While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks

"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" (also known as "While Shepherds Watched" or "The Vision of the Shepherds") is a Christmas carol with words attributed to Irish hymnist, lyricist and Poet Laureate, Nahum Tate.


The exact date of Tate's composition is not known, but the words appeared in Tate and Nicholas Brady's 1700 supplement to their psalter, "New Version of the Psalms of David" of 1696. It was the only Christmas hymn authorised to be sung by the Anglican Church; before 1700 only the Psalms of David were permitted to be sung. It is written in common metre and based on the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14, although the gospel's "peace on earth to men of good will" is modified to the more encompassing "goodwill henceforth from heaven to men". It is the only one of the sixteen works in the 1700 supplement to still be sung today.

Textual variants

The title in the supplement was "Song of the Angels at the Nativity of our Blessed Saviour", but it has since become known chiefly by its opening line. In Tate's original it appeared as "Whilst Shepherds Watched Their Flocks" (i.e 'whilst' not 'while').fact|date=August 2008 Most modern hymn books use "while".

A nineteenth century version by G.W. Fink was "While humble shepherds watched their flocks" and other rewritten passages (see illustration).

"The Hymnal 1982" published in the US also contained a number of other modernisations, including dropping "Hallelujah" as the final line.fact|date=August 2008


The hymn tune "Cranbrook" was written for the words in 1805 by Canterbury shoe-maker Thomas Clark and named after the local village of Cranbrook. [cite web | url=http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-2/on_ilkley_moor_bar_tat.htm | title=While Shepherds Watched | accessdate=2008-08-07] It is now better known in the UK as the tune of On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at.

It was set to music in 1812 in "Harmonia Sacra". David Weyman's adaptation of "Christmas", taken from an aria in the 1728 opera "Siroe" by George Frideric Handel was arranged by Lowell Mason in 1821, and it is now this version which is most commonly used in the USA. In the United Kingdom and Canada the standard is the alternative arrangement using the music "Old Winchester", originally from Este's psalter, the "Whole Book of Psalmes", from 1592 but arranged by William Henry Monk sometime before 1874. It has been set to numerous other tunes, most commonly "Martyrdom", written by Hugh Wilson in 1800 but with an arrangement by Ralph E. Hudson from around 1885, and "Shackelford" by Frederick Henry Cheeswright from 1889.


* 2006 - Maddy Prior - "An Evening of Carols and Capers"
* 1998 - David Hill and The Choir of Winchester Cathedral - "O Come Let Us Adore Him: Christmas Carols from Winchester Cathedral"
* 1974 - George Guest and The Choir of St John's College, Cambridge - "Christmas at St. John's"
* 1972 - Burl Ives - "Christmas at the White House
* 1959, 1969, 1994, 1999 - The Choir of King's College, Cambridge
* 1997 - The Choir of New College, Oxford - "Nativitas: A Celebration of Peace"


ee also

*cite web|url=http://www.hymnsandcarolsofchristmas.com/Hymns_and_Carols/while_shepherds_watched_their_fl.htm
title= While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks|author=|publisher=The Hymns and Carols of Christmas|date=|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006

*cite web|url=http://www.carols.org.uk/while_shepherds_watched.htm|title=While Shepherds Watched|author=|publisher=carols.org.uk|date=|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006
*cite web|url=http://www.potw.org/archive/potw323.html|title=Nahum Tate (1652-1715)|author=|publisher=Poem of the Week|date=|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006
*cite web|url=http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/w/s/wshepwtf.htm|title=While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks|author=|publisher=The Cyber Hymnal|date=2006-09-30|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006
*cite web|url=http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/w/w433.html|title=While shepherds watched their flocks by night|author=Steve Benner|publisher=|date=2003|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006
*cite web|url=http://www.carolsinging.com/cc-while-shepherds-watch-their-flocks.html|title=While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks|author=Helen Yeomans|publisher=Christmas Carols and Carol Singing|date=2005|accessdate=20 December|accessyear=2006

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night — [While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night] a popular ↑carol often sung at Christmas …   Useful english dictionary

  • While shepherds watched their flocks by night — While shep|herds watched their flocks by night the title and first line of a Christmas ↑carol (=a traditional religious song) …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night — a popular carol often sung at Christmas. * * * …   Universalium

  • List of Christmas carols — A Christmas carol is a carol whose lyrics center on the theme of Christmas or that has become associated with the Christmas season even though its lyrics may not specifically refer to Christmas. Both types of Christmas carols are included in this …   Wikipedia

  • John Foster (composer and magistrate) — John Foster (1762 1822) of Chapletown South Yorkshire was the composer of the tune set to While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night known as Old Foster , one of the more popular of the hundreds of tunes used with these words.Musically he was… …   Wikipedia

  • Christmas carol — For the short novel by Charles Dickens, see A Christmas Carol. For other uses, see A Christmas Carol (disambiguation). Children singing Christmas Carols …   Wikipedia

  • Christmas music — Holiday Song redirects here. For the song by the Pixies, see Come on Pilgrim. Christmas song redirects here. For the Mel Tormé composition, see The Christmas Song. Christmas Songs redirects here. For albums with that name, see Christmas Songs… …   Wikipedia

  • Culture of the United Kingdom — The Proms is an eight week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts, on the last night with some traditional patriotic music of the United Kingdom.[1][2] …   Wikipedia

  • Children's song — Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, lullaby from the Lullabies of Europe education project.[1] Children s song may be a nursery rhyme set to music, a song that young children invent and share among themselves, or a modern creation intended for… …   Wikipedia

  • On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at — ( On Ilkley Moor without a hat ) Ilkley Moor, setting of the song. Music by Thomas Clark Lyrics by Anonymous Published 1916 Written …   Wikipedia