Dives and Lazarus (ballad)

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Dives and Lazarus is Child ballad 56, and a Christmas carol. Francis James Child collected two variants, in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. It is based on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (also called "Dives and Lazarus" and found in Luke 16:19-16:31), but the story contains some miraculous elements, and has its emphasis slightly changed from the more traditionally Jewish to a more popularly Western Christian view of the afterlife.

As in other popular renderings of the parable, Dives (Latin for rich or splendid) was considered as a proper name, and the name even was changed to Diverus in variant B.


The rich man Dives or Diverus makes a feast. The poor man Lazarus comes to Dives' door and repeatedly begs 'brother Dives' to give him something to eat and drink. Dives answers that he is not the brother of Lazarus, denies Lazarus food and drink, and sends his servants to whip him and his dogs to bite him. However, the servants are unable to whip Lazarus, and the dogs "lick his sores away" instead of biting him.

As both men die, angels carry Lazarus to heaven, and serpents drag Dives to hell. In one version Dives asks Lazarus (who is apparently unable to help him) for a drop of water, and complains about his eternal punishment.

As it fell out upon a day, Rich Dires he made a feast, And he invited all his friends, And gentry of the best.
...Then Lazarus laid him down and down, And down at Dires' door : ' Some meat, come drink, brother Dives, Bestow upon the poor.


The tune is used for numerous other folk songs in various regions:[1]

It is the basis of Ralph Vaughan Williams' composition Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus and was also arranged by him as a hymn tune "Kingsfold", to which two sets of lyrics are commonly sung: "O sing a song of Bethlehem,"[2] and "I heard the voice of Jesus". The first verse of the ballad, "As it fell out upon a day," is sung in Vaughan Williams's score for The Dim Little Island. Loreena McKennitt also uses the tune for an arrangement of The Seven Joys of Mary on her album A Midwinter Night's Dream. The tune of the ballad is also used for the Latter-day Saint hymn "If You Could Hie to Kolob" (hymn number 284) written by the early Mormon, W. W. Phelps; and for the song "The Year Turns Round Again" in War Horse, with words by John Tams; and for the hymn "When Jesus Walked Upon This Earth" in the Quaker songbook Worship in Song: A Friends Hymnal.


Variant A was published as item 109. "Dives and Lazarus". The Oxford Book of Ballads, 1910. Bartleby.com. Retrieved 2006-06-29. 


  1. ^ Michael Kennedy, The works of Ralph Vaughan Williams. Oxford University Press (London, 1980), p. 278.
  2. ^ O Sing a Song of Bethlehem Archived July 3, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.

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