On "Bethlehem Down"

The first thing one must deal with, I think, at least for the non-Anglophile reader/hearer of this hymn, is the title. It’s simple, really—Wikipedia has it that the Celtic word for hill resembles our contemporary word down. So the term “Bethlehem Down” would mean the hillsides of Bethlehem, or, more generally, the countryside near Bethlehem and, in the case of this song, the birthplace of our Christ.

What this lyric, written by Bruce Blunt in 1927, helps the reader, or singer, or hearer, see most immediately is the contrast between the divine plan and the human expectation. The first stanza imagines a hopeful mother and father desiring the best of what has been promised their newborn. The third, however, reveals a decidedly harsher reality. Nevertheless, the final stanza intimates that Mary was given a good 30 years for her little boy, her young man, her Son, to experience the best of a mother’s love before His revelation as the Son.

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