The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

While Humble Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

For Christmas

Song of the Angels, at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour

Luke II. From Verse 8 to Verse 15

Words: Nahum Tate, alt.
Originally appeared in the
"Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms," 1703, by Tate and Brady.

Music: G. W. Fink
MIDI / Noteworthy Composer / PDF
Meter: 86 86D

Source: Carol #574, Rev. Charles Lewis Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916)

1. While humble shepherds watched their flocks
     On Bethlehem's plain by night,
An angel sent from heaven appeared,
     And filled the plains with light.
“Fear not,” he said, for sudden dread
     Had seized their troubled mind:
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
     To you and all mankind.

2. “To you in David's town, this night
     Is born, of David's line,
The Saviour, Who is Christ the Lord;
     And this shall be the sign:
The heav'nly Babe you there shall find
     To human view displayed,
And meanly wrapt in swaddling band,
     And in a mange laid.”

3. Thus spake the seraph; and forthwith
     Appear'd a shining throng
Of Angels, praising God, and there
     Addressed their joyful song;
All glory be to God on high,
     And to the earth be peace;
Good will is shown by heaven to men,
     And never more shall cease.

Graphic Line

Sheet Music from Charles L. Hutchins, Carols Old and Carols New (Boston: Parish Choir, 1916)

 

Note:

This carol usually occurs as one with six stanzas of four lines with a two line refrain.

The carol first appeared in "A Supplement to the New Version of the Psalms by Dr. Brady and Mr. Tate," which first appeared in the Edition of 1700.1

First verse in the 1700 Supplement went:

While Shepherds watch'd their Flocks by Night
     all seated on the Ground,
The Angel of the Lord came down,
     and Glory shone around.

However, changes appeared to the first verse in the Edition of 1745:

While humble Shepherds watch'd their Flocks
     in Bethleh'm's Plains by Night,
An Angel sent from Heav'n appear'd,
     and fill'd the Plains with Light.

The Edition of 1751 made additional changes to verse 1:

While humble Shepherds watch'd their Flocks
     in Bethleh'm's fields by Night,
An Angel sent from Heav'n appear'd,
    and fill'd the fields with Light.

However, the version of 1745 was restored in the 1781 edition according to Douglas J. Maclagan, The Scottish Paraphrases: Being the Translations and Paraphrases in Verse of Several Passages of Sacred Scripture. (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1889), pp. 110-111.

Also occurs in Scottish Psalms and Paraphrases as hymn #37 with six stanzas of four lines.

Footnote:

1. The authorities are in disagreement as to the year of the first appearance. Some say 1700, at least one says 1702, and Rev. Hutchins and Mr. Maclagen say 1703. I have not seen any of the three Editions.

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