Between the Ox and the Grey Ass

FraNativityThis Christmas carol, Entre le boeuf et l ‘âne gris, is well loved in France, where was written in the 13th century, but not known well at all in the English-speaking world, so I couldn’t find it sung in English anywhere online. I got to know it in Finnish as “the French Christmas Carol,” as it is known here, where it is also is very popular. It is translated by Martti Korpilahti as Heinillä härkien kaukalon (on the hay in the manger). There is a free English version of the music produced by an enthusiastic music teacher, who turned it into ‘singable’ English for children, with pronunciation help for the French. You can also buy a choir arrangement from Paul Ayres; it was sung at Wadham College Chapel in Oxford this Advent.

You can see what happens to the different versions as they migrate by looking at them side by side: Personally I really like the “flock” of angels in the Finnish; of course “angels in the sky, angels all around” is much easier to sing (it sounds very “away in a manger”, and that’s my personal least favourite carol) but the French “thousand divine angels, thousand seraphim” is far more splendid, though the flying around could be a bit hectic – could he sleep through that? I also like the “greatest love” in the Finnish compared to the “God of love” in the French.

Between the Ox and the Grey Ass_Page_2

The image of the ox and the ass at the manger is Fra Angelico’s fresco from San Marco Dominican monastery, Florence. Wishing you a peaceful, joyful Christmas.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in Christmas, faith
One comment on “Between the Ox and the Grey Ass
  1. I also prefer the Finnish version. It uses typical Finnish alliteration in the opening phrases of the 1st and the last strophes. The flash-forward of the Crucifixion in the last strophe is particularly moving.

    I agree that “the Greatest love” is more interesting expression, because it also refers to the motherly love of the scene.

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