Silent Night

Joseph Mohr


Joseph Mohr

Joseph Mohr is remembered as the author of ‘Silent Night,’ the famed Christmas carol.

He worked as a Roman Catholic priest in the early-mid-1800s.

Mohr, poet to Silent Night, was an Austrian Roman Catholic priest who wrote the words for this Christmas classic. It is recorded that on Christmas Eve of 1818 Mohr walked to see his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, in the neighbouring town. He brought along the words to this poem/song and asked his friend if he could write music for it. This was done in a few hours and the song was sung at Midnight Mass that very day. 

The poem/song speaks on themes of peace, religion, unity, and happiness. These can be seen through the dedication to God throughout the text as well as context clues— the season for which the poem was written and the setting in which it is normally sung. 


Summary of Silent Night 

Silent Night’ by Joseph Mohr is one of the best-loved Christmas carols. It speaks on the birth of Christ and the joy, mercy, and love he brought. 

The poem celebrates the moments of Christ’s birth and the peace that came over the world afterward. The speaker touches on salvation, mercy, and brotherly love that are now present for the whole world to experience. The song is meant to be sung on or around Christmas, celebrating the stories and legends around the Christ child. 


Structure of Silent Night 

‘Silent Night’ by Joseph Mohr is separated into six stanzas, five of which contain six lines and one of which has five. The lines do rhyme, but the pattern changes from stanza to stanza. For example, the first stanza rhymes ABCCDD and the second: AEFGHH. Since these words were written with the intern of them becoming a song, they are very similar in length and meter. The syllables are close to even throughout the stanzas. 


Poetic Techniques in Silent Night 

Mohr makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Silent Night’. These include alliteration, anaphora, enjambment, and repetition. The first, alliteration,  occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “forth” and “far” in line four of the sixth stanza and “Holy” and “hits” in stanza two. 

Mohr also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. This technique is often used to create emphasis. A list of phrases, items, or actions may be created through its implementation. This can be seen throughout the poem. For instance, in the couplets that conclude each stanza. 

Anaphora is one kind of repetition but there are many others. Repetition is very generally defined as the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone, or phrase within a poem. In this poem, due to the fact that it was written as song lyrics, there are several examples. The refrain “Silent night! Holy night!” starts five of the six stanzas and each stanza ends with a couplet, the parts of which are identical. 


Analysis of Silent Night 

Stanza One 

Silent night! Holy night!

All are sleeping, alone and awake

Only the intimate holy pair,

Lovely boy with curly hair,

Sleep in heavenly peace!

Sleep in heavenly peace!

In the first stanza of ‘Silent Night,’ the speaker begins by uses the refrain that will start five of the six stanzas: “Silent night! Holy night!”. This sets the tone for the lines that are to follow. The night is a special one. Everyone is sleeping, all that is aside from the “intimate holy pair” Mary and Joseph. They, along with the Christ child are awake. He is the “lovely boy with curly hair” referenced in the fourth line of the stanza. The last lines of this first stanza ask that all sleeping do so peacefully as the Christ child is. 


Stanza Two

Silent night! Holy night!

Son of God, O how he laughs

Love from your divine mouth,

Then it hits us–the hour of salvation.

Jesus at your birth!

Jesus at your birth!

In the second stanza, the refrain is followed by a joyful expression of love for God and his son. “O” the speaker sings out, “how he laughs”. This sound is wonderful, emanating from “your divine mouth”. It is at this moment that all are struck by the “hour of salvation”. This stanza concludes with a repetition of the phrase “Jesus at your birth!” All are celebrating, as it is Christmas time, the birth of Christ. 


Stanza Three 

Silent night! Holy night!

Which brought salvation to the world,

From Heaven’s golden heights,

Mercy’s abundance was made visible to us:

Jesus in human form,

Jesus in human form.

The third stanza adds that Christ’s birth, as is believed in the Christian tradition, “brought salvation to the world”. It came in the form of a child from “Heaven’s golden heights” and “Mercy” was upon the world. These lines capture the reverence of those celebrating the thanks they want to give to their God. 


Stanza Four 

Silent night! Holy night!

Where on this day all power

of fatherly love poured forth

And like a brother lovingly embraced

Jesus the peoples of the world,

Jesus the peoples of the world.

The “Holy” day that is Christmas is the one on which “all power / of fatherly love poured forth” into the world. God, who is the father to this child, and to all people, showed that love by sending his Son to earth. Jesus embraces the world like a loving brother. 


Stanza Five 

Already long ago planned for us,

When the Lord frees from wrath

Since the beginning of ancient times

A salvation promised for the whole world.

A salvation promised for the whole world.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker adds that this event had been long in the planning. It was always going to happen. The salvation Jesus brought was “promised for the whole world”. 


Stanza Six 

Silent night! Holy night!
To shepherds it was first made known
By the angel, Alleluia;
Sounding forth loudly far and near:
Jesus the Savior is here!
Jesus the Savior is here!

In the final lines of the poem, the speaker mentions the shepherds to whom it was “first made known” and the “angel”. This alludes to the larger mythology around the birth of Christ. Now, the speaker joyfully sings out “Jesus the Savior is here!” to conclude the song. 

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.

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