Advent Reflection #6: Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”


For years, the title of this Christina Rossetti poem-turned-carol got in the way of appreciating this amazing text.  Then, our family picked up James Taylor’s “At Christmas” album, which includes a cover of this carol, and all my hang-up’s vanished, turning this into one of my absolute favorite carols.

As you’ll see, the original text of Rossetti’s poem differs in some respects from the carol setting popularized by Ralph Vaughan Williams, but it’s still wonderful all the same, especially the last three words:

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 mid-winter

A stable-place sufficed

The Lord God almighty,

Jesus Christ.


Enough for him, whom cherub

Worship night and day,

A breastful of milk,

And a manger full of hay;

Enough for him, whom angels

Fall down before,

The ox and ass and camel

Which adore.


Angels and archangels

May have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim

Thronged the air:

But only his mother

In her maiden bliss

Worshipped the Beloved

With a kiss.


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.

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4 thoughts on “Advent Reflection #6: Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”

  1. Amy says:

    We have memorized a couple of Rossetti’s poems for school this year. I had no idea she wrote this text. I can’t wait to show it to B!

    • Mike Francis says:

      Amy, you have the distinct (dis?)honor of being the first comment poster on the blog! Tell Nathan to let you to listen to last week’s In Our Time podcast, which was about Rossetti. I learned so much. I think you’ll enjoy it.

  2. I don’t know this carol at all, Mike. I’m heading straight for iTunes now. Do you have a favorite version?

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