Written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix, What Child Is This? is sung to the tune of the traditional English tune Greensleeves.

What Child Is This?
Lyrics

What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping,
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear shall pierce him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail the Word Made Flesh,
The babe, the son of Mary!

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh;
Come, peasant, king, to own Him!
The King of kings, salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him!

Raise, raise the song on high!
The virgin sings her lullaby.
Joy! joy! for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!

NOTES: This song is grammatically complex, especially the first few lines. Grammar Girl did an episode of her podcast explaining the grammar of the first verse of the song. Here’s an excerpt from that episode:

In fact, if I were an English teacher grading a student’s essay with a sentence like this one in it, I would label it “awkward” and have the student rewrite it. But as linguist Geoff Nunberg writes, “We like the incantations we recite on ritual occasions to be linguistically opaque, from the unparsable ‘Star-Spangled Banner’ … to the Pledge of Allegiance….” In that light, the difficult lyrics of old-time Christmas carols are just part of their charm.

What Child Is This?
YouTube Video

 

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