Moon Shines Bright, The (The Bellman's Song)
DESCRIPTION: "The moon shines bright And the stars give a light." Listeners are told to awake that they may hear the life of Jesus and of the passion: "We ne'er shall do for Jesus Christ as he hath done for us." Listeners are reminded that life is short
EARLIEST DATE: before 1825 (broadside, Bodleian Harding B 28(200))
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus death resurrection warning
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South,West)) Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (14 citations):
Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 108-109, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Leather, pp. 193-194, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text plus an excerpt, 2 tunes)
BroadwoodCarols, pp. 76-77, "The Moon shines bright [Christmas Carol]" (1 text, 1 tune)
KarpelesCrystal 95, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text, 1 tune)
RoudBishop #150, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Palmer, #4, "May Song" (1 text, 1 tune, the first half of which comes fro "The Moon Shines Bright (The Bellman's Song)" and the last verses from the "May Day Carol," two songs which often swap verses)
OBC 46, 47, 48, "The Bellman's Song" (1 text, 3 tunes)
Rickert, pp. 201-202, "The Moon Shone Bright; or, The Bellman" (1 text)
Cox-Newfoundland, pp. 97-98, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 193-194 (4 tunes)
ADDITIONAL: William Sandys, Cristmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (London, 1833 ("Digitized by Google"), pp. 159-160, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text)
A.M. Wakefield, "Foundation Stones of English Music," in Murray's Magazine (London, 1888 ("Digitized by Google"), Vol. IV, pp. 385-386, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Jon Raven, _The Urban and Industrial Songs of the Black Country and Birmingham_, Broadside, 1977, ppp. 168-169, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text)
Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #80, "The Moon Shines Bright" (1 text plus sundry loose stanzas)
Jasper Smith, "The Moon Shine Bright" (on Voice11)
Bodleian, Harding B 28(200), "The Moon Shone Bright," W. Armstrong (Liverpool), 1820-1824; also Douce adds. 137(66), Douce adds. 137(8), Johnson Ballads 1392C, Johnson Ballads 1485, "The Moon Shines Bright"; Harding B 7(31), "St. John's Day"; Johnson Ballads 2456, "Carol 2" ("The moon shines bright"); Harding B 25(379), "Christmas carol. III. ("The moon shone bright, & the[sic] gave light")
cf. "May Day Carol" (lyrics)
cf. "Hampshire Mummers' Carol (God Sent for Us the Sunday)" (lyrics)
cf. "Christ Made a Trance (God Made a Trance)" (lyrics)
cf. "Awake Awake (Awake Sweet England)" (lyrics)
cf. "Here We Come A-Wassailing"
cf. "Somerset Wassail"
NOTES [459 words]: Wakefield's text and tune are from Miss L.E. Broadwood; she took them down from her uncle, Mr. John Broadwood, probably around 1840 [p. 383]. - BS
This song in its current form seems to have originated in broadsides. It has some material in common with May carols, but whether the lyrics originated there (so A. L. Lloyd) or moved from this piece to the May songs is not clear.
The initial lines, "The moon shines bright The stars give a light" are found in Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book, volume II, from around 1744 (see Peter and Iona Opie, I Saw Esau: Traditional Rhymes of Youth, #55), but this is yet another separate piece:
The moon shines Bright
The Stars give a light
And you may kiss
A pretty girl
At ten a clock at Night.
The Baring-Goulds connect the above item with "Now I Am a Big Boy"; this appears possible but not certain.
A second stanza also occurs in nursery tradition: "God bless the master of this house, The Mistress bless also..." (see Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #423, p. 196).
Ravenscroft also printed a "Bellman's Song"; it is not the same thing.
According to Rickert, p. 300, it was Husk who first suggested that this was sung by bellmen (watchmen) on their rounds. Rickert also suggests a relation with the lines
"This carol they began that hour
How that life was but a flower"
from Act V, scene iv of "As You LIke It" (the famous song "It was a lover and his lass"). I see the link, but I doubt a specific connection. The idea is too obvious.
Bradley in The Penguin Book of Carols says "This is not, as might appear from its first line, a song about Charlie Chaplin." Don't ask me what that is supposed to mean; I have no clue.
In the article "Whale or Boojum: An Agony" (printed in Guiliano: Edward Guiliano, editor, Lewis Carroll Observed, Clarkson N. Potter, 1976, pp. 111-131), Harold Beaver suggests that Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark "perhaps... [is] a deliberate (or is it unconscious?) parody of that traditional English carol popularly known as the 'Bellman's Song' (p. 116). This is not on its face entirely absurd -- The Bellman is the figure in Carroll's poem who organizes the hunt, and the Snark has been suggested as an allegory of death, as this song is a warning about the danger of early death. But would Charles Dodgson/Carroll have known the song -- and, more to the point, would he have known it as "The Bellman's Song"? The song had been printed in his time, and Dodgson had a fair knowledge of popular music -- but he shows no knowledge of traditional carols, and the early book printings call it "The Moon Shines Bright," not "The Bellman's Song" (which is the Oxford Book of Carols title) -- and the versions I know don't mention a bellman. So I strongly doubt the connection. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2020 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.