Watchman, what is left of the night?@Isaiah 21:11
John Bowring (1792–1872)
© National Portrait Gallery

John Bowring, Hymns (London: Rowland Hunter, 1825), number 59.

Watchman (Mason) Lowell Mason, The Boston Handel and Haydn Society Collection of Church Music, 10th edition, 1831 (🔊 pdf nwc).

This hymn evokes a vivid childhood memory. Two men with deep, sonorous voices sang this song at the Christmas Eve midnight service each year for as long as I can remember. The church was dark, the watchman’s solitary lantern giving the only light in a hushed sanctuary. The watchman stood at the altar, and the traveler slowly made his way down the aisle, as the two sang the question-reply verses to each other. It was hard to miss the symbolism of the lonely traveler making his way to the One who sheds light on a dark world.

Richard Adams

Lowell Mason (1792–1872)

Watchman, tell us of the night,
What its signs of promise are.
Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height,
See that glory beaming star.
Watchman, does its beauteous ray
Aught of joy or hope foretell?
Traveler, yes—it brings the day,
Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;
Higher yet that star ascends.
Traveler, blessedness and light,
Peace and truth its course portends.
Watchman, will its beams alone
Gild the spot that gave them birth?
Traveler, ages are its own;
See, it bursts o’er all the earth.

Watchman, tell us of the night,
For the morning seems to dawn.
Traveler, darkness takes its flight,
Doubt and terror are withdrawn.
Watchman, let thy wanderings cease;
Hie thee to thy quiet home.
Traveler, lo! the Prince of Peace,
Lo! the Son of God is come!