The Acoustic Music Archive

In The Bleak Midwinter - Chords, Lyrics and Origins


In the Bleak Midwinter's lyrics are by the English poetess, Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), and the music is by the English classical composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934), who also composed the Planet Suite.  My favourite recording of In the Bleak Midwinter is by the British guitarist (and singer) Bert Jansch.  Jansch only sings the first and final verses of Rossetti's poem.  The first unforgettably sets the scene, and the last carries what Renaissance poets would have called 'the conceit': that is to say the clever - and in this case touching - idea that gives the lyric its power.  The song's narrator may not be able to provide the infant Jesus with physical goods (however humble) or wise advice, but can present him with something perhaps more valuable: his or her heart.


D2         D2/C#     D2/B     D2/A    Em                           A7
In the   bleak midwin   -     ter,       frosty wind made moan,

D                   D2/C#    D2/B  D2/A   G         A7     D
Earth stood hard as    ir    -   on,       water like a stone;

G                           Bm                      D       G   A7
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

D2         D2/C#        D2/B     D/A     G      A7      D
In the   bleak    midwin    -    ter,      lo  - ng    ago.

D2       D2/C#   D2/B   D2/A   Em            A7
What   can I      give     Him,     poor as I am?

D2    D2/C#  D2/B       D2/A     G            A7        D
If I   were a   shep    -  herd,      I would bring a lamb;

G                 Bm             D            G         A7
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

       D2         D2/C#    D2/B       D2/A    G            A7      D
Yet what I  can I       give          Him:     gi     -     ve my heart.

There are, admittedly, some fairly strange looking chords above, so let me try to explain how  to play them on your guitar (the easiest thing for you to do, by the way, is just to watch the video below, and I'll show you!).  The first, second and fourth lines of each verse are based around a D2 chord (that's just a regular D chord, except that the top E string is played open).  I play the D2 chord with a fingerpicking pattern.  Initially I pick out the open D string in the bass with my thumb, then the C# that you will find on the fourth fret of the A string, then the B that you'll find at the second fret of the A string, and then, finally, the open A.  All the while I keep my fingers on the D2 chord shape.  This gives you a nice decending bass figure 'over' the D2 chord shape, and the chords you play are D2, D2/C#, D2/B and D2/A respectively (or, at least, that's how I've chosen to write them down!).


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.

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.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, 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.