The Little Room
This rare carol may well derive from its being published in 1847 in “A Good Christmas Box”, whence it found its way into oral tradition, but only in the West Midlands. Cecil Sharp remarked that it was very popular in Shropshire where it was sung at Christmas by groups of two or more men. The tune, with its rhythmic twists, is particularly fine.
The full words are as follows:
THE FIRST PART
- As on my bed with grief oppressed
I laid me down to take my rest,
Into a dream most strange I fell,
Which to the world in brief I’ll tell.
- Methought an angel all in white
Did come to me, when late at night,
And said : Prepare to go with me
I’ll show strange wonders unto thee.
- The angel forced me to go—
Indeed, whether I would or no—
And, in a very little space,
He brought me to a glorious place.
- Upon a throne there sat a King
Many melodiously did sing
All clothed in fine white array,
Which shined brighter than the day.
- It was so beautiful and fair
I fain would have continued there
With that the angel said to me
Poor soul this is no place for thee.
- A little further you must go
For something else I will [thee] show.
Then from this place I did depart,
Full sore it grieved me to the heart.
- Into a little room we went
Where was a noisome stinking scent
For want of sweeping many years
It like a dung-hill did appear.
- One came to clear the dirt away
But it was grown to such decay
He could by no means clean the same
It did the King’s wrath much inflame.
- He said : It shall no longer stand
I will destroy it out of hand
There is no other hope I see—
This little room shall burned be.
- Another place he brought me to,
Most sad and dreadful to the view;
It grieved my heart to see the same
All full of sulphur, smoke and flame.
- One looked at me both fierce and grim,
Which made me tremble every limb
My soul was filled with dread and fear,
I said: How long must I be here?
- To me the angel then replied
Here, ever here, you must abide;
Except this room can cleansed be
There will be no relief for thee.
- The Prince said : Father ! be free
To give that little room to me
I’ll put it in another frame,
My own heart’s blood to cleanse the same.
- O then it was perfumed and done,
The King was willing that His Son
The greatest torture then could bear
To put the room in good repair.
- His blood was thrown upon the floor,
And water then was sprinkled o’er
The room was suddenly made clean
And not one spot was to be seen.
- The angel came and said to me
I now am come to set thee free.
O then my joys were more and more
That I had seen my troubles o’er.
- Again he brought me to the room,
Where was a smell of rich perfume
I was amazed to see the same,
For it was in another frame.
- Then to the angel I did say
Interpret this to me, I pray,
Because it seemeth something strange
To see so wonderful a change.
- The angel said : This is the world
It would have been to ashes hurled,
Had not Christ shed His blood so free
To cleanse the world and ransom thee.
- Although He died He lives again,
And with His Father now doth reign;
At His right hand He sits on high
And lives to all eternity.
- He’ll come again to judge the world
The wicked ones they shall be hurled
Into the pit of discontent,
Where wicked fiends they do torment.
- The righteous need not fear to die
For they shall be with Christ on high
Although afflicted here on earth,
They will be happy after death.
- Then by the hand he did me take,
And said : Poor drowsy soul, awake!
Being awakened from my sleep,
My heart was full ; then I did weep.
- To think my Christ so patiently
Did undergo such misery
To free lost sinners from the grave
He shed His blood the world to save.
- I hope this dream is for my good.
Lord Jesus with Thy precious blood
Wash all my heinous sins away
And make me fit for the last day.
THE SECOND PART
- Another mystery behold
I’ll in the second part unfold
These worthy poems I have penned
That all good Christians may attend.
- This mystery I do compare
Unto a gallant lady fair,
And a black king, that reigns below,
Who sought this lady’s overthrow.
- The black king, having such a spite
Against this gallant lady bright,
Sent forth an order, or decree,
That she to death shall murdered be.
- According to the black king’s laws,
Condemned to die this lady was.
When she her sentence came to know
Her tears like fountain streams did flow.
- Now when the lady’s death was near,
A young Prince came and said : Don’t fear
For thou shalt not destroyed be
I’ll die myself to set thee free.
- Then straight spake [or “spoke”] up this same young Prince:
I’m come to stand in her defence
Upon her be not too severe
I’ll die myself to set her clear.
- Then was it the young Prince’s doom
To suffer in this lady’s room.
For by these lines I briefly show
That you the mystery may know.
- First with the lady I’ll begin ;—
It is the soul condemned for sin,
Had not the Prince resigned his breath
To save it from eternal death.
- The black king Satan is, we know,
Who sought the soul to overthrow
And the young Prince is Christ indeed,
Who on the cross for sin did bleed.
Notes by Gwilym Davies 29 May 2015