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"Away in a Manger" is a Christmas carol first published in the late nineteenth century and used widely throughout the English-speaking world. In Britain, it is one of the most popular carols; a 1996 Gallup Poll ranked it joint second.[1] Although it was long claimed to be the work of German religious reformer Martin Luther, the carol is now thought to be wholly American in origin.[2]

The two most-common musical settings are by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895) and James Ramsey Murray (1887).


The popularity of the carol has led to many variants in the lyrics, which are discussed in detail below.  The following are taken from Kirkpatrick (1895).[3]



Almost every line in the carol has recorded variants.  The most significant include the following:

  • Verse 1, line 1: The earliest sources have "no crib for his bed".[4][5][6]  "No crib for a bed" is found in Murray (1887).[7]
  • Verse 1, line 2:  The earliest sources have "lay down his sweet head".[4][5] "Laid" is first found in "Little Children's Book" (1885)[6] -- see  lie/lay distinction.
  • Verse 1, line 3: The earliest sources have "stars in the sky".[4][5][7]  The word "bright" appears for the first time in Kirkpatrick's setting, presumably in order to make the pattern of the third line match that of the first.
  • Verse 1, line 4: The earliest sources have "asleep in the hay".[4][5][6]  Murray (1887) changes this to "on the hay".[7]
  • Verse 2, line 1: The earliest sources, including Murray (1887), have "the poor baby wakes".[4][5][7]  "The baby awakes" is found from 1894.[8]
  • Verse 2, line 4:  This line has a multitude of variants:
    • "And stay by my crib to watch lullaby" (Seamen's Magazine, 1893)[4]
    • "And stay by my crib watching my lullaby" (The Myrtle, 1894)[5]
    • "And stay by my cradle to watch lullaby" (Murray, 1887)[7]
    • "And watch by me always, and ever be nigh" (1890)[9]
    • "And watch o'er my bed while in slumber I lie" (1893)[10]
    • "And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh" (1894)[8]
    • "And stay by my side until morning is nigh" (1905)[11]
  • Verse 3 is absent from the earliest publications.  It first appears in Gabriel's Vineyard Songs (1892).[12]
  • Verse 3, line 4: Instead of "take us to heaven", one popular variant found from 1905 has "fit us for heaven".[11]



File:Away In A Manger Lyrics.png

The first two verses of the lyrics were published in the November 1883 issue of The Sailors' Magazine and Seamen's Friend.[4]  The article claims, under the heading "Luther's Cradle Song", that Template:Quote A similar article appears in the May 1884 issue of The Myrtle, a periodical of the Universalist Publishing House in Boston, Massachusetts.,[5] claiming that Template:Quote Both articles include almost-identical text of the first two verses, with no music.  The Myrtle article suggests the melody of Home! Sweet Home!.[5]

The 1884 report of an American Mission in Maharashtra, India, states that "[t]he hymns and cradle songs learned in the school, are often sung at home.  One woman said that 'Hush my dear,' and 'Mother mine,' were heard all day in their alley, and now more lately, Luther's cradle hymn, 'Away in a manger, no cot for his bed,' has a place with them and is a favorite."[13]

The first known musical setting was published in an Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School collection, Little Children's Book for Schools and Families (1885), where it simply bore the title "Away in a Manger".  It was set to a tune called "St. Kilda," credited to J.E. Clark.[6]

File:Away in a manger St Kilda.png

Third verseEdit

The third stanza, "Be near me, Lord Jesus", is absent from the known early sources.  Its first known appearance was in Gabriel's Vineyard Songs (1892), where it was set to a melody by Charles H. Gabriel (simply marked "C").[12][2] Gabriel credited the entire text to Luther and gave it the title "Cradle Song".  Decades later, a story was published attributing the third verse to John T. MacFarland:


Since this story dates the composition of the stanza to 1904-1908, over a decade after its first known appearance, Hill judges that "the 1892 publication [of Gabriel's Vineyard Songs] renders the Bishop's story suspect, and additional evidence must be found before McFarland can be safely credited with the writing of the third stanza".[2]  It has been suggested that Gabriel may have written the third stanza himself and attributed it to Luther.[14]

