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Britten, Ceremony of Carols: Translation





Dear colleagues -

Thank you for all of your help with Ceremony of Carols. I have developed
a draft
of my 'translation," and some program notes. As promised, I will share
it with the group.
The Old English is followed by the "translation" so you can cut and
paste it into a document more easily.

If you care to argue any points, go ahead. Please be kind. I will
consider anything at this point.

A Ceremony of Carols - Transliteration

1. Procession

Hodie Christus natus est:
Hodie Salvator apparuit;
Hodie in terra canunt angeli;
Laetantur archangeli;
Hodie exsultant justi dicentes;
Gloria in excelsis Deo. Alleluia!

2. Wolcum Yole

Wolcum, Wolcum,
Wolcum be thou heavenè king,
Wolcume, born in one morning,
Welcome, for whom we sall sing!

Wolcum be ye, Stevene and Jon,
Wolcum, Innocentes every one,
Wolcum, Thomas marter one,
Wolcum be ye, good New Yere,
Wolcum Twelfth Day both in fere,
Wolcum seintes lefe and dere.

Candelmesse, Queene of Bliss,
Wolcum bothe to more and lesse.
Wolcum be ye that are here,
Wolcum alle and make good cheer.
Wolcum alle another yere.
Anonymous
3. There is no rose

There is no rose of such vertu
As is the rose that bare Jesu.
Alleluia, Alleluia.

For in this rose conteinèd was
Heaven and earth in litel space
Res Miranda, Res Miranda.

By that rose we may well see
There be one God in persons three,
Pares forma,Pares forma.

The aungels sungen the shepherds to:
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
Gaudeamus,Gaudeamus.

Leave we all this werdly mirth,
And follow we this joyful mirth.
Transeamus, Transeamus. Anon.
4a. That Yongë Child

That yongë child when it gan weep
With song she lulled him asleep
That was so sweet a melody
It passéd alle minstrely.

The nightingale sang also:
Her song is hoarse and nought therto:
Whoso attendeth to her song
And leaveth the first then doth he wrong
Anon.
4b. Balulalow

O my deare hert, young Je su sweit
Prepare thy creddil in my spreit,
And I sall rock thee to my hert,
And never mair from thee depart.

But I sall praise thee evermoir
With sanges sweit unto thy gloir;
The knees of my hert sall I bow
And sing that richt Balulalow!

James, John and Robert Wedderbum

5. As dew in Aprille

I sing of a maiden that is makelès:
King of all kings to her son she ches.

He came al so stille there his moder was,
As dew in Aprille that falleth on the grass.

He came also stille to his moder’s bour,
As dew in Aprille that falleth on the flour.

He came also stille there his moder lay
As dew in Aprille that falleth on the spray.

Moder and mayden was never none but she:
Well such a lady Goddes moder be.
Anon.
6. This little Babe

This little Babe so few days old
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold.
All hell doth at his presence quake,
Though he himself for cold do shake;
For in this weak unarmèd wise
The gates of hell he will surprise.
With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His battering shot are babish cries,
His arrows looks of weeping eyes;
His martial ensigns Cold and Need,
And feeble Flesh his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitchèd in a stall,
His bulwark but a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks his stakes,
Of shepherds he his muster makes;
And thus, as sure his foe to wound,
The angels’ trumps alarum sound.

My soul, with Christ join thou in fight,
Stick to the tents that he hath pight;
Within his crib is surest ward,
This little Babe will be thy guard;
If thou wilt foil thy foes with joy,
Then flit not from this heavenly boy.
Robert Southwell

7. Interlude (Harp Solo)

8. In freezing winter night (cut)

9. Spring carol

Pleasure it is to hear iwis, the birdès sing.
The deer in the dale, the sheep in the vale,
The corn springing.

God’s purvayance for sustenance,
It is for man, it is for man.

Then we always to give him praise,
And thank him than.
William Cornish

10. Deo Gracias

Deo Gracias! Deo Gracias!
Adam lay ibounden, bound in a bond,
For thousand winter thought he not too long.

And all was for an appil,
An appil that he tok,
As clerkès finden written in their book.

Ne had the appil takè been,
The appil takè been,
Ne haddè never our lady
A ben hevenè queen.

Blessed be the time
That appil takè was.
Therefore we moun singen,
Deo Gracias! Deo Gracias!
Anon.
11. Recession

Hodie Christus natus est:
Hodie Salvator apparuit;
Hodie in terra canunt angeli;
Laetantur archangeli;
Hodie exsultant justi dicentes;
Gloria in excelsis Deo. Alleluia!

1. Procession

Today Christ is born;
Today the Saviour has appeared;
Today the angels sing,
The archangels rejoice;
Today the righteous rejoice, saying,
Glory to God in the highest, Alleluia!

2. Welcome Yule

Welcome, Welcome,
Welcome to You, our heavenly King.
Welcome, you who was born one morning,
Welcome, for You, shall we sing!

Welcome, to you, Steven and John,
Welcome all innocent children,
Welcome, Thomas, the martyred one,
Welcome, good new year,
Welcome Twelfth Day, both in fear . . .
Welcome Saints left and dear.

Candle Mass, Queen of bliss,
Welcome both to more and less.
Welcome you that are here,
Welcome all and make good cheer.
Welcome all another year.

3. There is no rose

There is no rose of such virtue
As is the rose that bore Jesus.
Alleluia.

For inside the Rose ( called Mary )
Were heaven and earth in a single, little space.
Miraculous thing.

By that rose, we now may see,
There be one God in persons three.
Created in the Parent’s image.

The angels sang to the shepherds,
Glory to God in the highest!
We rejoice.

Leave we all this wordly mirth,
And follow we this joyful birth.
We cross over to Christ’s world.

4a. That Young Child

When that young child began to weep
With song, she lulled him to sleep
It was such a sweet melody,
It was so very merry.

The nightingale sang also,
But her song was hoarse, it was not the same:
Whoever listens to the nightingale’s song
Instead of Mary’s, does wrong.

4b. Balulalow

O love of my heart, young Jesus sweet,
Prepare your place in my heart,
And I shall rock thee with great love,
And I shall never leave your side.

I shall praise you forever,
With sweet songs of your glory
The knees of my heart shall I bow
And sing the right “Lullaby.”



5. As dew in April

I sing of a maiden that is mateless,
Her son was the King of all Kings.

>From his mother he came to us quietly
As dew in April that falls on the grass.

His mother’s labor was painless and quiet,
As dew in April that falls on the grass.

As His mother lay there, he came quietly,
As dew in April that falls on the flower branches.

Never has there been such a mother and maiden;
How fitting it is that this be God’s mother.

6. This little Babe

This little Babe so few days old
Has come to rifle Satan’s fold.
All hell qaukes at his presence,
Though he himself shivers.
For in this weak, unarmed guise
He will surprise the very gates of Hell!

With tears he fights and wins the field,
His naked breast stands for a shield;
His shots are his cries,
His arrows, the looks of his weeping eyes.
Hi amrtial ensigns are cold and need,
And his feeble flesh, his warrior’s steed.

His camp is pitched in a stall,
His bulwark is a broken wall;
The crib his trench, haystalks are his stakes,
Of shepherds, he enlists the troops.
And sure of wounding the foe,
The angels sound the trumpets alarm.

My soul joins Christ in the fight,
Stay by the tents that he has pitched;
Within his crib is sure protection
The liitle babe will be your guard;
If Christ can foil your foes with joy,
Stay near the heavenly boy.


7. Interlude (Harp Solo)

8. In freezing winter night (cut)

9. Spring carol

It is always a pleasure to hear the birds sing,
To see the deer in the dale, the sheep in the vale, the corn springing
from the earth.

God supplies sustenance
For us all.

Then we should always give him praise
And give him thanks.


11. Give Thanks to God

Give thanks to God!
Adam was bound in sin for four thousand years, although he thought this
not too long.

It was all for an apple
that he took,
As clerics find written in their books.

Had the apple never
been taken,
Then our Lady would have
Never been a heavenly queen.

Blessed be the time
The apple was taken.
Therefore we must sing
Thanks be to God!

11. Recession

Today Christ is born;
Today the Saviour has appeared;
Today the angels sing,
The archangels rejoice;
Today the righteous rejoice, saying,
Glory to God in the highest, Alleluia!

- Translation by Thomas Ajack


A Ceremony of Carols
Benjamin Britten


A Ceremony of Carols (op. 28) was written by Benjamin Britten in March
of 1942, while at sea aboard the M.S. Axel Johnson. Originally written
for Treble Choir and harp, the piece in its final form was first
performed by the Morriston Boys’ Chorus, at the direction of the
composer. Because of the immense popularity of the piece, this mixed
chorus setting was arranged by Julius Harrison at the request of the
publishing house of Boosey and Hawkes.

The majority of the text is taken from The English Galaxy of Shorter
Poems, and is in old English. Because of this, a “translation” is
provided as well as the following notes.

I. Hodie. Taken from the vespers of the nativity, this unison plain
chant antiphon is used as a procession and recession.

II. Wolcum Yole. This movement is a miniature of the liturgical calendar
of the Christmas season. The heavenly child is welcomed as important
feast days of the season are referenced. Steven, John and Thomas each
have a feast day in this season. December 28 is known as Holy Innocents
Day, in remembrance of the Massacre of the Innocents by Herod. The new
year and epiphany ( twelfth day ) are mentioned, as well as saints who
have left and were dear to us. Candelmesse refers to Feb. 2, which
remembers Mary’s purification at the temple, and Jesus’ presentation to
Simeon. He is remembered for saying “Let thy servant now depart...” In
some countries the creche is left out until Candelmesse signifies the
end of the season.

III. There is no rose. The message here is that Mary was unparalled. For
the first time, heaven and earth were in the same space: within her
womb. Because of her, we learn the mystery of the Trinity.

IV. That yongë child. When the baby Jesus began to cry, Mary sang a
lullaby. The nightingale sang also, but Mary’s song was superior. This
movement has Marianistic overtones.

IVb. Balulalow. Showing great humility, Mary sings a good and proper
Lullaby to the young Jesus.

V. As dew in Aprille. By using many metaphors, we hear are reminded of a
traditional tale that Mary’s labor was painless. The thought is
punctuated at the end by saying that this gift to Mary was only fitting
for such a blessed lady.

VI. This little Babe. Traditional practice is to capitalize any word
that refers to God, including possessives such as “His.” It is
interesting that in this movement this is not followed, but rather that
any word that refers to the Baby in any way, is.
A list of metaphors depicts Christ’s battle with Satan. The metaphors
oddly juxtapose infant images with weapons and battles.

VII. Interlude. This harp solo is among the classic literature for the
instrument. Written in the key of Cb (eight flats ), it uses the key
that the harp sounds most resonant in.

VIII. In freezing winter night. This movement will be cut today.

IX. Spring Carol. A duet to thank God after winter. One could interpret
that Spring ( the birth of Christ ) comes after Winter ( four thousand
years of sin since Adam ). This leads us to the next movement . . .

X. Deo Gracias. This movement could be called “reverse psychology.” The
message is “blessed was the time that Adam sinned, because now we have
the joy of the Savior.” Humanity was bound by sin for Four Thousand
winters (years) until Christ was born. We are to assume that time began
around 4000BC. We are also to be glad because without Adam’s sin, Mary
would have never been a heavenly queen.

XI. Recession. This movement is identical to the first, and rounds out
the form of the composition.



“ I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with understanding,
also.” Corinthians


While some of the theology is arguable in the text, it remains rich and
valuable. It also serves as a springboard to clarify your own thoughts
and beliefs. With this understanding you may worship better today
through the text and the music, which transcends time, and brings us
closer to God.


Tom Ajack
tajack(a)speeddial.net
on April 22, 2008 10:00pm
Your notes on "Deo Gracias" do not fit the text. The text say nothing about "the joy of the savior". It says "ne had the apple take been, ne never hade our ladye, a bene heavene queen". This praises the Mother of God, not a word about the Savior. Such casual sexism is pretty normal among Christians I believe.