> The Watersons > Songs > Emmanuel


[ Roud - ; Ballad Index CJ013 ; anon.]

The Watersons sang Emmanuel accompanied by Gabriel’s Horns in 1977 on their album Sound, Sound Your Instruments of Joy. This recording was also included in the 1990 CD reissue of Frost and Fire, in 2003 on The Definitive Collection, and in 2004 on the Watersons’ 4CD anthology Mighty River of Song. A live version from a Christmas radio programme recorded in December 1980 at Crathorne Hall, Crathorne, North Yorkshire, was published in 2005 on the CD A Yorkshire Christmas.

A.L. Lloyd commented in the original album’s sleeve notes:

Smashing tune, baffling words. A bit before the ninth century a set of antiphons used to be sung for the week before Christmas. About the thirteenth century an anonymous author made a Latin metrical hymn out of five of these antiphons, and this hymn was translated by J.M. Neale (1818-66), the author of Good King Wenceslas. Most modern hymnbooks prefer the later translation by T.A. Lacey but the Methodist Hymnbook and the Salvation Army stick to Neale, and it’s his words - more or less - that the Watersons offer here. The tune, first printed in 1856, is credited as “adapted by T. Helmore from a French missal in the National Library, Lisbon.” No-one has been able to find it there. Quite likely it’s a mock-medieval confection of Victorian times. But a good ’un.


Oh come, oh come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
Who mourns in lonely exile here
Until the son of God does appear

Chorus (after each verse):
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee oh Israel

Oh come, you son of David, come
And lead us to our heavenly home
Make safe the path that leads on high
And bar the way to misery

Oh come, oh come, you God of might
Who to your tribes on ancient Sinai’s heights
In olden times did give the law
In crown and majesty and awe


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard.