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Five Things To Love About "In The Bleak Midwinter"


Bring In The Big Guns

Few Christmas carols were either written by top-rank poets or put to music by world-class composers. "In The Bleak Midwinter" ticks both boxes, having been written by Christina Rossetti and scored by not one but two acclaimed composers – Gustav Holst (of The Planets fame), then Harold Edwin Darke. In 2008 BBC Music Magazine declared the latter’s arrangement of "In The Bleak Midwinter" to be the best Christmas carol of all time.

It Is Decidedly Not The Time For Play Or A Whipped Cream Day

First published as a poem in Scribner’s Monthly in 1872, the opening verse is refreshingly bleak indeed:

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.

Or, in short, it is not a marshmallow world, O.K.?

Goblins, Vol. I

The other poem for which Rossetti is best known is "Goblin Market." As frosty winds make moan and snow falls on stone, the first few lines of that poem are enough to have you firing up Instacart in no time:

Morning and evening

Maids heard the goblins cry:

“Come buy our orchard fruits,

Come buy, come buy:

Apples and quinces,

Lemons and oranges,

Plump unpeck’d cherries,

Melons and raspberries,

Bloom-down-cheek’d peaches,

Swart-headed mulberries,

Wild free-born cranberries,

Crab-apples, dewberries,

Pine-apples, blackberries,

Apricots, strawberries;—

All ripe together

In summer weather

Yes, that’s right – Rossetti is sharing the recipe for a Goblin smoothie.

Goblins, Vol. II

Curiously enough, by the way, goblins have something of a Christmas pedigree. No less a yuletide luminary than Charles Dickens published "The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton" in The Pickwick Papers (1836) about a venomous old gravedigger called Gabriel Grub. Early in the tale, Grub engages in a bit of bullying Christmas battery:

He strode along until he turned into the dark lane which led to the churchyard—a nice, gloomy, mournful place into which the townspeople did not much care to go except in broad daylight, consequently he was not a little indignant to hear a young urchin roaring out some jolly song about a Merry Christmas. Gabriel waited until the boy came up, then rapped him over the head with his lantern five or six times, just to teach him to modulate his voice. And as the boy hurried away with his hand to his head, Gabriel Grub chuckled very heartily to himself and entered the churchyard, locking the gate behind him.

Suffice it say the goblins will make him regret it. Baby, and how.

What Can I Give Him?

Let’s give Rossetti the last word:

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.

Which, it has to be said, beats a bunch of rackety pa rum pum pum pums any day.

Number fifteen in a series.

15 December 2020

The Enthusiast ( is the pen name of critic Michael Collins. He reports back only on what’s good, never what’s bad. He is currently imbued with the holiday spirit.

תגובה אחת

Claiborne Ray
Claiborne Ray
16 בדצמ׳ 2020

Thank you, one of my favorites. I never thought to look up who wrote or arranged it!

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