The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Give Way, Give Way, Ye Gates, And Win

The Wassaile

Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674), Hesperides, 1648

See: Wassailing! - Notes On The Songs And Traditions


Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833)

1. Give way, give way, ye gates, and win
An easie blessing to your bin1
And basket, by our entring in.

2. May both with manchet2 stand repleat,
Your larders, too, so hung with meat,
That thou a thousand, thousand eat.3

3. Yet ere twelve moones shall whirl about
Their silv'rie spheres, ther's none may doubt
But more's sent in then was serv'd out.

4. Next, may your dairies prosper so,
As that your pans no ebbe may know;
But if they do, the more to flow.

5.  Like to a solemne sober stream,
Bankt with all lilies, and the cream
Of sweetest cowslips filling them.

6. Then may your plants be prest with fruit,
Nor bee or hive4 you have be mute,
But sweetly sounding like a lute.

7. Next, may your duck and teeming hen
Both to the cocks-tread say, Amen;
And for their two eggs render ten.

8. Last, may your harrows, shares, and ploughes,
Your stacks, your stocks, your sweetest mowes,
All prosper by your virgin-vowes.

9. Alas! we blesse, but see none here
That brings us either ale or beere;
In a drie-house all things are neere.

10. Let's leave a longer time to wait,
Where rust and cobwebs bind the gate;
And all life here with needy fate;

11. Where chimneys do for ever weepe,
For want of warmth, and stomachs keepe
With noise the servants eyes from sleep.

12. It is in vain to sing, or stay
Our free feet here, but we'l away;
Yet to the lares this we'l say;

13. The time will come, when you'l be sad,
And reckon this for fortune bad,
T'ave lost the good ye might have had.

Footnotes from Husk:

1. Or: kin. Return

2. A small loaf of fine wheaten bread. The founder of the Hospital of St. Cross, near Winchester, directed that every stranger calling should receive a manchet of bread and a cup of ale; a custom which is, it is believed, still kept up. Return

3. Or: That thereof them and folk may eat. Return

4. Or: beehive. Return

Sandys' Note:

This [is] from Herrick's Poems, 2 vols. Edinb. 1823. Herrick was born in 1591, and the first edition of the "Hesperides" was published in 1648.

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

"Was-haile," and "Drink-heil" were the usual phrases of quaffing amongst the Anglo-Saxons, and were equivalent to the modern expressions "Good health," and "I drink to you." The custom of young women going about on New-year's Eve from house to house with a wassail bowl containing a composition of ale, nutmeg, sugar, toast, and roasted crab apples (sometimes called Lambs-wool) prevailed for ages. The bearers presented the bowl to the inmates of the houses where they called, sang some verses, and received in return a small gratuity.

Selden, in his Table-talk, has made this custom the subject of a curious comparison. "The Pope," he says, "in sending relicks to Princes, does as wenches do to their Wassels at New Year's tide -- they present you with a cup, and you must drink of a slabby stuff, but the meaning is, you must give them money, ten times more than its is worth." 

Prior to the suppression of the monasteries it was the custom for the wassail bowl to be placed on the Abbot's table and circulated amongst the community, under the title of Poculum Caritatis -- the Cup of Charity, or Love. This custom is still preserved amongst us, and the very name retained, in the Loving Cup of civic banquets, and the Grace Cup of the universities.

The Wassail song here presented is the production of Robert Herrick, "the jovial Herrick" as the late Douglas Jerrold aptly named him and appears to describe the visit of a set of Wassailers to the house of some person who refused them admission.

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

Herrick is the author of the following. As was stated in the introductory note to a Carol given in the first part of this little volume, Wassail is the ancient term for " your health," or "may you be in health." The custom of wishing prosperity to the owner of the house is yet common in many places. The " Waits " generally leave their benediction before going to another spot, and so do the poor little shivering carolists who wait at our door on the Holy morn, notwithstanding that the pious wish is contained in their usually concluding Carol, "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen." The Puritans delayed the friendly task until New Year's Day, a custom still followed in the villages of New England, whither it was carried by the Puritan Fathers.

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.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 277, with modernized spelling.

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp. 17173-5. Bullen notes: "Manchet was fine wheaten bread."

See also: Christmas Customs - Robert Herrick.

Print Page Return Home Page Close Window

If you would like to help support Hymns and Carols of Christmas, please click on the button below and make a donation.

Related Hymns and Carols