Text of an old French carol. The words are at least five hundred years old. The tune, if you could listen to is at least as old and has been used many times over the centuries. The carol can be sung, but parts can also be parceled out and the carol presented as a small play. Information from A Treasury of Christmas Songs and Carols.
I have a copy of an on and off diary kept by a lay missionary working in El Salvador during the civil war. Over and over he tells the story of those with almost nothing sharing with those who had less. It seems that those with little find it easier to share than those who have much. Curiouser and curiouser.
IN THE TOWN (yes, that really is the name of the carol)
Take heart, the journey’s ended: I can see the twinkling lights.
Where we shall be befriended on this the night of nights.
Now, praise the Lord that led us so safe unto the town,
Where men shall feed and bed us, and I can lay me down.
And how then shall we praise Him? Alas my heart is sore
That we no gifts can raise Him who are so very poor.
We have as much as any that on the earth do live,
Although we have no penny, we have ourselves to give.
Look yonder, wife, look yonder a hostelry I see,
Where travelers who wander shall very welcome be.
The house is tall and stately, the door stands open thus;
Yet husband, I fear greatly, that in is not for us.
God save you gentle master, your smallest room indeed,
With plainest rooms of plaster tonight will serve our need.
For lordlings and for ladies I’ve lodging and to spare,
For you and yonder maid is no closet anywhere.
God save you, Hostess kindly I pray you house my wife.
Who bears beside my blindly the burden of her life.
My guests are rich men’s daughters and sons I’ll have you know!
Seek out the poorer quarters where ragged people go.
Good sir, my wife’s in labor, some corner let us keep.
Not I, knock up my neighbor, and as for me I’ll sleep.
In all the lighted city where rich men welcome win,
Will not one house for pity take two poor strangers in .
Good woman, I implore you afford my wife a bed.
Nay, nay I’ve nothing for you except a cattle shed.
Then gladly in the manger our bodies we will house.
Since men tonight are stranger than asses are and cows.
Take heart take heart dear Mary the cattle are our friends
Lie down, lie down sweet Mary for here our journey ends.
Now praise the Lord that found me this shelter in the town.
Where I with friends around me may lay my burden down.
I’ve only found this carol in this collection. Doesn’t mean it isn’t in others but I’ve never heard it performed either. It’s not exactly one that the Palins, Limbaughs, and Becks are thinking about when they push for carols to be performed in public schools.
I’ve run across a couple of personal blogs that argue that the family wasn’t that poor. Biggest argument? Joseph was of the royal house of David. Well, seeing as how David was born about a thousand years before, just how many descendants are we talking about here? Joseph is described as a craftsman, probably a carpenter of some kind.
What I find mildly amusing is that one blogger claims to take the bible literally. At least until it’s inconvenient to take it literally. After the birth of a child (forty days for a boy)
the mother was supposed to make an offering at the
Temple of a lamb and a turtledove.
If she couldn’t afford the lamb, then two
turtledoves or pigeons were allowed. The yes, that’s what the Bible says, but is
kind of sad really.
What nobody really wants to admit is that most people then, as now were not that well off. Between flood, famine, rebellions, wars, rumors of wars they were probably lucky if they had four or five good years in a row.
Too many of us don’t want to be reminded that then as now there was no room at the inn, the street corner, the store.