Ballads of Mystery and Miracle and Fyttes of Mirth - Popular Ballads of the Olden Times - Second Series
by Frank Sidgwick
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[Transcriber's Note:

This text is intended for users whose text readers can use neither the "real" (unicode/utf-8) version of the file nor the simplified latin-1 version. A few Greek words have been transliterated and shown between marks, with eta and omega shown as e: and o:; the one reference to long "s" is shown as [s]. Other accented letters have been either "unpacked" (oe, ae) or reduced to their simple forms.

The printed text used small capitals for emphasis. These have been replaced with marks where appropriate. Missing lines were shown by rows of widely spaced dots (single lines) or asterisks (longer sections). They are shown here in groups of three:

... ... ... or *** *** ***

All brackets are in the original, except footnotes and similar material. Sidenote references in the Appendix are unchanged from the original. Errors are listed at the end of the e-text.]

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Uniform with this Volume


FIRST SERIES. Ballads of Romance and Chivalry.

'It forms an excellent introduction to a sadly neglected source of poetry.... We ... hope that it will receive ample encouragement.' —Athenaeum.

'It will certainly, if carried out as it is begun, constitute a boon to the lover of poetry.... We shall look with anxiety for the following volumes of what will surely be the best popular edition in existence.' —Notes and Queries.

'There can be nothing but praise for the selection, editing, and notes, which are all excellent and adequate. It is, in fine, a valuable volume of what bids fair to be a very valuable series.' —Academy.

'The most serviceable edition of the ballads yet published in England.' —Manchester Guardian.


Second Series. Ballads of Mystery and Miracle and Fyttes of Mirth

'Gar print me ballants weel, she said, Gar print me ballants many.'

A. H. BULLEN 47 Great Russell Street London. MCMIV

'What man of taste and feeling can endure rifacimenti, harmonies, abridgments, expurgated editions?'



Preface ix Ballads in the Second Series x Additional Note on Ballad Commonplaces xvi

Thomas Rymer 1 The Queen of Elfan's Nourice 6 Allison Gross 9 The Laily Worm and the Machrel of the Sea 12 Kemp Owyne 16 Willie's Lady 19 The Wee Wee Man 24 Cospatrick 26 Young Akin 32 The Unquiet Grave 41 Clerk Colven 43 Tam Lin 47 The Clerk's Twa Sons o' Owsenford 56 The Wife of Usher's Well 60 The Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie 63 Clerk Sanders 66 Young Hunting 74 The Three Ravens 80 The Twa Corbies 82 Young Benjie 83 The Lyke-Wake Dirge 88 The Bonny Earl of Murray 92 Bonnie George Campbell 95 The Lament of the Border Widow 97 Bonny Bee Ho'm 100 The Lowlands of Holland 102 Fair Helen of Kirconnell 104 Sir Hugh, or The Jew's Daughter 107 The Daemon Lover 112 The Broomfield Hill 115 Willie's Fatal Visit 119 Adam 123 Saint Stephen and King Herod 125 The Cherry-Tree Carol 129 The Carnal and the Crane 133 Dives and Lazarus 139 Brown Robyn's Confession 143 Judas 145 The Maid and the Palmer 152 Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight 155 A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded 159 Captain Wedderburn 162 The Elphin Knight 170 King John and the Abbot 173 The Fause Knight upon the Road 180 The Lord of Learne 182 The Bailiff's Daughter of Islington 202 Glenlogie 205 King Orfeo 208 The Baffled Knight 212 Our Goodman 215 The Friar in the Well 221 The Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter 224 Get Up and Bar the Door 231

Appendix 235 The Grey Selchie of Shool Skerry 235 The Lyke-wake Dirge 238 Index of Titles 245 Index of First Lines 247


The issue of this second volume of Popular Ballads of the Olden Time has been delayed chiefly by the care given to the texts, in most instances the whole requiring to be copied by hand.

I consider myself fortunate to be enabled, by the kind service of my friend Mr. A. Francis Steuart, to print for the first time in a collection of ballads the version of the Grey Selchie of Shool Skerry given in the Appendix. It is a feather in the cap of any ballad-editor after Professor Child to discover a ballad that escaped his eye.

My thanks are also due to the Rev. Professor W. W. Skeat for assistance generously given in connection with the ballad of Judas; and, as before, to Mr. A. H. Bullen.

