When Massachusetts Unitarian minister Edmund Hamilton Sears published his poem "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" in a church magazine, his anonymity came to a resounding end. The words he wrote were instantly deemed profound by readers, and then set to music by Richard Storrs Willis the following year.
An unlikely collaborator, Willis was an editor and music critic for the New York Tribune. Fortuitously, he had also received extensive musical training in Europe, and his work with Sears produced a hymn that was deemed "one of the finest and most beautiful ever written," by American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes.
"It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" Lyrics
1. It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth,
To touch their harps of gold.
"Peace on the earth, good will to men,
From Heaven's all gracious King."
The World in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing
2. Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heav'nly music floats
O'er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing.
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The blessed angels sing.
3. And ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow:
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing.
4. For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Comes round the age of gold.
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.
The next song offers a literal version of the Biblical account of Jesus' birth. You'll find "While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" on the following page.