A summary of the medieval Christmas carol
‘I sing of a maiden’ – or, to render it in its delightful original spelling, ‘I syng of a mayden’ – is one of the oldest surviving Christmas carols written in English. The words to this classic carol are included below, along with some words of explanation and gloss.
I syng of a mayden
That is makeles,
king of alle kinges
to here sone che chees.
He cam also stille
Ther his moder was
As dew in Aprylle,
That fallyt on the gras. Read the rest of this entry
The ten best Christmas carols – and their interesting literary origins and meaning
‘Tis the season to the jolly, so let’s all sing a Christmas carol and enjoy a mince pie. No? Okay, how about you sit back with your mince pie and a glass of sherry, and we regale you with a few interesting facts about the literary origins and histories of some of the best-loved Christmas carols. We’ve included a link to a recording of each carol, should you wish to hear them – simply click on the carol’s title to hear the merry notes ring out. What’s your favourite Christmas carol? If you had to choose one, which Christmas carol would be crowned the greatest of all?
Anonymous, ‘Coventry Carol‘. Dating from the early sixteenth century (its words were written down by one writer in 1534) and originally part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, this carol was a favourite of local Coventry boy Philip Larkin, who chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs. Read the rest of this entry
Staying in the seventeenth century, where we found ourselves for yesterday’s advent calendar fact, we’re off to hear another Christmas carol today. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve Eve, after all! The Christmas carol we’re concerned with on this penultimate day of our Advent Calendar posts is one of the classics, which has an interesting connection with poetry.
‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ is a popular carol and has been for over three hundred years. But what is not widely known is that the words to the carol were written by an early Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom.
Nahum Tate (1652-1715 – he was born Nahum Teate) held the post of Poet Laureate between 1692 and his death. Tate was Irish and moved to London in his twenties, quickly becoming known as a dramatist and poet. Tate was the man who rewrote Shakespeare’s King Lear to give it a happy ending: he omitted the character of the Fool altogether and ended the play with the marriage of Edgar and Cordelia. He also collaborated with John Dryden (who was an earlier holder of the Laureateship, until his Catholicism put an end to his tenure) on the second half of Dryden’s long poem Absalom and Achitophel. Tate also wrote the words to Henry Purcell’s famous opera Dido and Aeneas. Not a bad crop of achievements there, but Tate remains one of the least-known (and least-read) Poets Laureate.
And tomorrow, we come to the end of our literary advent calendar. Each fact until now has shared something with the previous day’s fact, but tomorrow’s – being the conclusion of the calendar – is a special standalone fact that relates specifically to Christmas Eve. We hope you’ll join us for that tomorrow. Ho ho ho!
Image: ‘Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour’, better known as ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’, from A New version of the Psalms of David : fitted to the tunes used in churches, Wikimedia Commons.