F. S.


The ballads in the present volume have been classified roughly so as to fall under the heads (i) Ballads of Superstition and of the Supernatural, including Dirges (pp. 1-122); (ii) Ballads of Sacred Origin (pp. 123-154); (iii) Ballads of Riddle and Repartee (pp. 155-181); and (iv) a few ballads, otherwise almost unclassifiable, collected under the title of 'Fyttes of Mirth,' or Merry Ballads (pp. 182 to end).


That the majority of the ballads in the first section are Scottish can hardly cause surprise. Superstition lurks amongst the mountains and in the corners of the earth. And, with one remarkable exception, all the best lyrical work in these ballads of the supernatural is to be found in the Scots. Thomas Rymer, Tam Lin, The Wife of Usher's Well, Clerk Sanders, and The Daemon Lover, are perhaps the most notable examples amongst the ballads proper, and Fair Helen of Kirconnell, The Twa Corbies, and Bonnie George Campbell amongst the dirges. All these are known wherever poetry is read.

'For dulness, the creeping Saxons; For beauty and amorousness, the Gaedhills.'

But the exception referred to above, The Unquiet Grave, is true English, and yet lyrical, singing itself, like a genuine ballad, to a tune as one reads.

The complete superstition hinted at in this ballad should perhaps be stated more fully. It is obvious that excessive mourning is fatal to the peace of the dead; but it is also to be noticed that it is almost equally fatal to the mourner. The mourner in The Unquiet Grave is refused the kiss demanded, as it will be fatal. Clerk Sanders, on the other hand, has lost—if ever it possessed—any trace of this doctrine. For Margret does not die; though she would have died had she kissed him, we notice, and the kiss was demanded by her and refused by him: and Clerk Sanders is only disturbed in his grave because he has not got back his troth-plight. The method of giving this back—the stroking of a wand—we have had before in The Brown Girl (First Series, pp. 60-62, st. 14).

In the Helgi cycle of Early Western epics (Corpus Poeticum Boreale, vol. i. pp. 128 ff.), Helgi the hero is slain, and returns as a ghost to his lady, who follows him to his grave. But her tears are bad for him: they fall in blood on his corpse.

The subject of the Lyke-wake would easily bear a monograph to itself, and at present I know of none. I have therefore ventured, in choosing Aubrey's version in place of the better known one printed—and doubtless written over—by Sir Walter Scott, to give rather fuller information concerning the Dirge, its folklore, and its bibliography. A short study of the ramifications of the various superstitions incorporated therein leads to a sort of surprise that there is no popular ballad treating of the subject of St. Patrick's Purgatory, which has attracted more than one English poet. Thomas Wright's volume on the subject, however, is delightful and instructive reading.


The short section of Ballads of Sacred Origin contains all that we possess in England—notice that only two have Scottish variants, even fragmentary—and somewhat more than can be classified as ballads with strictness. Yet I would fain have added other of our 'masterless' carols, which to-day seem to survive chiefly in the West of England. One of their best lovers, Mr. Quiller-Couch, has complained that, after promising himself to include a representative selection of carols in his anthology, he was chagrined to discover that they lost their quaint delicacy when placed among other more artificial lyrics. Perhaps they would have been more at home set amongst these ballads; but I have excluded them with the less regret in remembering that they stand well alone in the collections of Sylvester, Sandys, Husk; in the reprints of Thomas Wright; and, in more recent years, in the selections of Mr. A. H. Bullen and Canon Beeching.

The Maid and the Palmer would appear to be the only ballad of Christ's wanderings on the earth that we possess, just as Brown Robyn's Confession is the only one of the miracles of the Virgin. One may guess, however, that others have descended rapidly into nursery rhymes, as in the case of one, noted in J. O. Halliwell's collection, which, in its absence, may be called The Owl, or the Baker's Daughter. For Ophelia knew that they said the owl was the baker's daughter. And the story of her metamorphosis is exactly paralleled by the Norse story of Gertrude's Bird, translated by Dasent.

Gertrude was an old woman with a red mutch on her head, who was kneading dough, when Christ came wandering by, and asked for a small bannock. Gertrude took a niggardly pinch of dough, and began to roll it into a bannock; but as she rolled, it grew, until she put it aside as too large to give away, and took a still smaller pinch. This also grew miraculously, and was put aside. The same thing happened a third time, till she said, 'I cannot roll you a small bannock.' Then Christ said, 'For your selfishness, you shall become a bird, and seek your food 'twixt bark and bole.' Gertrude at once became a bird, and flew up into a tree with a screech. And to this day the great woodpecker of Scandinavia is called 'Gertrude's Bird,' and has a red head.


