Sunday, 22 December 2013

An English carol collected by Cecil J. Sharp

In The Vineyard (December 1911), Cecil J. Sharp wrote an article called "The Moon Shines Bright".  Sharp describes:

Mrs. Handy and her husband, from The Vineyard (December 1911),
'The Moon Shines Bright' by Cecil J. Sharp

"I collected this beautiful variant of a well-known English carol from an old lady, Mrs. Handy, a native of Tysoe, now living at Ilmington, Warwickshire.  She was one of a large family, seventeen, I think she said, and she and her sister, when they were all living at home, used to go out on Christmas Eve every year and sing this and other carols outside the houses of their friends.  This, like many another old custom, is now, unhappily, fast dying out, and he who would collect the old carols before they have irrevocably passed away must not wait till Christmas-time to bear the, but must go betimes to the old singing men and women and prevail upon them to sing to him what they can remember,  Thus has been my practice for many years, with the result that I have now quite a nice number of old carols hidden away in my notebooks.

"The Moon Shines Bright" was at one time an Easter carol, but for many years it has become attached to the season of Christmas.  The tune is in the Dorian mode, although the flattened sixth in the penultimate bar gives an Aeolian flavour to the fink cadence.

As Mrs. Handy could only remember the rods of the first two stanzas, I have had recourse to a set of words which were recited to me many years ago by a very old lady living at East Harptree, Somerset. "

The Vineyard (December 1911),
'The Moon Shines Bright' by Cecil J. Sharp

"The moon shines bright and the stars give a light
A little before it is day;
Our Lord our God He called on us
And bids us awake and pray.

Awake! O awake!  good people all,
Awake! and you shall hear;
Our Lord our God He suffered on the cross
For us whom He loved so dear.

The fields were green, as green could be,
When we from His glory fell;
And we His children then were brought
To death and near to hell.

The ice of a man it is but a span,
It's like a morning flower;
We're here to-day, to-morrow we are gone,
We are dead all in one hour.

O teach them well your children, dear man,
While you have got them here;
It will be better for your soul, dear man,
When your corpse lies on the bier.

To-day you may be living, dear man,
With a many thousand pound;
To-morrow you may be dead, dear man,
And your corpse lie underground.

With the green turf at your head, dear man,
And another at your feet;
Your good deeds and your bad, dear man,
Will all together meet.

My song it is done and I must be gone,
No longer can I stay here.
God bless you all, both great and small,
And send you a happy New Year."


  1. I can see why it would have been a suitable Easter "carol", but I guess it was a favourite and got incorporated into the Christmas round with the addition of the final verse.

    Poet Edward Thomas had a life long interest in English Folk Songs, but I don't know if he actually saved many to paper, excepting occasionally basing a poem around one or two.

  2. This is the only folk song I've found that they recorded, but there are various references to them singing carols and folk songs. Sarah at the Weaving House has recently found a lovely reference to carol singing with the Kings at Sandhouse, written about by Katharine Tynan, I'll have to do a post on it.


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