Poor Carols: Ding-Dong Merrily on High

A poor carol, in my opinion, is Ding-Dong. It’s fun to sing, but it’s unlikely to feature in a decent church’s carol service. The tune, Branle de l’Official, is sixteenth-century French and was played to a secular dance, featuring women leaping in the air. George Ratcliffe Woodward, an Anglican clergyman, saw fit to write words to it, which he published in 1924. In my view, he needn’t have bothered. There’s little spiritual substance in its lyrics, save a few references to high church worship (‘priest’, ‘prime’, ‘matins’).

1. Ding-dong! Merrily on high

in heaven the bells are ringing.

Ding-dong! Verily the sky

is riven with angels singing:

Gloria, hosanna in excelsis!


2. E'en so, here below, below,

let steeple bells be swungen;

and i-o, i-o, i-o,

by priest and people sungen!

Gloria, hosanna in excelsis!


3. Pray you, dutifully prime

your matin chime, you ringers;

may you beautifully rhyme

your evetime song, you singers:

Gloria, hosanna in excelsis!

-G R Woodward (1848-1934)

Still, the concept of ringing bells must be considered. I harbour a fondness for hearing church bells ring, though I have always attended churches which never bothered to construct a bell-tower, much less a peel. Many a Christmas card features ringing bells, as well as tree decorations and seasonal clip-art. The Bible says very little of bells, though oddball American televangelist Ernest Angely proclaims ‘The Holy Spirit is helping us ring the bells of Heaven throughout the whole earth in this final hour…’, whatever that means. Bells in the Bible have no association with Christmas or even heaven. In Exodus 28 & 39, bells feature on the High Priest’s garment. In Zechariah 14:20, a passage describing the future reign of Christ, we read ‘In that day “HOLINESS TO THE LORD” shall be engraved on the bells of the horses’. One might therefore make a case for associating bells with Christmas. Just as the tinkling bells revealed the coming down the corridor of the ancient high priest, so the cries from the manger signalled an even greater high priestly ministry. And because of what Christ achieved here on earth, even the beasts of burden will be consecrated to righteousness. Be that as it may, Ding-Dong is a dreadful carol and is rightly consigned to children’s parties and primary school assemblies.