The Carol of the Skiddaw Yowes, December 2014

“The shepherds on the fellside

That is by Bethany,

Had not on finger

Redder blains than we.

Jesus, that is God’s Light,

Warm us in the cold night.

 

“The yowes that men were watching

Long and long ago,

Were not more like ours to die

Than ours in the snow.

Jesu that knows Thy sheep,

Skiddaw yowes tend and keep.

 

“The angels that were singing

Long and long agone,

Were not a whiter host

Than snowflakes falling down.

Jesu, the True Fold,

Gird u

s on the rocks cold.”

 

Text by Edmund Casson – an early 20th century Cumbrian poet of whom little is known. (”Yowes” and ”gird” are respectively Cumbrian dialect words for ”ewes” and ”guard”).

This carol is a curious mixture of relating to both Humanism and the Divine, which is furthermore brought into a contemporary context of identifying with part of the traditional Christmas story told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

It has been set to music as a solo song by Ivor Gurney (1890-1922), who tragically died insane as a result of his experiences in the trenches of the Great War. During this period of English history, there was a vogue in writing such verses and setting them to music, by way of escaping from the memories of the horrors of warfare, as peace and normality gradually returned.

Often called The English Pastoral Movement, writers such as Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke and Walter De La Mare were at the forefront of all this, their musical equivalents being Gerald Finzi, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and others.