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December 23, 2019  |  Do you hear what I hear? Xmas carol lyric weirdness  |  4124 hit(s)

Christmas carols are songs that you learn as a youngster, at an age when you don't spend too much time thinking about the lyrics. Everything else is sort of mysterious when you're a kid, and the oddball words to seasonal songs are just one more thing you don't quite get.[1]

By the time you're an adult, the songs are ingrained, and you probably don’t spend too much time thinking about the lyrics. Or at least not the lyrics that you mostly know, namely those in the first verses of all your favorites.

But I went to a Christmas carol sing-along the other evening, during which we sang verses two and beyond. I guess I was surprised at a few of the weird turns that otherwise familiar songs took when we got past that one verse that you know. Herewith a few examples.

"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," verse 2:

Christ, by highest heav'n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the favored one.
Veil'd in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th'incarnate Deity

Seriously, I had to stop singing and marvel at "Offspring of the favored one."

"Away in a Manger," verse 4:

I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle 'til morning is nigh.

I thought that took quite a turn toward the personal. Also, … cradle?

"Jingle Bells," verse 3:

Now the ground is white
Go it while you're young
Take the girls tonight
And sing this sleighing song
Just get a bob tailed bay
two-forty as his speed
Hitch him to an open sleigh
And crack! you'll take the lead

As someone sitting behind me said, "Uh-huh, now we know what that's about."

Guess the song:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Shall come the Age of Gold

Apocalyptic much?

This is not even to mention the vocal machinations it took to cram or stretch some awkward lyrics into the familiar tunes, all in real time. (Did not always succeed.)

If nothing else, I learned that people's ability to versify was not significantly better in, say, the 19th century than it is now. This gave me … comfort and joy. :)

[1] Tho when I told my then-young daughter that "Silent Night" had originally been written in German, she said "That explains the 'round yon virgin' part."

Vicki Brown   23 Dec 19 - 12:25 PM

Hark! In some versions, (the church my family attended when I was growing up) it's "Offspring of the virgin's womb". Does that make more sense?

Vicki Brown   23 Dec 19 - 12:28 PM

"Stay by my cradle" - Away in a manger is a children's song, or a lullaby.

"Guess the song:"
When Peace shall over all the earth,
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song,
Which now the angels sing.