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In the Bleak Midwinter

Updated on June 11, 2015

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.

Image: In the Deep Mid-Winter : Edmund T. Crawford - Buy This at


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

Classic Christmas Carols: 50 Favourite Carols

Classic Christmas Carols: 50 Favourite Carols
Classic Christmas Carols: 50 Favourite Carols

This is a wonderful collection of classic carols, along with some that are likely unfamiliar to many people. No matter, as it exposes the listener to a great variety of beautiful Christmas music - including In the Bleak Midwinter.


Sarah Brightman - From the Album: A Winter Symphony

A Winter Symphony - From Sarah Brightman

This 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.

Annie Lennox - From the Album: A Christmas Cornucopia

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.

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.

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?

Holst's version

Holst's version

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    • Paul 4 years ago from Liverpool, England

      The Darke is an abomination - naïve composition with not a thought for the lyrics,

    • Malu Couttolenc 5 years ago

      Holst's way better :)

    • Paul 5 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Holst by a mile. Darke is just posturing, Holst fits the lyrics perfectly

    Darke's version

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      • CC 14 months ago

        Hey! Do you know the version of this song that is used in the (not that good) movie "Krampus, the reckoning"? I am looking for it for several months!!! :)

      • Joan Hall 5 years ago from Los Angeles

        I like Darke's version better for choral renditions (for me it evokes thoughts of ancient times). Holst's is better for solo interpretations.

        Therefore, since I'm partial to choir music overall, Darke gets my vote.

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

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        • Loretta L profile image

          Loretta Livingstone 3 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

          Paul 4 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 4 years ago

          Very nice, quite serene, enjoyed it.

        • Scarlettohairy profile image

          Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

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

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          anonymous 4 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.

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