English Folk-Carols/The Cherry Tree

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For other versions of this work, see The Cherry-Tree Carol.

First version[edit]

1. Joseph was an old man
And an old man was he;
And Joseph married Mary,
The Queen of Galilee.

2. Mary and Joseph
Together did go,
And there they saw a cherry tree.
Both red, white and green.

3. Then up speaks Mary,
So meek and so mild:
O gather me cherries, Joseph,
For I am with child.

4. Then up speaks Joseph
With his words so unkind:
Let them gather thee cherries
That brought thee with child.

5. Then up speaks the little Child
In his own mother's womb:
Bow down, you sweet cherry tree,
And give my mother some.

6. Then the top spray of the cherry tree
Bowed down to her knee:
And now you see, Joseph,
There are cherries for me.

Second version[edit]

1. Joseph was an old man,
And old man was he;
He married with Mary,
The Queen of Glory.

2. Joseph took Mary
In the orchard wood,
Where there were apples, plums, cherries,
As red as any blood.

3. Then bespoke Mary,
So meek and so mild:
Get me some cherries
For my body's bound with child.

4. Joseph he's taken
These words so unkind:
Let them get you cherries, Mary,
That did your body bind.

5. Then bespoke Jesus,
All in His mother's womb:
Go to the tree, Mary,
And it shall bow down;

6. The highest bough of the cherry tree
Shall bow down to Mary's knee.
And she shall have cherries
For her young Son and she.

7. Mary got cherries
By one, two and three;
Mary got cherries
For her young Son and she.

Cecil Sharp's note[edit]

Nos. 3 & 4. THE CHERRY TREE.
(First version)
Sung by Mrs. Mary Anne Clayton, at Chipping Campden.

Mrs. Clayton gave me the words of the first stanza only. The remaining stanzas were sung to me by Mrs. Anne Roberts at Winchcombe (Gloucestershire) to a different tune. The words in the text have not been altered.

(Second version)
Sung by Mrs. Plumb, at Armscote, Worcestershire.

The words are very similar to a set printed by Hone (Ancient Mysteries Described 1823, pp. 90-1), from which the last two lines of the fifth stanza, which Mrs. Plumb forgot, have been taken. Except for this interpolation, the words in the text are as Mrs. Plumb sang them. This carol, of which I have noted eight variants, may be found in all the representative carol collections. The words, too, have always been exceedingly popular with broadside printers.

The legend upon which the story of this carol is based, is a variant of one related in one of the Apocryphal Gospels (Pseudo-Matthew, Chapter xx). Joseph and the Virgin with the Infant Jesus are fleeing to Egypt when Mary, seeing a palm tree, proposes that they shall rest awhile under its shade. Noticing that the tree was heavy with fruit she asks for some. Joseph somewhat testily replies: " I wonder thou sayest this, when thou seest what a height the palm is ... I think more of scarcity of water, which is already failing us in the bottles." Whereupon "the little child Jesus, sitting with a glad countenance in his mother's lap, saith to the palm, O tree, bend down thy branches, and with thy fruit refresh my mother." The palm accordingly bowed down, and they gathered its fruit; whereat, "Jesus said to it, Raise thee, O palm, and be strong, and be a partner with my trees which are in the paradise of my Father. And open from thy roots a spring of water which is hidden in the earth; and let waters flow forth from it to our satisfying. And immediately it arose, and there began to flow forth at its root a most pure fount of waters, very cool, and exceedingly clear" (see The Apocryphal Gospels, translated by B. Harris Cowper, pp. 59-60).

The Cherry Tree theme, however, is directly founded upon an incident in the Coventry Miracles (Piece xv). Joseph and Mary are on the road to "Bedlem" to be taxed when the following conversation takes place (see Hone's Mysteries, pp. 67-8):—

Maria.—A my swete husbond! wolde ye telle to me,
What tre is yon, standing vpon yon hylle?

Joseph.—For suthe Mary it is clepyd a chery tre;
In tyme of yer, ye myght ffede yow theron yowr fylle.

Maria.—Turn a geyn, husbond, & be holde yon tre,
How that it blomyght, now, so swetly.

Joseph.—Cum on Mary, that we wern at yon Cyte,
or ellys we may be blamyd, I telle yow lythly.

Maria.—Now my spowse, I pray yow to be hold
How the cheryes growyn vpon yon tre;
ffor to have them, of ryght, ffayn I wold,
& it plesyd yow to labor' so mec'h for me.

Joseph.—Yo' desyr to ffulfylle I schall assay sekyrly:—
Ow! to plucke yow of these cheries it is a werk wylde!
ffor the tre is so hy', it wol not be lyghtly
Y' for lete hy' pluk yow cheryes, be gatt yow with childe.

Maria.—Now, good lord, I pray the, graunt me this bonn,
to haue of these cheries, & it be yo' wylle;
now, I thank it god, yis tre bowyth to me down,
I may now gader'y a nowe, & etyn my ffylle.

Joseph then humbles himself, the miracle convincing him that he has offended "god i' trinyte."

Obviously, this is the source of the popular song. The last line of Joseph's last speech is almost word for word the same as the corresponding line of Mrs. Roberts's version.[1]


  1. Ibid. pp. 61-62

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1924, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.