In the Bleak Midwinter (Cranham)

Christina Georgina Rossetti 1872

Tune: Cranham by: Gustav Theodore Holst 1906

  1. In the bleak midwinter, 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 midwinter, long ago.

    Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
    heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
    in the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
    the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

    3. Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
    Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
    Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
    The ox and ass and camel which adore.

    4. Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
    cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
    but His mother only, 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.

Christina Georgina Rossetti’s father, Gabriele Rossetti, was a professor of Italian at King’s College in London. He had fled for his life from his homeland of Italy to England because of his writings against those in political and religious authority. He wrote several volumes of poetry and an esoteric summary of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.”

Christina inherited her father’s poetic sensibilities.

This hymn is full of very subtle literary and Scriptural references. In the first stanza, Miss Rossetti writes of a cold and harsh winter scene. She certainly didn’t think there was snow on the ground in Israel at the time of Christ’s birth, but it paints an image of the desolation of creation before the incarnation.

The second verse, if taken on its face, would seem an odd statement; Heaven cannot hold our God? But she is quoting 1 Kings 8:27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have built?” It is also reminiscent of Malachi 3:2: “But who may abide the day of his coming?” The overwhelming nature of the incarnation is settled into a stable and a manger.

The One who Cherubim and Angles worship finds a breast full of milk and a manger full of hay to be enough. He is now adored by ox and ass and camel! It is his mother now who is left to adore Him and give Him a kiss.

And what is it that we have to offer? If we are a shepherd we could give a lamb for the Lamb. If we are a king we could offer our kingdom. But for us, all we have is our heart which we give to the Child.

Here are my completed Hymnals:

Presbyterian 1955 Hymnbook:

Episcopal 1940 Hymnal: 

Broadman 1940 Hymnal:

Lutheran 1941 Hymnal:

Methodist 1939 Hymnal:

Pilgrim 1935 Hymnal:

Now Sings My Soul, New Songs for the Lord by: Linda Bonney Olin:

Here are my new projects:

Choice Hymns of the Faith 1945

J S Bach Riemenschneider 371 Harmonized Chorales


Dictionary of Hymnology: