The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Upon A Wisp of Litter

For Christmas

Words: “Dessu in pou de peille,Besançon Noël

Translation by Rev. J. O'Connor

Music: Besançon Noël

Source: Richard Runciman Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #67, pp. 20-23.

1. Upon a wisp of litter,
Not far from Bethlehem,
He takes His welcome bitter,
Four walls the winter stem,
His shelter is to scant,
    (Ah! Want!)
E'er now I fear He'll perish.
At best of time you'll find
    The wind
Is cold in summer days
    A blaze
Is worth your while to cherish.

2. Beside Him is His mother
With father Joseph dear;
There is not any other
His misery to cheer,
But 'mid the gelid rocks
    An ox
An ass, give fervour scanty.
Great God! What poverty!
    Ah me!
He comes to set us free,
    His fee
Is this forsaken shanty.

3. Now speed ye to the stable
My lords of Besançon;
And those that best are able
Bring goodly presents on.
But oh! Make no delay
    I pray;
Bestir ye, He is frozen.
As to my faith I cling
    I hold
He's dying of the cold,
    That King
Who brings to life His chosen.

4. His grace the Lord Archbishop
Will walk in front of all;
And after him his canons
Drest up as if in stall.
In linen rochets laced
    With taste
And lovely purple cassocks:
And then they'll go along
    With song,
A-praying Jesus Christ
    Who's here
For healing all our sadness.

5, Now next, ye State Justiciars
Take honour, as 'tis called,
In richest robes of ermine
Bedeck yourselves my lords.
But lose no precoius time,
    This child
From Whom the glory flashes
To our great Parliament
    Oh! Great!
Expects the compliment
    He knows
That you shall wear your scarlet clothes.

6. Our learned and illustrious
Fair University
Will follow in a body
Right into the Citie.
Theology, Canon Law
    Will go,
Not counting the Law Civil,
The Medical Faculty
Since living in this palace
    Is God,
Who lays His law on cities.

7. You too, ye country mayors
Come forward, if you please
To view the Lord of glory,
Be quick, don't stand at ease!
Take due positions all
    Good Sirs,
In front of the Town Hall
In quilted civic dress
Of fair and good sateen
    Soft sheen!
By two and two go forward.

8. The worshipful Companions
The Gentlemen of 'Change
Come next in grand procession
Their moneys they arrange:
They're to endow this King;
    They bring
A heap of crowns and pistoles;
They give Him ready cash,
    Not rash!
A bit of money down
    They own
Will do instead of talking.

9. The barristers, a bevy
Will then take up the way;
So many and so splendid,
'Twould take a half-a-day
To give their very surnames
    Or names:
I once was at the Courthouse
Half matagrabolised,
To see their stately mein,
    As in
They swore themselves for Session.

10. And now the townfolk follow,
The shopkeepers and trades;
Withouten fuss or fashion,
On foot, and no brocades.
The owners of the vineyards
    Good drink
Will ;put into their barrels;
Yes every one will bring
    I think
According to his craft
    Some gift
To God who lies on litter.

11. There after all the townsfolk
The women, in a crowd
Will carry unto Mary
Some changes and some sheets
And scarfings and cotees
    And shoes,
And hood of handwove linen
And little swathing-straps,
    Small caps
And knitted wooly wraps;
And socks and tiny shirtlings.

12. But what Lord Jesus asks us
Is precious more than all;
'Tis that we make an off'ring
Of contrite heart and full.
He more than any gift
The spirit rightly minded
Who does on Christmas night
    Tell Him
He's going to confess
    And chuck
Old Satan to his kennel.

Sheet Music from Richard Runciman Terry, Two Hundred Folk Carols (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Limited, 1933), Carol #67, pp. 20-23.

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Note from Rev. Terry or Rev. O'Connor:

This carol is best known in England to the words “You good men all of Chastres” (a translation of Tous les Burgeois de Chastres) which are much the same in substance as this (probably) older form. The idea of both is the same:- a civic and domestic pageant to welcome the Saviour on His arrival; to bring gifts for His honour and comforts for His poverty. The homely narrative is too picturesque for curtailment, so the entire 12 stanzas are here given. [Ed.]

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