Carol: What Child IS This?

Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind. ~Mary Ellen Chase

What Child Is This?

Greensleeves "What Child Is This?" is a Christmas carol lyrically written in 1865 by William Chatterton Dix to the melody of "Greensleeves". Although the chorus changes from verse to verse, many recorded versions simply use the first chorus throughout.

This tune is very haunting and was used in the movie "How The West Was Won" when describing the west. Remember "Come Come Come Away With Me Where The Grass Grows Tall And The Land IS Free"... Debbie Reynolds.

The origins of the tune have been lost over the years and in fact it was even attributed to King Henry VIII (1491-1547) which is highly doubtful.

Listen to it as an mp3 file.


"Greensleeves" is a traditional English folk song and tune, basically a ground of the form called a romanesca.

A broadside ballad by this name was registered at the London Stationer's Company in 1580 as "A New Northern Dittye of the Lady Greene Sleeves." No copy of that printing is known. It appears in the surviving A Handful of Pleasant Delights (1584) as "A New Courtly Sonnet of the Lady Green Sleeves. To the new tune of Green sleeves." It remains debatable whether this suggests that an 'old' tune of "Greensleeves" was in circulation, or which one our familiar tune is. Many surviving sets of lyrics were written to this tune.


[Tune: Greensleeves, English, before 1642]

 What child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring him laud,
The babe, the son of Mary.

 Why lies he in such mean estate
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The Cross be borne for me, for you;
Hail, hail, the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

 So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king, to own him.
the King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone him.
Raise, raise the song on high,
The Virgin sing her lullaby:
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.