What are the lyrics to ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’, and what does the carol mean?

11 November 2021, 09:10 | Updated: 15 November 2021, 15:01

What are the lyrics to ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’, and what does the carol mean?
What are the lyrics to ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’, and what does the carol mean? Picture: Getty

By Maddy Shaw Roberts

A sprightly carol known for its seemingly never-ending line of ‘Glorias’, Ding Dong! Merrily on High is one of world’s most beloved Christmas melodies. But what are the lyrics, and what does it all mean?

Ding Dong! Merrily on High is a popular Christmas melody often heard during carol concerts, including the Choir of King’s College Cambridge’s famous Nine Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve.

Its origins, perhaps unsurprisingly given its sprightly, agile tune, are in dance music. The melody was originally named ‘Branle de l’Official’ and was found in a 16th-century book on French dance forms.

English composer and church bell ringing enthusiast, George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934), came across the melody and, through his passion for pealing, was inspired to give the tune a bell-inspired text.

The carol was first published in 1924 in one of Woodward’s many song books, The Cambridge Carol Book. Harmony was later added by Irish composer Charles Wood, and Sir David Willcocks more recently did a new arrangement for a Carols for Choirs book.

But what are Woodward’s lyrics, and what do they mean?

Read more: The 30 greatest Christmas carols of all time

What do the lyrics to Ding Dong! Merrily on High mean?

Woodward was not only a composer and bell ringer, but also a gifted linguist who translated many hymns from Greek, Latin, and German.

Inspired by archaic poetry, Woodward wrote Ding Dong! Merrily on High in a macaronic style, combining English and Latin for lyrical effect.

Its most famous line, ‘Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis’, a Latin refrain meaning ‘Glory! Hosanna in the highest’, sits alongside an otherwise English text.

The ‘o’ of ‘Gloria’ is a long, melismatic phrase that requires carollers – usually of the soprano variety – to sing 33 syllables in just one breath.

Read more: The English and German lyrics to ‘Silent Night’, and the carol’s fascinating story

What are the lyrics to ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’?
What are the lyrics to ‘Ding Dong! Merrily on High’? Picture: Alamy

What are the lyrics to Ding Dong! Merrily on High?

1. Ding Dong! merrily on high
In heav’n the bells are ringing
Ding, dong! verily the sky
Is riv’n with angel 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 be sungen
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis

3. Pray ye dutifully prime
Your matin chime, ye ringers
May ye beautifully rime
Your evetime song, ye singers
Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis

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