Home | Songs By Year | Songs from 1871

What Child Is This?

Buy What Child Is This? now from Amazon

First, read the Wikipedia article. Then, scroll down to see what other TopShelfReviews readers thought about the song. And once you've experienced the song, tell everyone what you thought about it.

Wikipedia article

{{Infobox musical composition

| name = What Child Is This?

| type =

| image = Gerard van Honthorst - Adoration of the Shepherds (1622).jpg

| alt =

| caption = The 'Adoration of the Shepherds' by Gerard van Honthorst

| translation =

| native_name =

| native_name_lang =

| composer =

| genre = Hymn

| occasion =

| text = William Chatterton Dix

| language =

| written = 1865

| based_on =

| meter = with refrain

| melody = "Greensleeves"

| composed =

| published = 1871

| misc =


"'What Child Is This?'" is a Christmas carol with lyrics written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 and set to the tune of "Greensleeves", a traditional English folk song, in 1871. Although written in Great Britain, the carol today is more popular in the United States than its country of origin.



The first verse poses a rhetorical question in the first half, with the response coming in the second half. The second verse contains another question that is answered, while the final verse is a universal appeal to everyone urging them "to accept Christ". The carol's melody has been described as "soulful", "haunting and beautiful" in nature.


The context of the carol centres around the Adoration of the Shepherds who visit during the Nativity of Jesus. The questions posed in the lyrics reflect what the shepherds were possibly pondering to themselves when they encountered Jesus, with the rest of the carol providing a response to their questions.

Background and influence

At the time he was writing the lyrics to "What Child Is This?" in 1865, William Chatterton Dix was working as the manager of an insurance company. He was afflicted by an unexpected and severe illness that resulted in him being bedridden and suffering from severe depression. His near-death experience brought about a spiritual renewal in him while he was recovering. During this time, he read the Bible comprehensively and was inspired to author hymns like "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus!" and "As with Gladness Men of Old". The precise time in 1865 when he wrote the poem "The Manger Throne" is disputed. While the 'St. Petersburg Times' details how Dix penned the work after reading the Gospel for Epiphany that year (Matthew 2:112) recounting the journey of the Biblical Magi; 'Singer's Library of Song: Medium Voice' contends that it was actually authored during the Christmas of 1865.


Although written in 1865, "What Child Is This?" was only first published six years later in 1871, when it featured in 'Christmas Carols Old and New', a "prestigious" and "influential" collection of carols that was published in the United Kingdom. The hymnal was edited by Henry Ramsden Bramley and John Stainer; even though it is not known with certainty who paired the three stanzas from "The Manger Throne" with the music from "Greensleeves", the third edition of 'The Christmas Encyclopedia' by William D. Crump and 'Stories of the Great Christmas Carols' both suggest that Stainer who was also responsible for "harmoniz[ing] the musical setting" may have done so.


Buy What Child Is This? now from Amazon

<-- Return to songs from 1871

This work is released under CC-BY-SA. Some or all of this content attributed to http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?oldid=1104747281.