History of ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ written by Christina Rossetti

The beautiful melancholy Christmas carol ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’, describing the Nativity in a snowy landscape, was originally written by Christina Rossetti as a poem. It first appeared in ‘The poetical works of Christina Georgina Rossetti’ in 1904. The poems was first set as a hymn two years later in 1906 the “The English Hymnal” music by Gustav Holst and is now very much a Christmas favourite with choristers. 

Christina Rossetti was a member of the famous Bloomsbury set and she lived at 30 Torrington Square, close to Senate House and home of the University of London. Her residence is commemorated by a plaque. Christina died on 29 December 1894 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery. 

Senate House Library Special Collections holds first editions of some of Christina Rossetti's work and the research collections hold two books that feature 'In the Bleak Midwinter': 

  1. “In the Bleak Midwinter” as a poem in “The poetical works of Christina Georgina Rossetti” (1911; a reprint of the 1904 volume in which it first appeared); 
  2. It's first setting as a hymn in “The English Hymnal” (1906). 

 

Full text - In the Bleak Midwinter 

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 mid-winter,  

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 cherubim  

Worship night and day,  

A breastful of milk,  

And a mangerful 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.