Spurious attribution to LutherEdit

The great majority of early publications, including the earliest known to us, ascribe the lyrics to German Protestant reformer Martin Luther.  Many go so far as to title the carol "Luther's Cradle Song" or "Luther's Cradle Hymn", or to speak of its alleged popularity in Germany.[15]  The claim of Luther's authorship continued to be made well into the twentieth century, but it is now rejected as spurious for the following reasons:[2] 

  • No text in Luther's known writings corresponds to the carol.
  • No German text for the carol has been found from earlier than 1934, more than fifty years after the first English publication.  That German text reads awkwardly, and appears to be the result of a translation from the English original.
  • When some earlier nineteenth-century sources do mention a carol written by Luther for his son Hans, they are referring to a different text: Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her.

Richard Hill, in a comprehensive study of the carol written in 1945, suggested that "Away in a Manger" might have originated in "a little play for children to act or a story about Luther celebrating Christmas with his children", likely connected with the 400th anniversary of the reformer's birth in 1883.[2]

Theological ambiguityEdit

In the second verse, the line "no crying he makes" is considered by some to fall into the heresy of docetism,[16] with the line's implication that, by not crying, Jesus could not have been fully human as is taught by orthodox Christian doctrine.[17]

However, as the first two lines of that verse make clear, the context is that of a newborn having fallen asleep sometime after birth (see last line of v.1), and being later awakened by the lowing of nearby cattle. In this situation he does not "fuss" or cry. Some infants when napping usually do so and others wake and lie quietly (unless hungry, wet, or otherwise distressed), so there is nothing "not fully human" about Jesus' behavior.



File:Away in a manger Murray.png

The most popular musical setting in the United States is commonly known as "Mueller".[2]  The melody was first published, under the title "Luther's Cradle Hymn", by James R. Murray in his collection Dainty Songs for Little Lads and Lasses (1887).[7][2]  

Murray included a claim that the hymn was "[c]omposed by Martin Luther for his children". Hill writes:[2] Template:Quote

As a result of this "tactical error", Murray's melody appeared, without credit, in several subsequent publications.  By 1919, the melody was attributed to "Carl Mueller",[18] and this attribution was repeated several times in other publications.[2] The identity of "Carl Mueller" is unknown, but the tune is widely known as "Mueller" as a result.

File:Away in a manger Kirkpatrick.png


The standard melody in England is "Cradle Song", written by the American composer William J. Kirkpatrick for the musical Around the World with Christmas (1895).[3][19] 

In his article "Not so far away in a Manger, forty-one settings of an American carol", published in the Music Library Association Notes (second series) III, no. 1 for December 1945,[2] Richard Hill identifies 41 different musical settings.

An arrangement by Christopher Erskine combining both settings (harmony), first heard in 1996 in Canberra at the annual pair of joint Carol Services in Manuka, performed by the choirs of St Paul's Church (Anglican) and St Christopher's Cathedral (Roman Catholic). In this version the Kirkpatrick setting is sung by one choir, and the Murray setting by the other choir, alternating through the first two verses. Both settings are sung together for the third verse.

Other notable recordingsEdit

Template:Refimprove section

  • 1998: Kenny Chesney on the album Country Christmas Classics (No. 67 on the Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart)
  • 2007: Jazz guitarist Royce Campbell on his album A Solo Guitar Christmas

References Edit

  1. Away in a Manger. Accessed 7 December 2009.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Richard S. Hill, "Not So Far Away in a Manger," Music Library Association Notes, December 1945.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Template:Cite book
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Template:Cite journal
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Template:Cite journal
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Template:Cite book
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Template:Cite book
  8. 8.0 8.1 Template:Cite journal
  9. Template:Cite book
  10. Template:Cite journal
  11. 11.0 11.1 Template:Cite book
  12. 12.0 12.1 Template:Cite book
  13. Template:Cite book
  14. Template:Cite book
  15. for example, Murray (1887) repeats The Myrtle's title of "Luther's Cradle Hymn" and the claim that it was "[c]omposed by Martin Luther for his children, and still sung by German mothers to their little ones".
  16. Template:Cite web
  17. Template:Cite web
  18. Template:Cite book
  19. Template:Cite book
  20. Template:Cite web

External linksEdit