Friday, December 25, 2009

It Came Upon a Midnight Clear in Weston, Mass.

“It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” was written by a Unitarian minister from Weston, Massachusetts in 1849. It was an age when ministers, and lawyers, and educated men, and gentlewomen, wrote poetry both as a means of entertaining others, and to improve themselves. Poems were written privately, in quiet, thoughtful, intellectually intimate moments, and then shared with everybody else in the parlor.

In this case, Dr. Edmund Spears, the minister poet, might be surprised to discover that his poem has become one of the most popular and well-known carols of the Christmas season a century and a half later.

The tune most commonly used in America was composed by Richard Storrs Willis the following year of 1850. (A melody more popular in the U.K. was written by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame.) Willis was originally from Boston, later a Yale graduate, but had studied composition in Germany, a friend of composer Felix Mendelssohn. Dr. Spears had published his poem in the Christian Register, and it is likely that this is where Mr. Willis discovered it, and thought it suitable to his melody.

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold;
“Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven’s all gracious King.”

The world in solemn stillness lay,
To hear the angels sing.
Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains,
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever over its Babel sounds
The bless├Ęd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

2 comments:

John Hayes said...

It's a beautiful song--Eberle & I played it at the Marymount midnight mass last night. I like the Willis melody better than the Sullivan one, but that may just be a case of familiarity. Hope you're having a merry Christmas!

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

I wish I could have been there to hear it. I know I've heard the Sullivan version, but just now I can't even recall how it goes. You're right about familiarity, we're just used to what we're used to.

Having a swell Christmas, John, but I have already eaten way to much and am much ashamed of my lack of will power. I think that last box of chocolate covered cherries just put me right over the edge. I hope you and Eberle are faring better.