We sang a Mark Hayes setting of this piece in church today, and I was happy to have #2 daughter with me in the alto section, but this setting by John Rutter is my favorite.
The author of the poem is Robert Herrick, who was born in London in 1591. He, like us, saw the turn of a century. He served part of an apprenticeship as a goldsmith, went on to Cambridge, and ended up as a country parson. He wrote more than a dozen Christmas Carols, none of which is commonly sung nowadays.
This is the complete poem, of which different parts have been used by different composers:
What sweeter music can we bring,
Than a carol, for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?
Awake the voice! Awake the string!
Heart, ear, and eye, and everything.
Awake! the while the active finger
Runs division with the singer.
Dark and dull night, fly hence away,
And give the honor to this day,
That sees December turned to May.
If we may ask the reason, say
The why, and wherefore, all things here
Seem like the springtime of the year?
Why does the chilling Winter’s morn
Smile, like a field beset with corn?
Or smell, like to a mead new-shorn,
Thus, on the sudden?
Come and see
The cause, why things thus fragrant be:
’Tis He is born, whose quickening birth
Gives life and luster, public mirth,
To heaven, and the under-earth.
We see Him come, and know Him ours,
Who, with His sunshine, and His showers,
Turns all the patient ground to flowers.
The darling of the world is come,
And fit it is, we find a room
To welcome Him. The nobler part
Of all the house here, is the heart,
Which we will give Him; and bequeath
This holly, and this ivy wreath,
To do Him honor; who’s our King,
And Lord of all this reveling.
This isn’t really the kind of thing you sing in the car on the way to work, unless you have a very impressive carpool, but you can listen to it easily. Most of the major choral groups have recorded it. Twisted Sister has not, nor have The Carpenters, so this is probably only well known to those of us who enjoy choral music. The rest are missing out.
We had the Hanging of the Greens in church yesterday and then came home to make Chicken Piccata with a wild rice/quinoa blend and steamed green beans, thus moving away from Thanksgiving leftovers after a full weekend of turkey and dressing.
#2 daughter then headed back up North, and I get back to work. It has been nice to have some merriment with my family.