Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas 2: Bethlehem Down

“When He is King we will give him the Kings' gifts,
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes,” said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King they will clothe him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.
These are beautiful words and the tune (though I can't find a suitable version for you) is just as lovely.

But there is a very human tale behind them, involving the composer Peter Warlock:

By 1927 Warlock was in financial difficulty, due in part to a fall in the demand for his songs. He struck up a friendship with Bruce Blunt, a journalist, poet and “bon viveur”. The first record of their association was a press report about them being arrested “drunk and disorderly” in Chelsea.

Running short of money, the two friends wrote Bethlehem Down to submit to the Daily Telegraph's annual carol contest. They duly won the prize, which was used to finance an “immortal carouse” on Christmas Eve 1927.

No comments: