The Cherry-Tree Carol

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text.--As this carol consists of two parts, the first containing the actual story of the cherry-tree, and the second consisting of the angel's song to Joseph, I have taken the first part (stt. 1-12 inclusive) from the version of Sandys (Christmas Carols), and the second (stt. 13-17) from W. H. Husk's Songs of the Nativity.

The Story of the cherry-tree is derived from the Pseudo-Matthew's gospel, and is also to be found in the fifteenth of the Coventry Mysteries. In other languages the fruit chosen is naturally adapted to the country: thus in Proven├žal it is an apple; elsewhere (as in the original), dates from the palm-tree; and again, a fig-tree.

The second part is often printed as a separate carol, and might well stand alone. Readers of Westward Ho! will remember how Amyas Leigh trolls it forth on Christmas Day. Traditional versions are still to be heard in Somerset and Devon.


Joseph was an old man,
And an old man was he,
When he wedded Mary,
In the land of Galilee.

Joseph and Mary walked
Through an orchard good,
Where was cherries and berries,
So red as any blood.

Joseph and Mary walked
Through an orchard green,
Where was berries and cherries,
As thick as might be seen.

O then bespoke Mary,
So meek and so mild:
'Pluck me one cherry, Joseph,
For I am with child.'

O then bespoke Joseph,
With words most unkind:
'Let him pluck thee a cherry
That got thee with child.'

O then bespoke the babe,
Within his mother's womb:
'Bow down then the tallest tree,
For my mother to have some.'

Then bowed down the highest tree
Unto his mother's hand;
Then she cried, 'See, Joseph,
I have cherries at command.'

O then bespake Joseph:
'I have done Mary wrong;
But cheer up, my dearest,
And be not cast down.'

Then Mary plucked a cherry
As red as the blood;
Then Mary went home
With her heavy load.

Then Mary took her babe,
And sat him on her knee,
Saying, 'My dear son, tell me
What this world will be.'

'O I shall be as dead, mother,
As the stones in the wall;
O the stones in the streets, mother,
Shall mourn for me all.

'Upon Easter-day, mother,
My uprising shall be;
O the sun and the moon, mother,
Shall both rise with me.'

* * *

As Joseph was a walking,
He heard an angel sing:
'This night shall be born
Our heavenly king.

'He neither shall be born
In housen nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise,
But in an ox's stall.

'He neither shall be clothed
In purple nor in pall,
But all in fair linen,
As wear babies all.

'He neither shall be rocked
In silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle,
That rocks on the mould.

'He neither shall be christened
In white wine nor red,
But with fair spring water,
With which we were christened.'

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