Watchman, what is left of the night?@Isaiah 21:11
portrait
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).

portrait
Lowell Mason (1792–1872)

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

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Doubt and terror are withdrawn.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!