What Child Is This?
|"What Child Is This?"|
|Lyrics by||William Chatterton Dix|
"What Child Is This?" is a Christmas carol whose lyrics were written by William Chatterton Dix, in 1865. At the time of composing the carol, Dix worked as an insurance company manager and had been struck by a severe illness. While recovering, he underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns, including lyrics to this carol that was subsequently set to the tune of "Greensleeves", a traditional English folk song. Although it was written in England, the carol is more popular in the United States than in its country of origin today.
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What Child is this who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;[A]
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,[B]
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.[C]
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,[D]
The cross be borne for me, for you.[E]
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,[F]
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;[G]
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.[H]
Raise, raise a song on high,[D]
The virgin sings her lullaby.[I]
Joy, joy for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.
The lyrics of the carol are taken from a poem written by Dix called "The Manger Throne". The part of the poem that was utilized as the song's lyrics consists of three stanzas in total. The first verse poses a rhetorical question in the first half, with the response coming in the second half. The second verse contains another question that is answered, while the final verse is a universal appeal to everyone urging them "to accept Christ". The carol's melody has been described as "soulful", "haunting and beautiful" in nature.
The context of the carol centres around the Adoration of the Shepherds, who visited Jesus during his Nativity. The questions posed in the lyrics reflect what the shepherds were possibly pondering to themselves when they encountered him, with the rest of the carol providing a response to their questions.
Background and influence
At the time he was writing the lyrics to "What Child Is This?" in 1865, William Chatterton Dix was working as the manager of an insurance company. He was afflicted by an unexpected and severe illness that resulted in him being bedridden and suffering from severe depression. His near-death experience brought about a spiritual renewal in him while he was recovering. During this time, he read the Bible comprehensively and was inspired to author hymns like "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!" and "As with Gladness Men of Old". The precise time in 1865 when he wrote the poem "The Manger Throne" is disputed. While the St. Petersburg Times details how Dix penned the work after reading the Gospel for Epiphany that year (Matthew 2:1–12) recounting the journey of the Biblical Magi; Singer's Library of Song: Medium Voice contends that it was actually authored during the Christmas of 1865.
Although written in 1865, "What Child Is This?" was only first published six years later in 1871, when it featured in Christmas Carols Old and New, a "prestigious" and "influential" collection of carols that was published in the United Kingdom. The hymnal was edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer; even though it is not known with certainty who paired the three stanzas from "The Manger Throne" with the music from "Greensleeves", the third edition of The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump and Stories of the Great Christmas Carols both suggest that Stainer – who was also responsible for "harmoniz[ing] the musical setting" – may have done so.
- Johnny Mathis (Merry Christmas, 1958)
- The Brothers Four (1961)
- Al Martino (1964)
- Ray Conniff (Here We Come A-Caroling, 1965)
- Vince Guaraldi (A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1965)
- Joan Baez (Noël, 1966)
- The Lettermen (1966)
- Tony Bennett (1968)
- John Fahey (The New Possibility - John Fahey's Christmas Album Vols. I and II, 1968)
- Ed Ames (1970)
- Andy Williams (Christmas Present, 1974)
- The Lettermen (It Feels Like Christmas 'The Lettermen' album, 1987, re-released 1992 and 2013)
- Mannheim Steamroller (A Fresh Aire Christmas, 1988)
- Vanessa Williams (A Very Special Christmas 2, 1992)
- Oscar Peterson (An Oscar Peterson Christmas, 1995)
- Dave Brubeck (A Dave Brubeck Christmas, 1996)
- Charlotte Church (Dream a Dream, 2000)
- Terry McDade and The McDades (Midwinter, 2001)
- Mars Lasar (Christmas From Mars, 2001)
- Kelly Price (One Family: A Christmas Album, 2001)
- Vikki Carr (The Vikki Carr Christmas Album, 2001)
- Plus One (Christmas, 2002)
- MercyMe (WOW Christmas: Red, 2002)
- Jessica Simpson (ReJoyce: The Christmas Album, 2004)
- Jill Johnson (The Christmas in You, 2005)
- Kevin Max (Holy Night, 2005)
- Third Day (Christmas Offerings, 2006)
- Josh Groban (Noël, 2007)
- Midnight (All Souls Midnight, 2008)
- Rob Halford (Halford III: Winter Songs, 2009)
- Tori Amos (Midwinter Graces, 2009)
- Andrea Bocelli and Mary J. Blige (My Christmas, 2009)
- Liz Madden (Christmas Celebration, 2010)
- Jackie Evancho (Heavenly Christmas, 2011)
- Michael Aranda featuring Emma Rowley and Eddplant (2011)
- Rod Stewart (Merry Christmas, Baby [deluxe edition], 2012)
- Lindsey Stirling (2012)
- Will Turpin (2012)
- Celtic Woman (Home for Christmas, 2012)
- Sidewalk Prophets (Merry Christmas to You, 2013)
- Libera - Angels Sing - Christmas in Ireland (2013)
- The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die (AV Club Holiday Undercover Series, 2013)
- Bad Religion (Christmas Songs, 2013)
- Liz Madden (Hear Your Voice, 2014)
- Dustin Kensrue, under The Modern Post (Lowborn King, 2014)
- Whom shepherds worship and angels sing; (New English Hymnal, Common Praise, English Praise)
- Haste, haste to bring Him praise, (NEH, CP, EP)
- Come, have no fear; God's son is here, His love all loves exceeding. (NEH, CP, EP)
- Some versions replace the last half of the second and third stanzas with "This, this is Christ the King…". (The United Methodist Hymnal, The Hymnal 1982)
- The cross he bore for me, for you. (EP)
- Hail, hail, the Saviour comes, (NEH, CP, EP)
- All tongues and peoples own him; (NEH, CP, EP)
- Let every heart enthrone Him. (NEH, CP, EP)
- While Mary sings a lullaby. (NEH, CP, EP)
- Stories of the Great Christmas Carols. Alfred Music Publishing. pp. 47–48.
- Reynolds, Virginia (June 1, 2000). Spirit of Christmas: A History of Our Best-Loved Carols. Peter Pauper Press, Inc. p. 51.
- Crump, William D. (September 15, 2001). The Christmas Encyclopedia, 3d ed.. McFarland. pp. 437–438.
- Liebergen, Patrick M. (ed.). Singer's Library of Song: Medium Voice. Alfred Music Publishing. p. 164.
- Dunham, Mike (December 19, 1993). "Caroling Into Christmas Insurance Salesmen, Teachers Had A Hand In Writing Songs". Anchorage Daily News. p. G1. Retrieved November 28, 2014. (subscription required)
- "Favorite carols have evolved over ages". St. Petersburg Times. December 20, 1997. p. 8. Retrieved November 29, 2014. (subscription required)
- Flanagan, Mike (December 19, 1986). "The origins of Christmas Songs". Ottawa Citizen. p. H1. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
- Oldfield, Molly; Mitchinson, John (December 24, 2013). "QI: some quite interesting facts about Christmas carols". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved December 26, 2013.
- "The Christmas in You" (in Swedish). Svensk mediedatabas. 2005. Retrieved 9 September 2014.
- "Bad Religion: Christmas Songs: Music". Amazon.com. Retrieved 5 January 2014.
- Free sheet music of What Child Is This? for SATB from Cantorion.org
- What Child Is This? on TradTune.com
- What Child is This? by Thomas Hewitt Jones at OUP