“In the Bleak Midwinter” is a Christmas carol based on a poem by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  It was written in response to a request for a Christmas poem from Scribner’s Monthly, an American literary magazine of the 1870’s, and describes the Nativity in terms of the chilly English countryside.

1. In verse one, Rossetti describes a windswept, frozen, and bleak landscape as the setting for the nativity of God’s Son.

2. In verse two, she contrasts the glory of Christ’s predicted second coming with the condescension of God to mankind in the humble circumstances of His birth.

3. The third verse dwells on Christ’s birth and describes its simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by gentle barnyard animals.

4. In the fourth verse, she contrasts the power and glory of heavenly beings attendant at Christ’s birth with Mary’s mortal ability to kiss and comfort Jesus with motherly physical affection.

5. Rossetti grows introspective in the final verse, finally resolving that she will ‘give [Him] my heart.’

The text of this Christmas poem has been set to music many times, the most famous settings being composed by Gustav Holst – commonly used for congregational singing – and Harold Edwin Darke – which is a favored arrangement for choral performance.

In the following short video, “In the Bleak Midwinter” is performed by the Choir of the Kings Chapel at the Kings College Cambridge.  The words of all five verses appear below the video.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

4. 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.

5. 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.