Peace on the earth, good will to men
From heaven’s all gracious King
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing
Still through the cloven skies they come
With peaceful wings unfurled
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary worldIt Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Origins of the Quote
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, is at times rendered as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”. It is an 1849 poem and a Christmas carol written by Edmund Sears. Sears was the pastor of the Unitarian Church in Wayland, Massachusetts. In 1850, Sears’ lyrics were set to “Carol”, a tune written for the poem the same year at his request, by Richard Storrs Willis.
This went on to become the most popular pairing in the United States, while in Commonwealth countries, the lyrics are set to “Noel”, a later adaptation by Arthur Sullivan from an English melody. And till date, they have retained their fervour and flavour.
The Person Behind the Words
Edmund Sears composed the five-stanza poem in common meter doubled during 1849. It first appeared on December 29, 1849, in The Christian Register in Boston, Massachusetts.
Sears served the Unitarian congregation in Wayland, Massachusetts, before moving on to a larger congregation at First Church of Christ, Unitarian, in Lancaster. It was also known as The Bulfinch Church, for its design by Charles Bulfinch. After he suffered a breakdown, he returned to Wayland after seven years. He wrote ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ while serving as a part-time preacher in Wayland.
Writing during a period of personal melancholy, and with news of the revolution in Europe and the United States’ war with Mexico fresh in his mind, Sears portrayed the world as dark, full of “sin and strife”, and not hearing the Christmas message.
Some Final Thoughts
Sears is said to have written these words at the invitation of his friend, William Parsons Lunt. He was the pastor of United First Parish Church, Quincy, Massachusetts, for Lunt’s Sunday school. There is one area of doubt. One account says the carol was first performed by parishioners gathered in Sears’ home on Christmas Eve. However, the tune the carol was sung to, is unknown as Willis’ familiar melody was not written until the following year.
According to research, Sears’ song is remarkable for its focus not on Bethlehem, but on his own time, and on the contemporary issue of war and peace. Penned in 1849, it has long been assumed to be Sears’ response to the just-ended Mexican American War. The song has been included in many of the Christmas albums recorded by numerous singers in the modern era.
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