert A Twelfth Night Celebration: The Shaw-Parker Legacy.

Mr. Ross is the process of creating arrangements for several other of Lesley's Christmas carol cards, and all 13 of those arrangements will be premiered at a pair of concerts Dec. 6 & 13, 2009 in Rose Valley, PA. Some of the drawings from the cards will be used for the concert program – drawings which often support the personal references and double meanings of the texts. It is hoped that a professionally-recorded CD of those programs will become available.

Some of the Christmas card carols written by Leslie Hopwood Meyer and arranged by Robert A. M. Ross include:

The verses to Fezziwig’s Ball were adapted from the text of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Dickens begins that narrative with: “In came a fiddler with a music-book, and went up to the lofty desk, and made an orchestra of it, and tuned like fifty stomach-aches. In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile....”

Three other songs currently being arranged by Mr. Ross are Proface, Robert Herrick's The Star Song and Sun of Righteousness ("All this night shrill Chanticleer") from A Handfull of Celestiall Flowers, “manuscrib'd” by Ralph Crane, 1632. Mr. Ross reported that he is creating arrangements for two more songs (TBA).

Alice Meyer Wallace has created a web page dedicated to the music of Lesley Hopwood Meyer titled “Six Short Works for Piano and Strings.” This was a recording offered to colleagues and friends to commemorate an "Evening Dedicated to Lesley Hopwood Meyer" presented by the Orchestra Society of Philadelphia On September 17, 2004 at the Main Auditorium, Drexel University, Philadelphia.

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