The Carnal And The Crane

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is taken from Sandys' Christmas Carols, where it is printed from a broadside. The only alterations, in which I have followed Professor Child, are the obvious correction of 'east' for 'west' (8.1), and the insertion of one word in 16.2, where Child says 'perhaps a preposition has been dropped.'

The Story is compounded of popular legends connected with the life and miracles of Christ. For the miracle of the cock, see Saint Stephen and King Herod. The adoration of the beasts is derived from the Historia de Nativitate Mariæ, and is repeated in many legends of the infancy of Christ, but is not sufficiently remarkable in itself to be popular in carols. The origin of the miracle of the harvest is unknown, though in a Breton ballad it forms one of the class known as the miracles of the Virgin (cp. Brown Robyn's Confession). Swedish, Provençal, Catalan, Wendish, and Belgian folk-tales record similar legends.

It is much to be regretted that this ballad, which from internal evidence (e.g. the use of the word 'renne,' 1.2) is to be attributed to an early age, should have become so incoherent and corrupted by oral tradition. No manuscript or printed copy is known earlier than about 1750, when it occurs in broadside form. The very word 'Carnal' has lapsed from the dictionaries, though somewhere it may survive in speech. Stanza 17 is obviously out of place; one may suspect gaps on either side, for surely more beasts than the 'lovely lion' were enumerated, and a new section begins at stanza 18.


As I pass'd by a river side,
And there as I did reign,
In argument I chanced to hear
A Carnal and a Crane.

The Carnal said unto the Crane,
'If all the world should turn,
Before we had the Father,
But now we have the Son!

'From whence does the Son come,
From where and from what place?'
He said, 'In a manger,
Between an ox and ass.'

'I pray thee,' said the Carnal,
'Tell me before thou go,
Was not the mother of Jesus
Conceiv'd by the Holy Ghost?'

'She was the purest virgin,
And the cleanest from sin;
She was the handmaid of our Lord,
And mother of our King.'

'Where is the golden cradle
That Christ was rocked in?
Where are the silken sheets
That Jesus was wrapt in?'

'A manger was the cradle
That Christ was rocked in:
The provender the asses left
So sweetly he slept on.'

There was a star in the east land
So bright it did appear,
Into King Herod's chamber,
And where King Herod were.

The Wise Men soon espied it,
And told the king on high
A princely babe was born that night
No king could e'er destroy.

'If this be true,' King Herod said,
'As thou tellest unto me,
This roasted cock that lies in the dish
Shall crow full fences three.'

The cock soon freshly feather'd was,
By the work of God's own hand,
And then three fences crowed he,
In the dish where he did stand.

'Rise up, rise up, you merry men all,
See that you ready be;
All children under two years old
Now slain they all shall be.'

Then Jesus, ah, and Joseph,
And Mary, that was so pure,
They travell'd into Egypt,
As you shall find it sure.

And when they came to Egypt's land,
Amongst those fierce wild beasts,
Mary, she being weary,
Must needs sit down to rest.

'Come sit thee down,' says Jesus,
'Come sit thee down by me,
And thou shalt see how these wild beasts
Do come and worship me.'

First came the lovely lion,
Which [to] Jesus' grace did spring,
And of the wild beasts in the field
The Lion shall be king.

We'll choose our virtuous princes
Of birth and high degree,
In every sundry nation,
Where'er we come and see.

Then Jesus, ah, and Joseph,
And Mary, that was unknown,
They travelled by a husbandman,
Just while his seed was sown.

'God speed thee, man,' said Jesus,
'Go fetch thy ox and wain,
And carry home thy corn again
Which thou this day hast sown.'

The husbandman fell on his knees
Even upon his face:
'Long time hast thou been looked for,
But now thou art come at last.

'And I myself do now believe
Thy name is Jesus called;
Redeemer of mankind thou art,
Though undeserving all.'

'The truth, man, thou hast spoken,
Of it thou mayst be sure,
For I must lose my precious blood
For thee and thousands more.

'If any one should come this way,
And enquire for me alone,
Tell them that Jesus passed by
As thou thy seed didst sow.'

After that there came King Herod,
With his train so furiously,
Enquiring of the husbandman
Whether Jesus passed by.

'Why, the truth it must be spoke,
And the truth it must be known;
For Jesus passed by this way
When my seed was sown.

'But now I have it reapen,
And some laid on my wain,
Ready to fetch and carry
Into my barn again.'

'Turn back,' said the captain,
'Your labour and mine's in vain;
It's full three quarters of a year
Since he his seed hath sown.'

So Herod was deceived,
By the work of God's own hand,
And further he proceeded
Into the Holy Land.

There's thousands of children young
Which for his sake did die;
Do not forbid those little ones,
And do not them deny.

The truth now I have spoken,
And the truth now I have shown;
Even the Blessed Virgin
She's now brought forth a son.

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