*I should probably state upfront that we are not considering the wonderful “Krampus Carol of the Bells” from the KRAMPUS movie soundtrack. If we were, it might take the crown away from our current champion, “Down In Yon Forest.” The Krampus song is just too much of a novelty, whereas the latter has a lengthy, if somewhat mysterious, history.
First, the lyrics: “Down in yon forest be a hall (Sing May, Queen May, sing Mary!) ‘Tis coverlided over with purple and pall.
[Covered with a purple pall.—Ed.]
Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! Oh in that hall is a pallet bed,
‘Tis stained with blood like cardinal red. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! And at that pallet is a stone, on which the Virgin did atone. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! Under that Hall is a gushing flood From Christ’s own side ’tis water and blood. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! Beside that bed a shrub tree grows, Since He was born it blooms and blows. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! Oh, on that bed a young Squire sleeps, His wounds are sick, and see, he weeps. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby! Oh hail yon Hall were none can sin, Cause it’s gold outside and silver within. Sing all good men for the new-born Baby!” Give it a listen here.
The carol was adapted from the “Corpus Christi Carol” first documented in the early 1500s (but it’s probably older), which is in likelihood an Easter poem and seems to contain pre-Christian elements, though, or at least extraneous material. Is the “wounded night” with the wound that will not heal, always bleeding, meant to be the Fisher King of Arthurian legend? Is the “shrub tree” a reference to the Holy Grail?
Here are the lyrics to the “Corpus Christi Carol.”
“Lulley, lully, lulley, lully, The faucon hath born my mak away. He bare hym up, he bare hym down, He bare hym into an orchard brown.In that orchard ther was an hall, That was hanged with purpill and pall. And in that hall ther was a bede, Hit was hangid with gold so rede. And yn that bede ther lythe a knyght, His wowndes bledyng day and nyght. By that bedes side ther kneleth a may, And she wepeth both nyght and day. And by that bedes side ther stondith a ston, ‘Corpus Christi’ wretyn theron.”
With all the talk about blood and the link to the Holy Grail, the piece is appropriately vampiric, donchathink? Perfect listening for a dark winter’s night, even if one isn’t particularly religious.