The Ballads of Riddle and Repartee do not amount to very many in our tongue. But they contain riddles which may be found in one form or another in nearly every folklore on the earth. Even Samson had a riddle. Always popular, they seem to have been especial favourites in early Oriental literature, in the mediaeval Latin races, and, in slightly more modern times, amongst the Teutonic and Scandinavian peoples. Perhaps King John and the Abbot is the best English specimen, for it is to-day as pleasing to an audience as it can ever have been. But Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight, better known as May Colvin, is the most startling of any, in its myriad ramifications and supposed origin.


The 'Fyttes of Mirth' conclude the present volume. It may be as well to say here that I have placed under this head any ballad that tells of a successful issue and has a happy ending or mirthful climax.

The version I have given of that famous ballad The Lord of Learne (or, more commonly, Lorne) is most enchanting in its naivete, and, when read aloud or recited, is exceedingly effective. The curious remark that the affectionate parting between the young Lord and his father and mother would have changed even a Jew's heart; the picturesque description of the siege of the castle, so close that 'a swallow could not have flown away'; the sudden descent from romance to a judicial trial; the remarkable assumption by the foreman of the jury of the privileges of a judge; and the thoroughly satisfactory description of the false steward's execution—

'I-wis they did him curstly cumber!'

—all these help to form the ever-popular Lord of Learne.

The remaining 'Fyttes of Mirth' are mostly well known, and require no further comment.


(See First Series, pp. xlvi-li)

The late Professor York Powell explained to me, since the note on 'gare' (First Series, p. 1) was written, that the word means exactly what is meant by 'gore' in modern dressmaking. The antique skirt was made of four pieces: two cut square, to form the front and the back; and two of a triangular shape, to fill the space between, the apex of the triangle, of course, being at the waist. Thus a knife that 'hangs low down' by a person's 'gare,' simply means that the knife hung at the side and not in front.


The Text.—The best-known text of this famous ballad is that given by Scott in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, derived 'from a copy obtained from a lady residing not far from Erceldoune, corrected and enlarged by one in Mrs. Brown's MS.' Scott's ballad is compounded, therefore, of a traditional version, and the one here given, from the Tytler-Brown MS., which was printed by Jamieson with a few changes. It does not mention Huntlie bank or the Eildon tree. Scott's text may be seen printed parallel with Jamieson's in Professor J. A. H. Murray's book referred to below.

The Story.—As early as the fourteenth century there lived a Thomas of Erceldoune, or Thomas the Rhymer, who had a reputation as a seer and prophet. His fame was not extinct in the nineteenth century, and a collection of prophecies by him and Merlin and others, first issued in 1603, could be found at the beginning of that century 'in most farmhouses in Scotland' (Murray, The Romance and Prophecies of Thomas of Erceldoune, E.E.T.S., 1875). The existence of a Thomas de Ercildoun, son and heir of Thomas Rymour de Ercildoun, both living during the thirteenth century, is recorded in contemporary documents.

A poem, extant in five manuscripts (all printed by Murray as above), of which the earliest was written about the middle of the fifteenth century, relates that Thomas of Erceldoune his prophetic powers were given him by the Queen of Elfland, who bore him away to her country for some years, and then restored him to this world lest he should be chosen for the tribute paid to hell. So much is told in the first fytte, which corresponds roughly to our ballad. The rest of the poem consists of prophecies taught to him by the Queen.

The poem contains references to a still earlier story, which probably narrated only the episode of Thomas's adventure in Elfland, and to which the prophecies of Thomas Rymour of Ercildoun were added at a later date. The story of Thomas and the Queen of Elfland is only another version of a legend of Ogier le Danois and Morgan the Fay.

Our ballad is almost certainly derived directly from the poem, and the version here given is not marred by the repugnant ending of Scott's ballad, where Thomas objects to the gift of a tongue that can never lie. But Scott's version retains Huntlie bank and the Eildon tree, both mentioned in the old poem, and both exactly located during last century at the foot of the Eildon Hills, above Melrose (see an interesting account in Murray, op. cit., Introduction, pp. l-lii and footnotes).


1. True Thomas lay o'er yond grassy bank, And he beheld a ladie gay, A ladie that was brisk and bold, Come riding o'er the fernie brae.

2. Her skirt was of the grass-green silk, Her mantel of the velvet fine, At ilka tett of her horse's mane Hung fifty silver bells and nine.

3. True Thomas he took off his hat, And bowed him low down till his knee: 'All hail, thou mighty Queen of Heaven! For your peer on earth I never did see.'

