Music/Popular Culture

Today’s Christmas Song–Bethlehem Down

Another wonderful 20th century piece, one I was unfamiliar with before moving to England. The not-at-all-apocryphal story is that Peter Warlock (music) and Bruce Blunt (lyrics), broke and living in the country, decided to enter The Telegraph’s annual Christmas song competition. This was decided in the middle of a bender, following which the two staggered back to the cottage they were renting. Blunt wrote some lyrics and passed out. Warlock found them in the morning, wrote the music, and they sent it off to finance an “immortal carouse,” as Warlock later put it. And won. Beauty can appear anywhere. I refuse to listen to Sting’s version. This version is by Polyphony. This is a haunting, stunningly beautiful song.

The lyrics:
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

Categories: Music/Popular Culture