The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.
His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.
I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.
5. This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.
The text to this carol first appeared in Joshua Smith’s 1784 edition of Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs. Who exactly penned the poem is a fact lost to history but it was certainly not meant to be a sung only at Christmas. Although other composers had taken their turns setting the text, the most famous melody was created in the 1940s by English musicologist and composer Elizabeth Poston.
A little bit of context for readers that need it: The Tree of Life, to which the text refers, is the sister tree to The Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil in The Garden of Eden. Immortality and everlasting life are the gifts of the first tree, while the second bears the fruit that Adam and Eve ate. Their punishment for eating the fruit and becoming self-aware (which was against God’s command) was to be banished from the Garden and denied access to The Tree of Life and its fruit.
The specific type of fruit is not mention in Genesis and various rabbis have posited that it was a fig, grapes, pomegranate or even wheat. In Christian art, the fruit is almost always an apple which may be due to a Latin play on words between malus (apple) and mallum (evil).
In any case, the tune is lovely and really, what else is there?