The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Joseph Being An Aged Man

Alternate Title: Joseph and Mary


Words and Music: English 17th Century


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

1. Joseph being an aged man truly,
He married a Virgin fair and free,
A purer Virgin could no man see
    Then he chose for his wife and dearest dear.

2. The Virgin was pure there was no nay,
The Angel Gabriel to her did say,
Thou shalt conceive a Child this day,   
    The which shall be our dearest dear.

3. The Angel no sooner this message said
But all in his heart she was afraid;
How may this be, and I a pure maid?
    Say then to me, my dearest dear.

4. The Holy Ghost, Mary, shall come unto thee,
The power of it shall overshadow thee,
And thou shalt bear a Son truly,
    The which shall be our dearest dear.

5. Joseph being a perfect mild man,
Perceiving that Mary with child was gone,
Said, Tell to me, Mary, and do not frown,
    Who hath done this, my dearest dear?

6. Then answered Mary meek and mild:
I know no Father unto my Child
But the Holy Ghost, and I undefiled,
    That hath done this, my dearest dear.

7. But Joseph thinking her most unjust,
Yielding her body to unlawful lust,
Out of his house he thought for to thrust
    His own true love, his dearest dear.

8. But whilst in heart he thought the same,
The Angel Gabriel to him came,
As he lay sleeping on a frame,
    Still dreaming on his dearest dear.

9. Who said, Fear not to take to thee
Thy true and faithful wife Mary;
Most true and faithful is she to thee,
    Then turn not away thy dearest dear.

10. When Joseph arose from his sleep so sound,
His love to Mary did more abound,
He would not for ten thousand pound
    Forsake his love and dearest dear.

11. They lived both in joy and bliss,
But now a strict commandment is,
In Jury land no man should miss
    To go along with his dearest dear,

12. Unto the place where he was born,
Unto the Emperor to be sworn,
To pay a tribute that is duly known,
    Both for himself and his dearest dear.

13. And when they were to Bethlehem come,
The inns were filled both all and some,
For Joseph entreated them every one,
    But could get no bed for his dearest dear.

14. Then were they constrained presently
Within a stable all night to lie,
Where they did oxen and asses tie
    With his true love and his dearest dear.

15. The Virgin pure thought it no scorn
To lie in such a place forlorn,
But against the next morning our Saviour was born,
    Even Jesus Christ, our dearest dear.

16. The King of all power in Bethlehem born,
Who wore for our sakes a crown of thorn;
Then God preserve us both even and morn,
    For Jesus' sake, our dearest dear.

Sandys Note:

It has been the custom in all the legends to represent Joseph as a very aged man. The Apocryphal New Testament describes him so in various places; and in the tenth pageant of the Coventry Mysteries (Cotton. MS. Vespasian, D. viii.) which represents the choice of the Virgin Mary's husband by the budding of his wand, Joseph complains of his age in many parts of the character, as

In my great labors my lyff I lede,
Myn ocupasyon lyth in many place,
For febylnesse of age my jorney I may nat spede.


-- I am so agyd and so olde
yt both my leggys gyn to folde.
I am ny almost lame.

Also found in Edith Rickert, Ancient English Christmas Carols: 1400-1700 (London: Chatto & Windus, 1914), p. 25. Illustration at left is from the 1928 reprint of the 1910 original edition. Rickert notes on page 150:

    "The vague resemblances between this carol and the preceding [Marvel Not, Joseph, On Mary Mild] suggest that they sprang from the same source, more especially as this aspect of the subject does not seem to be treated elsewhere. The idea is distinctly mediaeval, as is shown by the occurance of a similar dialogue in the Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors (Coventry Plays). The subject is illustrated in MS. 17,587 (British Museum) about 1300, fol. c., where Joseph seems to be sleeping "on a frame." The refrain "dearest dear" suggests that the carol may have been adapted from some love-song."

Editor's Note: Noted as one of several "doubting Joseph" carols by Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott including The Cherry Tree Carols, Joseph Being An Aged Man, Joseph Being An Old Man Truly, and Joseph Was An Old Man. See The New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), Carol #129, pp. 446-8.

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