4. 'O no, O no, True Thomas,' she says, 'That name does not belong to me; I am but the queen of fair Elfland, And I'm come here for to visit thee.

5. 'But ye maun go wi' me now, Thomas, True Thomas, ye maun go wi' me, For ye maun serve me seven years, Thro' weel or wae, as may chance to be.'

6. She turned about her milk-white steed, And took True Thomas up behind, And aye whene'er her bridle rang, The steed flew swifter than the wind.

7. For forty days and forty nights He wade thro' red blude to the knee, And he saw neither sun nor moon, But heard the roaring of the sea.

8. O they rade on, and further on, Until they came to a garden green: 'Light down, light down, ye ladie free, Some of that fruit let me pull to thee.'

9. 'O no, O no, True Thomas,' she says, 'That fruit maun not be touched by thee, For a' the plagues that are in hell Light on the fruit of this countrie.

10. 'But I have a loaf here in my lap, Likewise a bottle of claret wine, And now ere we go farther on, We'll rest a while, and ye may dine.'

11. When he had eaten and drunk his fill; 'Lay down your head upon my knee,' The lady sayd, 'ere we climb yon hill, And I will show you fairlies three.

12. 'O see not ye yon narrow road, So thick beset wi' thorns and briers? That is the path of righteousness, Tho' after it but few enquires.

13. 'And see not ye that braid braid road, That lies across yon lillie leven? That is the path of wickedness, Tho' some call it the road to heaven.

14. 'And see not ye that bonny road, Which winds about the fernie brae? That is the road to fair Elfland, Where you and I this night maun gae.

15. 'But, Thomas, ye maun hold your tongue, Whatever you may hear or see, For gin ae word you should chance to speak, You will ne'er get back to your ain countrie.'

16. He has gotten a coat of the even cloth, And a pair of shoes of velvet green, And till seven years were past and gone True Thomas on earth was never seen.

[Annotations: 2.3: 'tett,' lock or bunch of hair. 7: 7 is 15 in the MS. 8.2: 'garden': 'golden green, if my copy is right.' —Child. 11.4: 'fairlies,' marvels. 13.2: 'lillie leven,' smooth lawn set with lilies. 16.1: 'even cloth,' cloth with the nap worn off.]


The Text.—As printed in Sharpe's Ballad Book, from the Skene MS. (No. 8). It is fragmentary—regrettably so, especially as stanzas 10-12 belong to Thomas Rymer.

The Story is the well-known one of the abduction of a young mother to be the Queen of Elfland's nurse. Fairies, elves, water-sprites, and nisses or brownies, have constantly required mortal assistance in the nursing of fairy children. Gervase of Tilbury himself saw a woman stolen away for this purpose, as she was washing clothes in the Rhone.

The genuineness of this ballad, deficient as it is, is best proved by its lyrical nature, which, as Child says, 'forces you to chant, and will not be read.'

'Elfan,' of course, is Elfland; 'nourice,' a nurse.


1. 'I heard a cow low, a bonnie cow low, An' a cow low down in yon glen; Lang, lang, will my young son greet Or his mother bid him come ben.

2. 'I heard a cow low, a bonnie cow low, An' a cow low down in yon fauld; Lang, lang will my young son greet Or his mither take him frae cauld.

*** *** ***

3. ' ... ... ... ... ... ... Waken, Queen of Elfan, An' hear your nourice moan.'

4. 'O moan ye for your meat, Or moan ye for your fee, Or moan ye for the ither bounties That ladies are wont to gie?'

5. 'I moan na for my meat, Nor moan I for my fee, Nor moan I for the ither bounties That ladies are wont to gie.

6. ' ... ... ... ... ... ... But I moan for my young son I left in four nights auld.

7. 'I moan na for my meat, Nor yet for my fee, But I mourn for Christen land, It's there I fain would be.'

8. 'O nurse my bairn, nourice,' she says, 'Till he stan' at your knee, An' ye's win hame to Christen land, Whar fain it's ye wad be.

9. 'O keep my bairn, nourice, Till he gang by the hauld, An' ye's win hame to your young son Ye left in four nights auld.'

*** *** ***

10. 'O nourice lay your head Upo' my knee: See ye na that narrow road Up by yon tree?

11. ... ... ... ... ... ... That's the road the righteous goes, And that's the road to heaven.

12. 'An' see na ye that braid road, Down by yon sunny fell? Yon's the road the wicked gae, An' that's the road to hell.'

*** *** ***

[Annotations: 1.4: 'ben,' within. 9.2: i.e. till he can walk by holding on to things.]


