Who wrote the lyrics for In The Bleak Midwinter?

Does any other carol get to the very heart of Christmas as understatedly but effectively as In The Bleak Midwinter? Christina Rossetti’s poem of 1872 is nigh-on perfect as a carol text: there’s the winter cold, the coming of Christ, the description of the nativity scene and, finally, that ‘What shall I give him?’ moment of self-reflection. And then there’s the music.


Who composed the music for In the Bleak Midwinter?

While Gustav Holst’s charming setting of 1909 is rightly loved by millions worldwide, it is the less well known but infinitely more stylish setting by Harold Darke from two years later that convincingly won the day in our poll.

Rhythmically, Darke’s opening line is identical to Holst’s, but whereas Holst uses the full choir, Darke, who was briefly organist at King’s College, Cambridge, scores the first verse for solo treble over the most muted of organ accompaniments. The remaining three verses are sung by the full choir, tenor solo, and choir again until, after a final, tender ‘Give my heart’, the organ brings the carol to a sublimely hushed conclusion. ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’s text and music flirt with sentimentality without crossing the line,’ reflects Jeffrey Smith, director of music at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. ‘And I love the delicious irony – and global connection – of singing “Snow had fallen, snow on snow” in our California sunshine, or for that matter, imagining a snowy Bethlehem long, long ago.’

What are the lyrics to In the Bleak Midwinter?

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan;
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain,
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty —
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom Angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and Archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But only His Mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? —
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, —
Yet what I can I give Him, —
Give my heart.

We named In The Bleak Midwinter one of the greatest Christmas carols of all time


Find more lyrics to your favourite Christmas carols here