Piece of the Week – New Year Carol

In the 1980s, when our children were either very small or perhaps not quite born, our friends David and Margaret Cutforth kindly lent us their beautiful Elizabethan house in White Colne for a holiday (in return for a little cat-sitting). The lovely grounds stretched down to the river and the house was a magical warren of rooms where the tall amongst us needed to keep our heads down – the doors were marked with a ‘Duck or Grouse’ sign.

On their many bookshelves was an old poetry book containing the poem ‘Here we bring new water’ – quite a well-known verse (set by Britten in the 1930s) which welcomes in the New Year, though I’ve never found anyone who quite knows what it all means!  As a case in point, try reading the Wikipedia entry for the phrase ‘levy-dew’ – which forms the chorus text, and, in my setting, a constantly repeated background to the verses as well. After several learned guesses, the writer has to admit that ‘the meaning of the words is not certainly known’.

Other interesting phrases are:

‘The seven bright gold wires, and the bugles that do shine’ (something to do with Revelation?)

‘Open you the West Door, and turn (=let?) the Old Year go: open you the East Door, and let the New Year in!’

I love these slightly unclear and archaic verses, and I responded, in the productive atmosphere of the old house, with joy and happiness, dedicating it to the owners. You can hear a performance here, and the music is published by Banks Music Publications.  Happy New Year!

2 thoughts on “Piece of the Week – New Year Carol”

  1. Dear Alan Bullard

    We have just sung this New Year’s Carol today in church and whilst Wikiepiedia suggests it’s from Pembrokshire, it has an Elizabethian quality and texture in the lyrical phrasing. So, I would suggest that it may have been written in the nineteenth century and re presented by Britten in the twentieth, look to Elizabethian Carols for your answer.
    Yes, I think it is one of the nicest New Year Greetings, so on that note!

    A Happy New Year


    1. Thank you Christine – yes, you are probably right. They are lovely words, whenever and wherever they originate.

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