My typescript of "Now the Holly Bears a Berry..."

My 8-year-old daughter came across a couple of typewritten sheets of paper in a copy of The Penguin Book of Christmas Carols, edited by Elizabeth Poston.

“What’s this Papa?” she asked. “It looks like it was printed on a typewriter.”

It was “printed” on a typewriter, as the picture to the right attests; the tiny holes marking most of the periods are also a dead give-away. To this day, I have heavy fingers on a keyboard.

The poem was my attempt to rewrite the lyrics to an old carol known as “The Holly & The Ivy,” a traditional English carol whose best known words and tune were collected by Cecil Sharp, and begin,

“The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown…”

 
The crown is the crown of thorns, which if you have ever touched a holly leaf, you know its prickly scorn. The lyrics go on to draw analogues between the red berry of the holly and the blood of Christ, the “bitter gall” of the holly’s bark with the balm of Jesus as a redeemer.

It is a curious mix of Christian and Pagan imagery. Holly was associated with the winter solstice and known to be sacred to the druids.

My version was written more closely in the style of a traditional New England take on the “Sans Day Carol,” itself a Cornish carol from the 19th century that shares much with “The Holly & The Ivy.”

I’ve always loved the tune — there’s an excellent version of it on the Chieftans’s Christmas album, The Bells of Dublin — but the lyrics struck me at the time of my version’s composition as too overtly religious for my then decidedly secular soul. So I rewrote the lyrics to celebrate the joys of the winter season.

With that complicated provenance, here is my poem

NOW THE HOLLY BEARS A BERRY–

(Adapted from an early New England Christmas carol, itself an adaptation of “The Holly & The Ivy,” an English traditional carol.)

 

Now the holly bears a ber-ry

As white as the milk

When the snow drifts u-pon us

As bil-lowing silk.

 

When the snow drifts u-pon us

We are joyous for-to-be,

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly. Holly. Hol — ly.

And the first treee in the green wood

It was the Holly.

 

Now the Hol-ly bears a ber-ry

As green as the grass

When sleds bring us cross the snow

Our journeys to pass.

 

When sleds bring us cross the snow

We are joy-ous for-to-be,

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly. Holly. Hol — ly.

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly.

 

Now the Hol-ly bears a ber-ry

As black as the coal

When we ga-ther wood-chopped

To stoke for us all.

 

When we ga-ther wood-chopped

We are joy-ous for-to-be,

And the first tree int he green wood

It was the Holly. Holly. Hol — ly.

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly.

 

Now the Hol-ly bears a ber-ry

As blood is it red

When we smile in our sweet-good

All snug in our beds.

 

When we smile in our sweet-good

We are joy-ous for-to-be,

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly. Holly. Hol — ly.

And the first tree in the green wood

It was the Holly.

 

Words by Scott Edward Anderson