Radiant beams

Radiant beams

The third verse of Silent Night seems to perplex modern singers. You’ve probably noticed – most newer recordings add the word ‘from’ after ‘radiant beams’:

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord at Thy birth

I sort of understand. It has puzzled me for most of my life, too. But I got to thinking about it at our carol service last Sunday, and it actually makes less sense – and is less wonderful – the modern way.

Radiant beams from his face do what? The sentence needs a verb. I’ve seen some internet sources suggesting that the sentence begins on the previous line: ‘Love’s pure light,/Radiant, beams from thy holy face.’ But a) that requires a lot more punctuation and b) it is extremely hard to sing in a way that conveys that meaning.

Remove the ‘from’, however, and it all makes perfect sense: Thy holy face beams radiant(ly). (Same grammatical structure as Shakespeare’s ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown’ – no one sticks a ‘from’ after ‘lies’, do they?!)

And what a wonderful image – Jesus’ face was radiant. He beamed to be bringing redeeming grace to us.

Of course, the infant Jesus may no more have been beaming than he was silent – he cried when he was hungry, cold or uncomfortable like any baby. But to take poetic licence and imagine that his face conveyed something of his glory and his delight in coming to reconcile us to the Father both makes grammatical sense of the line and captures beautifully one of the many wonders of this miraculous moment in time.

Merry Christmas, one and all.

2 Comments On This Topic
  1. johngosling42hotmailcom
    on Dec 24th at 3:52 pm

    Hi Jennie. Useful stuff grammar! I read yesterday that ‘Holy Night’ was written and performed by Franz Gruber because on the day before Christmas Eve a mouse gnawed a crucial part of the church organ making it inoperable. Gruber played the guitar and wrote he carol so that his Christmas Eve congregation wouldn’t be disapppointed. God certainly works in mysterious ways! Have a nice one. b

    • Jennie Pollock
      on Dec 24th at 4:19 pm

      I just learned that story this week, too. Funny how these things are around for years then the history gets out.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours.


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