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Do you know all 9 verses of 'The First Nowell'?

By
Robert Rowat

We're pretty sure you're familiar with five, or possibly even six verses of "The First Nowell," but did you know this popular Christmas carol originally had nine verses?


Related: Listen to the 2017 CBC Christmas Sing-In


The carol dates from the early 1800s and tells the familiar Christmas story, from the shepherds receiving the news of Jesus' birth, to the arrival of the wise men with their gifts.

But over the years, three of the original nine verses have been dropped from common usage. A glance at these forgotten verses, below, reveals why.

The first couplet of verse 5 has one of those awkward pronunciation situations — "assuredly," "lie" — that spoils the rhyme scheme. The second couplet has prepositional gridlock: "in then for to see." Nobody wants to sing that.

Things go from bad to worse in verse 7. "Ass" doesn't rhyme with "was," and in the second couplet, they've just randomly thrown in the world "all" to make up the necessary number of syllables.

Finally, in verse 9, the line "If we in our time shall do well" simply doesn't fit the tune. And the second couplet's "resting place in general" is a pretty lacklustre way to sell the concept of eternal life.

Thankfully, the six surviving verses are really evocative. Here are the original nine:

1.

The first Nowell the angel did say
Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay;
In fields where they lay keeping their sheep,
On a cold winter’s night that was so deep.
[Refrain]: Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell.
Born is the King of Israel!

2.

They lookèd up and saw a star,
Shining in the east, beyond them far,
And to the Earth it gave great light,
And so it continued, both day and night.
[Refrain]

3.

And by the light of that same star,
Three wise men came from country far,
To seek for a king was their intent,
And to follow the star wherever it went.
[Refrain]

4.

This star drew nigh to the northwest;
O'er Bethlehem it took its rest.
And there it did both stop and stay,
Right over the place where Jesus lay.
[Refrain]

5.

Then did they know assuredly,
Within that house, the king did lie;
One entered in then for to see,
And found the babe in poverty.
[Refrain]

6.

Then enter'd in those wise men three,
Full reverently upon their knee,
And offer'd there, in his presence,
Their gold, and myrrh, and frankincense.
[Refrain]

7.

Between an ox stall and an ass,
This child truly there born he was;
For want of clothing they did him lay
All in a manger, among the hay.
[Refrain]

8.

Then let us all with one accord,
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord;
That hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with his blood mankind hath bought.
[Refrain]

9.

If we in our time shall do well,
We shall be free from death and hell;
For God hath prepared for us all
A resting place in general.
[Refrain]

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