“The Star of Bethlehem”
The fiddle sang a wandering tune of its own that made her remember June’s wild roses. Then it caught up anotehr tune to blend with Pa’s voice… – Grace said softly, ‘The Christmas star.’ — These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 25, “The Night Before Christmas”
The Star of Bethlehem was originally a poem written by Henry Kirke White (1785-1806), a gifted poet. White was born in Nottingham, England, and died in Cambridge. While enrolled at St. John’s College, planning to become a minister, he fell ill and died before graduation. “The Star of Bethlehem” was first published to music for the Handel & Haydn Society in the 1820s. Many versions of the hymn were published in the years following the Civil War. Today, the hymn is usually called “When Marshalled on the Nightly Plane.”
In the existing manuscript for These Happy Golden Years, Laura Ingalls Wilder included Pa’s singing of “The Star of Bethlehem” on Christmas eve, but it was Carrie, not Grace, who spoke when Pa was finished. “That means Christmas,” Carrie said. “The Star of Bethlehem is the Christmas Star.” Wilder misquoted some of the original lyrics, most notably mighty plane for nightly plane.
1. When marshal’d on the nightly plain,
The glittering host bestud the sky,
One star alone, of all the train,
Can fix the sinner’s wandering eye.
Hark! hark! to God the chorus breaks,
From every host, from every gem;
But one alone the Saviour speaks,
It is the Star of Bethlehem.
2. Once on the raging seas I rode,
The storm was loud, –the night was dark,
The ocean yawn’d– and rudely blow’d
The wind that toss’d my foundering bark.
Deep Horror then my vitals froze,
Death-struck, I ceased the tide to stem;
When suddenly a star arose,
It was the Star of Bethlehem.
3. It was my guide, my light, my all,
It bade my dark forbodings cease;
And through the storm and dangers’ thrall
It led me to the port of peace.
Now safely moor’d– my peril’s o’er,
sing, first in night’s diadem,
For ever, and for evermore,
The Star!– The Star of Bethlehem!
(from These Happy Golden Years)
When marshalled [sic] on the mighty plane,
The glittering hosts bestud the sky
One star alone of all the train
Can catch the sinner’s wandering eye.
It was my light, my guide, my all,
It bade my dark forebodings cease,
And through the storm and dangers thrall
It led me to the port of peace.
Now safely moored, my perils o’er,
I’ll sing, first in night’s diadem
Forever and forever more,
The Star– the Star of Bethlehem.
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Click on the above images to view a copy of 1870s sheet music of “The Star of Bethlehem.”
This music is archived in the Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music Collection at the Library of Congress. The Collection contains more than 62,500 pieces of historical sheet music registered for copyright: more than 15,000 registered during the years 1820-1860 and more than 47,000 registered during the years 1870-1885.
Click on the above images to view a copy of undated Handel & Haydn Society sheet music of “The Star of Bethlehem.”
This music is archived in the Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music, part of Special Collections at the Milton S. Eisenhower Library of The Johns Hopkins University. The collection contains over 29,000 pieces of music and focuses on popular American music from 1780-1960.
“The Star of Bethlehem” (THGY 25)
“When marshaled on the mighty plane”