Jesus, Jesus, Rest Your Head

Posted by | December 22, 2015

christmas angelJesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.
All the evil folk on earth,
Sleep in feathers at their birth.

(But) Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.

Have you heard about our Jesus?
Have you heard about his fate?
How his mother came to the stable,
On that Christmas Eve so late?

Winds were blowing.
Cows were lowing.
Stars were glowing, glowing, glowing.

Jesus, Jesus, rest your head.
You have got a manger bed.

—Kentucky folk carol; collected by John Jacob Niles: 1912-1913 and 1932-1934

John Jacob Niles (1892-1980) began collecting Appalachian folk songs and composing music as a Kentucky teenager. In 1925, Niles published his first song collection—“Impressions of a Negro Camp Meeting”— and in 1933, he toured the U.S. and Europe with Marion Kerby to critical acclaim. He released his first album for RCA’s Red Seal label, “Early American Ballads” in 1938.

“Like a psalmodist, he intoned his verses in an ethereal chant which the angels carried aloft to the Glory seat. When he sang of Jesus, Mary and Joseph they became living presences. A sweep of the hand and the dulcimer gave forth magical sounds which caused the stars to gleam more brightly, which peopled the hills and meadows with silvery figures and made the brooks to babble like infants. We would sit there long after his voice had faded out, talking of Kentucky where he was born, talking of the Blue Ridge mountains.”

Henry Miller, Plexus: Book 2 of the Rosy Crucifixion, pp. 366-367, Grove Press, 1965


3 Responses

  • Granny Sue says:

    Thanks for sharing this carol, Dave. I’ve never heard it and now I want the melody! Have a very Merry Christmas and tell your Dad I said hello.

  • peg says:

    I first heard this folk carol on a tape deck from the library in the late 1980s. I have found it in only one carol book. It has become one of my favorites, and I played it at my former congregation when I provided piano music for them.

  • […] by folklorist John Jacob Niles. I put “collected” in quotes because the sources I’ve seen for the work put two dates of collection, 1912-1913 and 1932-1934. The implication is that the song was […]

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