“A Christmas Carol” by Christina Rossetti

Christina Rossetti was a 19th century British poet, the younger sister of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Often struggling with depression and suffering from poor health, she found solace in religion, influenced by the spirituality of the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement.

An 1866 portrait of the poet Christina Rossetti. Taken in profile, it depicts a young woman, gazing into the distance.

As a poet, Christina explored various themes, frequently drawing inspiration from the Bible and the Christian legends and traditions. With Christmas approaching, for this post I’ve selected “A Christmas Carol” (better known as “In the Bleak Midwinter”), first published in 1872. Set to music by Gustav Holst in 1906, this poem / church hymn has since become part of the classic repertoire of Christmas carols.

After you read the poem, check out the vocabulary exercise at the bottom of the post, designed for English language learners (answer key available). You’ll also find the link to a beautiful choral performance of this hymn.


In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow has fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter,
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty
Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Throng’d the air,
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

VOCABULARY EXERCISE

Find the words in the poem with the following meaning:

STANZA 1

  • very cold
  • depressing, dreary, gloomy

STANZA 2

  • to rule; to be a king or queen
  • to be enough

STANZA 3

  • dried grass used as animal food
  • a building for sheltering domestic animals

STANZA 4

  • an unmarried girl or young woman
  • to be present in great numbers

STANZA 5

  • a person who looks after sheep
  • a young sheep

To check your answers, click here for the answer key.


Now that you’ve read and studied this poem, listen to the rendition of the church hymn performed by the Tenebrae Choir.

Do you have any favourite Christmas carols (not necessarily in English)? Share them with us in the comments section below!

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