The third of eight cross-curricular lesson plans on Ballads for Christmas for Middle School, Secondary School, High School, KS3 children, with songs and animations, poetry analysis and writing, music analysis, art projects, documentary/film-making and more.
The Virgin's Cradle Hymn
Film by Paula Downes, music by Andrew Downes, poetry by Samuel Coleridge.
Sleep, sweet babe! my cares beguiling:
Mother sits beside thee smiling;
Sleep, my darling, tenderly!
If thou sleep not, mother mourneth,
Singing as her wheel she turneth:
Come soft slumber, balmily!
The Virgin's Cradle Hymn, published in 1817, was collected and translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Learn about his life and works here:
Coleridge apparently copied and translated the Latin text of 'The Virgin's Cradle Hymn' from a print he discovered in a Catholic village in Germany by the Flemish woodcutter and engraver, Hieronymus Wierix. The print, entitled "The Virgin Sewing While Angels Rock Her Son to Sleep", was a woodcutting of the infant Jesus asleep in a cradle, rocked by two angels, while the Virgin Mary sits alongside engaged in needlework:
Learn more about woodcutting and engraving here:
The poem makes a reference to a spinning wheel, which is reflected in both the music (see below) and the film. Spinning was hailed as the most worthy of a woman’s tasks up until the Industrial Revolution. The craft has since been lost in obscurity but we still know about the spinning wheel mainly through Fairy Tales, such as Sleeping Beauty. There are many more.
Choose a fairy tale based on a spinning wheel and act it out/narrate it to the class, and/or create a film. Discuss the similarities between the tales. A common theme is the connection between spinning and the supernatural.
The composer makes use of an ostinato throughout this song in the harp to conjure up the monotonous spinning of the wheel. Watch this video to learn more about ostinatos and then listen to the song again.
Other composers/arrangers have had the same idea when writing songs about spinning wheels. Watch these two songs and notice the monotonous/repetitive accompaniments: