Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Christmas Song by Eleanor Farjeon


If you’re anything like me, you’ve been listening to Christmas music on the radio. And like me, you may wonder why, considering there are dozens of wonderful Christmas songs out there, radio stations seem to play the same 10 songs over and over—most notably Bing Crosby's "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." The only relief is that they might play 2–5 versions of each of those 10.

Who better to give us a new carol or at least different lyrics than British children’s poet and book writer Eleanor Farjeon (1881–1965)? She wrote more than 30 books, opera librettos, plays, and masques. “The Shepherd and the King” is from her book of Christmas poems, Come Christmas, but I’m guessing it was first performed as a carol in one of her Christmas masques. It is currently available as sheet music on the Internet.

In 1955 Farjeon won a Carnegie Medal for her story collection, The Little Bookroom. (The Carnegie is the British equivalent to the Newbery in the United States.) In 1956 she was the very first winner of the international Hans Christian Andersen Award for her “lasting contribution to children’s literature.”

Children’s literature people tend to talk about Farjeon's book Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard, but my favorites are two fairy tale retellings, both of which started out as plays: The Glass Slipper (Cinderella) and The Silver Curlew (Rumpelstiltskin plus a nursery rhyme, “The Man in the Moon”).

Eleanor Farjeon’s most famous work is actually a poem now familiar as the song lyrics performed by Cat Stevens, “Morning Has Broken.” Today it is often sung as a Christian hymn.

And so I give you a very Merry Christmas, with a little help from Eleanor Farjeon!



  
The Shepherd and The King

The Shepherd and the King,
The Angel and the Ass,
They heard Sweet Mary sing,
When her joy was come to pass.
They heard Sweet Mary sing
To the Baby on her knee.
Sing again Sweet Mary,
And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!

Heaven, bear a light!

Man, make you merry

On Christmas Night.

The Oxen in the stall,

The Sheep upon the hill,

They are waking all

To hear Sweet Mary still.

The Baby is a Child,

And the Child is running free.

Sing again Sweet Mary,

And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!

Heaven, bear a light!

Man, make you merry

On Christmas Night.

The People in the land,

So many million strong,

All silently do stand

To hear Sweet Mary's song.

The Child He is a man,

And the man hangs on a tree.

Sing again Sweet Mary,

And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!

Heaven, bear a light!

Man, make you merry

On Christmas Night.

The Stars that are so old,

The Grass that is so young,

They listen in the cold

To hear Sweet Mary's Tongue.

The Man's the Son of God,

And in heaven walketh He.

Sing again Sweet Mary,

And we will sing with thee!

Earth, bear a berry!

Heaven, bear a light!

Man, make you merry

On Christmas Night.

—Eleanor Farjeon, from Come Christmas (1927)


Note: Illustration is by French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

3 comments:

Dena McMurdie said...

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing this!

Jennifer said...

Lovely. I have Children's Bells and some of my favorite poems are in there. I didn't know she had a Christmas collection! Another poet I always think is overlooked is Elizabeth Coatsworth. Except for a few titles in anthologies, most people aren't familiar with her.

Tabatha said...

Very nice. Thank you! I love the painting, too.