The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

I Sing The Birth Was Born Tonight

For Christmas Eve

Alternate Title: Ben Jonson's Carol

Version 1
Compare: I Sing the Birth Was Born Tonight - Version 2
I Sing The Birth Was Born To-Night (Sandys and Woodward)

Words: Ben Jonson (1573-1637), I Sing The Birth, Was Borne To Night, from Underwoods, circa 1600
Modern Spelling: I Sing The Birth Was Born To-Night

Music: George C. Martin
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

A Hymn On the Nativity Of My Saviour

1. I sing the birth was born tonight,
The Author both of life and light:
The angels so did sound it,
The angels so did sound it, so did sound it;
The like the ravished shepherds said,
Who saw the light and were afraid,
Yet searched, and true they found it,
Yet searched, and true they found it,
True they found it, and true they found it.

2. The Son of God, the eternal King,
That did us all salvation bring,
And freed the world from danger,
And freed the world from danger, freed from danger,
He whom the whole world could not take,
The Word which heaven and earth did make,
Was now laid in a manger,
Was now laid in a manger
In a manger, laid in a manger.

3. What comfort do we by Him win,
Who made Himself the price of sin,
To make us heirs of glory!
To make us heirs of glory, heirs of glory!
To see this Babe, all innocence,
A Martyrs born in our defense--
Can man forget the story,
Can man forget,
Can man forget the story,
Forget the story?

Can man forget the story?

Sheet Music from Edgar Pettman, ed., Modern Christmas Carols (London: Weekes & Co., 1892), #28:

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Note from Pettman: No. XXVIII.—An alternative tune will be found in the collection of carols compiled by the Rev. R. R. Chope, M.A.

Sheet Music by the Rev. R. F. Smith from Rev. Richard R. Chope, Carols For Use In Church (London: William Clowes & Sons, 1894), Carol #12
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

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Sheet Music by George C. Martin from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #534

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Sheet Music by George C. Martin from Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old, Third Series (London: Novello, Ewer & Co., ca 1878), Carol #55.
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF

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Sheet Music from Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, Second Series (London: A. R. Mowbray & Co., Ltd., 1919), Carol #35
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF



Originally in W. Giffords, ed., “Underwoods,” The Works of Ben Jonson, Vol. VIII. (London: 1816), pp. 300-301. These poems were from Poems from the Second Folio, 1641, and were found among Jonson's papers in a pre-publication state.

Sandys' Note: From Ben Jonson (Underwoods) ed. 1756, London, vol. vi. pp. 340-1.

“Underwoods” was a collection of poems by Jonson. There are notes in The Works of Ben Jonson, Vol. 8, p. 292-293 that help to explain the title:

“Underwood” consists of “works of divers nature and matter congested; as the multitude call timber-trees promiscuously growing, a Wood or Forest; so I am bold to entitule these lesser poems of later growth, by this of Underwood, out of the analogy they hold to the Forest in my former book, and no otherwise. Ben Jonson.”

“Forest” was the name of the collection of poems that immediately preceded “Underwood” in Vol. 8.

Also found in Joshua Sylvester, A Garland of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861). pp. 95-96.: "The following carol, or hymn, was written by Ben Jonson, about the year 1600."

Note: Hugh Keyte, an editor of The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992) believes that "Joshua Sylvestre" 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. 272.

Also found in George Radcliffe Woodward, ed., Songs of Syon (London: Schott & Co., Third Edition, 1908), # 33. Woodward gives attribution.

Sir Arthur Sullivan also created a musical setting for this hymn. For more information about his contributions to Christmas music, see A Sullivan Christmas, which includes another MIDI, plus a printable score, of this hymn.

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