(Poem #647) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Saviour Was born on Christmas day, To save us all from Satan's power When we were gone astray, O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. In Bethlehem in Jewry, This blessed Babe was born, And laid within a manger, Upon this blessed morn; The which His mother Mary Did nothing take in scorn: O tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. From God our heavenly Father, A blessed angel came, And unto certain shepherds, Brought tidings of the same, How that in Bethlehem was born, The Son of God by name, O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. "Fear not" then said the angel, "Let nothing you affright, This day is born a Saviour, Of a pure virgin bright, To free all those who trust in Him, From Satan's power and might", O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. The shepherds at those tidings Rejoiced much in mind, And left their flocks a-feeding In tempest, storm, and wind, And went to Bethlehem straightway This blessed Babe to find: O tidings of comfort and joy Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. But when to Bethlehem they came, Whereat this Infant lay, They found Him in a manger, Where oxen feed on hay; His mother Mary kneeling, Unto the Lord did pray: O tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy. Now to the Lord sing praises, All you within this place, And with true love and brotherhood, Each other now embrace, This holy tide of Christmas, All others doth deface, O tidings of comfort and joy, Comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.
I've been meaning to run a carol for a while now - the problem is, most of them depend as much on the music as they do on the lyrics, and it's hard to imagine one without the other. In the end, I decided not to bother about which carols made the best standalone poems, and simply run one of my favourite ones. Like most carols, this one has survived (with minor variations) for an excellent reason - both the words and the music have a timeless beauty that the slightly archaic language does nothing to detract from. Also, unlike many other carols, 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentelmen' doesn't give me the feeling that it was written in distinct stages, with later verses added long after the original ones were written and popularised.  My other favourite carol, 'O Holy Night', definitely suffers from this. Not only are verses after the first nowhere near as beautiful, they don't even have the same feel to them. Note: The proper punctuation of the title is 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman'. 'God Rest Ye Merry' was a old greeting, 'rest' being used in the sense of 'keep'. Links: There's an interesting piece of historical background to the song at http://christmas.readersdigest.com/kind_christmas/god_rest_ye.html Here's an mp3, in case you haven't heard it sung http://artists.mp3s.com/artists/163/family_and_friends_christm.html (Or go to mp3.com and take a look around - there are a bunch of them up there) -martin