The Poets

December 24, 2009

A Hymn for Christmas-Day

In the 1793 edition of Hymns and Sacred Poems, under the title Hymn for Christmas Day, there's a poem that contemporary carolers are most likely very familiar with- or should I say almost familiar with. I refer to that delightful Christmas hymn, Hark! the Herald Angels Sing.

The song as it’s commonly sung today consists of thirty lines divided into three stanzas. However, when Charles Wesley wrote the poem (and make no mistakes- it's a poem) there were twenty additional lines, and every stanza was a quatrain. The original beginning couplet of the poem, which is now a repeating couplet in our contemporary hymn, was also different:

Hark! how all the welkin rings
“Glory to the King of Kings”

The couplet as it exists in its current form was a change initiated by a friend and coworker of Wesley’s, George Whitefield - I have a feeling it may have had something to do with that funny little word, welkin.

A little over a hundred years later Felix Mendelssohn would dedicate a musical piece to Gutenberg’s achievement of the printing press. Meant to be a purely secular piece, the music behind that dedication would later serve as the melody for Wesley’s poem (a beautiful choice made by William Cummings).

Below is Wesley’s poem as it appeared in Hymns and Sacred Poems. I would love to know what others think about the last four stanzas, the ones many hardley know. Enjoy, and have a merry Christmas all.


Hark, how all the welkin rings,
“Glory to the King of kings;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconcil’d!”

Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
Universal nature say,
“Christ the Lord is born to-day!”

Christ, by highest Heaven ador’d,
Christ, the everlasting Lord:
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb!

Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see,
Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleas’d as man with men to appear,
Jesus, our Immanuel here!

Hail, the heavenly Prince of Peace,
Hail, the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth;
Born to give them second birth.

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

1 comment:

Doug P. Baker said...

I didn't know the whole poem. We skip some of the best parts!

"Now in mystic union join Thine to ours and ours to thine"

That's powerful!

I wish we sang the whole thing!

As of April 9th, 2010