This popular Christian song is something of a curiosity; the description of Jesus' life as a dance, and the strong emphasis on the passionate, almost erotic, love of God for his Creation, seem very modern. There are frequent reminders of Sydney Carter's Lord of the Dance. But the specific language employed, and the attitude expressed towards the Jews in verse 6, suggest correctly that the work is much older. Its origins are unknown, but is thought to be medieval, and may well have been associated with mystery plays in the English West Country. The use of a love metaphor in spiritual writing is very ancient, and had a considerable vogue in the middle ages. The poem's first published appearance is in William Sandys' Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, 1833. The song is often considered a Christmas work - a carol, even - but is in fact suitable for almost any period in the church's year, as it tells Christ's whole life story. Many modern musical settings of the poem, either in whole or in part, are known and available in recording. Gustav Holst, John Rutter, and David Willcocks have all produced versions which are well-known, but a particular favourite of mine is the specifically Christmassy setting of the first few verses by John Gardner.

Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.

Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance.

In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance.

Then afterwards baptised I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father's voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance.

Into the desert I was led,
Where I fasted without substance;
The Devil bade me make stones my bread,
To have me break my true love's dance.

The Jews on me they made great suit,
And with me made great variance,
Because they loved darkness rather than light,
To call my true love to my dance.

For thirty pence Judas me sold,
His covetousness for to advance:
Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold!
The same is he shall lead the dance.

Before Pilate the Jews me brought,
Where Barabbas had deliverance;
They scourged me and set me at nought,
Judged me to die to lead the dance.

Then on the cross hanged I was,
Where a spear my heart did glance;
There issued forth both water and blood,
To call my true love to my dance.

Then down to hell I took my way
For my true love's deliverance,
And rose again on the third day,
Up to my true love and the dance.

Then up to heaven I did ascend,
Where now I dwell in sure substance
On the right hand of God, that man
May come unto the general dance.

Everything Hymnal

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