The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

In Numbers, And But These Few

An Ode Of The Birth Of Our Saviour1

Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674), 1647

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

1. In numbers, and but these few,
I sing thy birth, oh Jesu!
Thou prettie Babie, borne here,
With sup'rabundant scorn here;
Who for thy princely port here,
    Hadst for thy place
    Of birth, a base
Out-stable for thy court here.

2. Instead of neat inclosures
Of interwoven osiers;
Instead of fragrant posies
Of daffadills and roses,
Thy cradle, kingly stranger,
    As gospell tells
    Was nothing els,
But, here, a homely manger.

3. But we with silks, not cruells,2
With sundry precious jewells,
And lilly-work will dresse thee;
And as we dispossesse thee
Of clouts, wee'l make a chamber,
    Sweet babe, for thee,
    Of ivorie,
And plaister'd round with amber.

4. The Jewes, they did disdaine thee;
But we will entertaine thee
With glories to await here
Upon thy princely state here,
And more for love then pittie;
    From yeere to yeere
    Wee'll make thee, here,
A free-born of our citie.

1. Rickert's Note: Noble Numbers. Return

2. Sandys' Note: Worsteds. 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.

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

This also is from the pen of Herrick. The expression "scorn," in the fourth line, although sounding strangely to modern ears, is a term frequently to be met with in old popular literature. It occurs in "God rest you Merry Gentlemen," and other carols in this collection.

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. 276, with modernized spelling.

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp. 138-9.

Editor's Note:

Robert Herrick left a considerable legacy of Christmas carols and customs. See this article, with links, by Henry Vizetelly, from Christmas With The Poets: Robert Herrick

See also: Christmas Customs - Robert Herrick.

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