Christmas Carols: What Child is This?

William Chatterton Dix

What Child is This? was written by William Chatterton Dix (1837-1898), the manager of an insurance company in Glasgow. In 1865, when only 29 years of age, Dix was struck with a near fatal illness and consequently suffered months confined to his bed.  During this time, he read the Bible comprehensively and underwent a spiritual renewal that led him to write several hymns, including “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!” and “As with Gladness Men of Old”.

The lyrics of the carol are taken from a longer poem written by Dix called “The Manger Throne”. The song consists of three stanzas in total, with the first verse posing a rhetorical question that is answered. The second verse contains another question that is answered, with the final verse a universal appeal to accept Christ.

Although written in 1865, “What Child Is This?” was not published until 1871. It featured in Christmas Carols Old and New,  a prestigious and influential collection of carols in the United Kingdom. The hymnal was edited by clergyman and famed hymnologist Henry Ramsden Bramley and composer John Stainer. It is unknown who paired the three stanzas from “The Manger Throne” with the tune “Greensleeves” – a traditional English melody popular since the 14th century – but the third edition of The Christmas Encyclopedia by William D. Crump and Stories of the Great Christmas Carols both suggest that Stainer may have done so.

What Child is This?

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 is 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 he 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 sings her lullaby;
Joy, joy, for Christ is born,
The babe, the son of Mary!

Johnny Mathis, in my opinion one of the most beautiful voices ever to grace our earth. He was my mother’s favorite, so perhaps I am partial.

For a female voice, I stumbled across this singer, completely unknown to me but simply amazing. Enjoy!



Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
%d bloggers like this: