The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

A Christmas Carol

Alternate Title: In The Bleak Midwinter

Words: Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894), 1872;
appeared posthumously in
Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, Poem #426,  1904.

Music: "Cranham," Gustav Theodore Holst, 1906
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF / XML
Source: "The English Hymnal," p. 44, 1916

1. In the bleak mid-winter
  Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
  Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
  Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
  Long ago.

2. Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
  Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
  When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
  A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
  Jesus Christ.

3. Enough for Him, whom cherubim
  Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
  And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
  Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
  Which adore.

4. Angels and archangels
  May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
  Thronged the air,
But only His mother1
 In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
  With a kiss.

5. What can I give Him,
  Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
  I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
  I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
  Give my heart.


1. Or: But 'His mother only,' In her maiden bliss Return

Sheet Music by Thomas B. Strong from Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916), Carol #652
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF
(Melody Line of Verse 1 Only)


The format, capitalization and punctuation of the poem follow that printed in William Michael Rossetti, ed., The Poetical Works Of Christina Georgina Rossetti (London: MacMillan & Co., Ltd., 1904, reprint of 1935, Poem #426, page 246.

Other poems set to music:

Other Christmastide Poems by Christina Rossetti.

Harold Darke’s well-regarded setting was written in 1911 and published by Stainer & Bell, London. It was originally made famous by the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge. Darke was born 29 October 1888 in London and died 28 November 1976, in Cambridge. Darke received his formal training at the Royal College of Music, where he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford, and at Oxford. He had a world-wide reputation as one of the finest organists and choristers of his era.

Thomas B. Strong is unknown in music, per se.  Thomas Banks Strong, DD (1861-1944) was, variously, Vice Chancellor of Oxford (circa 1897), Dean of Christ Church,  Bishop of Ripon and Bishop of Oxford (1925-1937). He appears to have some interest in music, as evidence by two items, both related to the English composer, Sir William Walton:

(1) "Sir William Walton (1902-1983) was a chorister at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford between 1912 and 1918. Dr Henry Ley (1887-1962) who had succeeded Harwood as Organist there in 1909 recognized his outstanding talents and introduced him to Sir Hugh Allen, Fellow of New College and Choragus to the University. The Dean at that time, The Very Reverend Dr Thomas Banks Strong, took an interest in young Walton's welfare and managed to persuade the boy's father to allow him to become an undergraduate at the University at the early age of sixteen. But Walton left in 1920 having repeatedly failed Responsions- a requirement of the BA degree." Source: Sleeve notes to "The English Anthem, Volume 7."

(2) A dedication "To The Right Rev. Thomas Banks Strong, Bishop of Ripon" by Sir William Walton of his work "Quartet for Piano and Strings" which was composed 1918-1921 and first performed October 30, 1929 in London. Source: William Walton Net.

Also found in A. H. Bullen, A Christmas Garland (London: John C. Nimmo, 1885), pp. 78-9.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 293.

Larry Marietta's Music Notes, Sunday Morning Services at FCCB (First Congregational Church of Berkeley), December 7, 1997

"In the Bleak Midwinter" was written by English poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894) for inclusion in her collection Poetical Works, 1904, where it was indicated to have been written before 1872. This text then gained great popularity when it was paired with "Cranham" in The English Hymnal, 1906. Written by the famous composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), "Cranham" was composed specifically for this text.

Earthly Delights: Xmas Carols

Although Christmas was linked by the 4th century church with 25th December as part of a strategy to Christianize various mid-winter solstice pagan festivals, there is no biblical association of the birth of Jesus with mid-winter. This poem appeared, dated 1872, in the posthumous collection of Christina Rossetti, a deeply religious daughter of an Italian emigrée academic and English mother (so religious she refused the proposal of marriage from a man she loved deeply and thereafter became prone to melancholy). It was first used as a hymn in the English Hymnal of 1906, where it appeared with a tune composed by Gustav Holst, "Cranham."

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