Thoughts on “While By My Sheep”

By | January 3, 2019

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, let us look at “While By My Sheep I Watched” (“Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht’”), another beautiful early German carol of unknown origins. It is characterized by macaronic1 Refrain that features an echo and concludes with the Latin phrase “Benedicamus Domino!” (“Let us bless the Lord!”). It was published as early as 1615 and then again in 1623 in the Kölner Gesangsbuch (Cologne Hymnbook). Below is a translation of the text from that hymnal (click here for the original German).

As in many cases, English versions of this carol include only a few stanzas thereby missing some of the text’s most poignant moments. Look especially at the last three stanzas.

Als ich bei meinen Schafen wacht’

As I was watching my sheep,
an angel brought a message to me.

Therefore I am full of joy, I am full of joy,
Joy, joy, joy! (Echo) Joy, joy, joy!
Benedicamus Domino. (Let us bless the Lord!)
(Echo) Benedicamus Domino.

He said, “There shall be born
a Child in Bethlehem.” Refrain

He said, “The Child is lying in a stable
and shall be the Redeemer of the entire world.” Refrain

When I went to the stable to see the Child,
I truly did not want to leave. Refrain

The Child looked at me.
I gave Him my heart. Refrain

Humbly I kissed His feet.
Thereof my mouth was as sweet as sugar. Refrain

When I went home, the Child wanted to come with me
and did not want to depart from me. Refrain

The child lay down upon my chest
and gave my heart complete contentment.2 Refrain

This treasure I must keep well
so that my heart remains full of joy. Refrain

Copyright © 2015 Martin P. Dicke. All rights reserved.

This poem is sometimes attributed to Father Friederich Spee (1591-1635), a Jesuit priest who authored many other hymns. He is also known for being an outspoken opponent of the witchcraft trials that were prominent at that time.

Here is a recording by the Salt Lake Children’s Choir.

Christmas Music by Jubal’s Lyre Music Publishers Sheet Music Plus Home Page
  1. A text that includes multiple languages.
  2. The last German word of this line is “Herzenslust,” which literally means “to one’s heart’s content.”