The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

I Sing The Birth Was Born To-Night

For Christmas

Alternate Titles:
An Hymn On the Nativity Of My Saviour
Ben Jonson's Carol

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

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.

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Source: William Sandys, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern (London: Richard Beckley, 1833), pp. 38-39.
Also found in George Radcliffe Woodward, ed., Songs of Syon (London: Schott & Co., Third Edition, 1908), # 33. Woodward gives attribution.



An Hymn.

On the Nativity of My Saviour.

1. I sing the birth was born to-night,
The author both of life and light;
    The angels so did sound it.
And like the ravish'd shepherds said,
Who saw the light, and were afraid,
    Yet search'd, and true they found it.

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

3. The Father's wisdom will'd it so,
The Son's obedience knew no No,
    Both wills were in one stature;
And as that wisdom had decreed,
The Word was now made flesh indeed,
    And took on him our nature.

4. What comfort by him do we win,
Who made himself the price of sin,
    To make us heirs of glory!
To see this babe, all innocence;
A martyr born in our defence:
    Can man forget the story?


* “He whom the whole world could not take.” i.e., contain, a Latinism, Quem non capit. [Note from the text]

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

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.

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