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In the Bleak Midwinter

Updated on August 23, 2017

Christmas Carol: In the Bleak Midwinter

It seems there is no other traditional Christmas carol that makes me feel more emotional about the holiday season than In the Bleak Midwinter.

While it has a mournful air, the words to the tune speak to me in a way that no other carol does. I believe it is the most beautifully written and meaningful Christmas piece ever. For someone who is not overly religious, that is a big statement.

The words, which were originally a poem, speak of hope and peace and give pause for inner contemplation. To me, that is what the Christmas season is all about.

In the Bleak Midwinter seems to be one of those Christmas carols you do not hear so often now. I may be (and hope) that I'm wrong, because its significance is as important today as when the words were put to paper back in the nineteenth century.


Holst and Darke: In the Bleak Midwinter

The Most Famous Versions

The words to In the Bleak Midwinter are from a poem by Christina Rossetti, which was written in England in the mid to late nineteenth century. It was adapted as a Christmas carol, initially by Gustav Holst, in 1906. While the poem has been set to music many times since, the most well-known versions are by Holst and later, Harold Darke.

Darke's version was written three years after that of Holst's, while he was studying at the Royal College of Music. The melody is different and offers sections for soprano and tenor solos. Cathedral choirs tend to sing this as their preferred version, but my personal preference is for the one written by Holst.

I've included several video interpretations here of In the Bleak Midwinter, from classical crossover to the traditional choral church setting.

The Words

1.     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.

2.	Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; 
	heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. 
	In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed 
	the Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ. 

3.	Angels and archangels may have gathered there, 
	cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; 
	but his mother only, in her maiden bliss, 
	worshiped the beloved with a kiss. 

4.	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.

Text: Christina G. Rossetti, 1830-1894 
Music: Gustav Holst, 1874-1934 

The Philharmonia Orchestra - Tenor: Will Martin

A Winter Symphony - From Sarah Brightman

A Winter Symphony is Sarah Brightman's first ever Christmas offering, which includes 12 tracks of seasonal favourites from both the classical and pop genres.

Her version of In the Bleak Midwinter is here, along with Silent Night, Ave Maria, Child in a Manger and Greg Lake's I Believe in Father Christmas and many more.

Sarah Brightman - From the Album: A Winter Symphony

A Christmas Cornucopia - From Annie Lennox

Annie Lennox, best known as the singer with Eurythmics, offers her own interpretations of some well-known, and some not so obvious, Christmas songs on this 2010 release: A Christmas Cornucopia.

As well as carols such as The First Noel, Silent Night and, of course, In the Bleak Midwinter, she includes a new composition, Universal Child.

Annie Lennox - From the Album: A Christmas Cornucopia

In the Bleak Midwinter: The Choral Interpretations - Versions by Holst and Darke

In the first of these two videos the Gloucester Cathedral Choir sing the Gustav Holst version of the Christmas carol, while in the second Kings College Choir, Cambridge sings the Darke composition.

Which Version of In the Bleak Midwinter? - What's Your Opinion?

Which melody do you prefer?

About Your Author

With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.

For a complete list of Richard's articles, please visit Richard's profile.

Is 'In the Bleak Midwinter' A Favourite of Yours?

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    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 

      4 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      I love it. And I love both of the versions above. I have been known to warble the Holst version when delivering my Christmas cards.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Great carol: Blessed. I hope you get to sing it this year in peace and contentment.

    • nightbear lm profile image

      nightbear lm 

      5 years ago

      Very nice, quite serene, enjoyed it.

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 

      5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      I'd never heard of this carol. Very pretty!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My high school choir sang this in the early 60's but it was a different version entirely. I would love to find that other version.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Thank you for introducing me to the Christmas Carol, In The Bleak Midwinter. Oddly, I do recall the poem, not the song. And yes, it is a beautiful carol, inspirational.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      I can't remember ever hearing "In The Bleak Midwinter" before and it is beautiful.

    • JenniferAkers LM profile image

      JenniferAkers LM 

      5 years ago

      I'm so happy to find your page on the song, In The Bleak Midwinter! My son's class played this last night at their school guitar recital. It's great to hear the different versions and know the lyrics - beautiful! Thank you!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I like The Annie Lennox version the best.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Beautiful song - I have never heard of it before. Blessed.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 

      6 years ago

      In the Bleak Midwinter is a beautiful song. I like the way Annie Lennox sings it :)

    • Vikk Simmons profile image

      'Vikk Simmons 

      6 years ago from Houston

      Beautiful idea and I appreciate you sharing the song.

    • profile image


      6 years ago


    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thanks for sharing the song with us. I actually hadn't heard of it before.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      6 years ago from Liverpool, England

      It's a beautiful carol


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