The Text is that of the Jamieson-Brown MS.

The Story is one of the countless variations of the French 'Beauty and the Beast.' A modern Greek tale narrates that a nereid, enamoured of a youth, and by him scorned, turned him into a snake till he should find another love as fair as she.

The feature of this ballad is that the queen of the fairies should have power to undo the evil done by a witch.


1. O Allison Gross, that lives in yon tow'r, The ugliest witch i' the north country, Has trysted me ae day up till her bow'r, An' monny fair speech she made to me.

2. She stroaked my head, an' she kembed my hair, An' she set me down saftly on her knee; Says, 'Gin ye will be my lemman so true, Sae monny braw things as I woud you gi'.'

3. She show'd me a mantle o' red scarlet, Wi' gouden flow'rs an' fringes fine; Says, 'Gin ye will be my lemman sae true, This goodly gift it sal be thine.'

4. 'Awa', awa', ye ugly witch, Haud far awa', an' lat me be; I never will be your lemman sae true, An' I wish I were out o' your company.'

5. She neist brought a sark o' the saftest silk, Well wrought wi' pearles about the ban'; Says, 'Gin ye will be my ain true love, This goodly gift you sal comman'.'

6. She show'd me a cup o' the good red gold, Well set wi' jewls sae fair to see; Says, 'Gin you will be my lemman sae true, This goodly gift I will you gi'.'

7. 'Awa', awa', ye ugly witch, Had far awa', and lat me be! For I woudna ance kiss your ugly mouth For a' the gifts that you coud gi'.'

8. She's turn'd her right and roun' about, An' thrice she blaw on a grass-green horn; An' she sware by the meen and the stars abeen, That she'd gar me rue the day I was born.

9. Then out has she ta'en a silver wand, An' she's turn'd her three times roun' and roun'; She's mutter'd sich words till my strength it fail'd, An' I fell down senceless upon the groun'.

10. She's turn'd me into an ugly worm, And gard me toddle about the tree; An' ay, on ilka Saturday's night, My sister Maisry came to me;

11. Wi' silver bason and silver kemb, To kemb my heady upon her knee; But or I had kiss'd her ugly mouth, I'd rather 'a' toddled about the tree.

12. But as it fell out on last Hallow-even, When the seely court was ridin' by, The queen lighted down on a gowany bank, Nae far frae the tree where I wont to lye.

13. She took me up in her milk-white han', An' she's stroak'd me three times o'er her knee; She chang'd me again to my ain proper shape, And I nae mair maun toddle about the tree.

[Annotations: 5.1: 'sark,' shirt. 12.2: 'the seely court,' i.e. the fairies' court. 12.3: 'gowany,' daisied.]


The Text of this mutilated ballad is taken from the Skene MS., where it was written down from recitation in the North of Scotland about 1802.

The Story is of a double transformation of a sister and brother by a stepmother. Compare the story of The Marriage of Sir Gawaine (First Series, p. 108). Allison Gross should be compared closely with this ballad. The combing of hair seems to be a favourite method of expressing affection, not only in these ballads, but also in Scandinavian folklore. It is needless to take exception to the attribution either of hair to a worm, or of knees to a machrel: though we may note that in one version of Dives and Lazarus Dives 'has a place prepared in hell to sit on a serpent's knee.' However, it is probable that a part of the ballad, now lost, stated that the machrel (whatever it may be) reassumed human shape 'every Saturday at noon.'


1. 'I was but seven year auld When my mither she did die; My father married the ae warst woman The warld did ever see.

2. 'For she has made me the laily worm, That lies at the fit o' the tree, An' my sister Masery she's made The machrel of the sea.

3. 'An' every Saturday at noon The machrel comes to me, An' she takes my laily head An' lays it on her knee, She kaims it wi' a siller kaim, An' washes 't in the sea.

4. 'Seven knights hae I slain, Sin I lay at the fit of the tree, An' ye war na my ain father, The eight ane ye should be.'

5. 'Sing on your song, ye laily worm, That ye did sing to me:' 'I never sung that song but what I would sing it to thee.

6. 'I was but seven year auld, When my mither she did die; My father married the ae warst woman The warld did ever see.

7. 'For she changed me to the laily worm, That lies at the fit o' the tree, And my sister Masery To the machrel of the sea.

8. 'And every Saturday at noon The machrel comes to me, An' she takes my laily head An' lays it on her knee, An' kames it wi' a siller kame, An' washes it i' the sea.

9. 'Seven knights hae I slain Sin I lay at the fit o' the tree; An' ye war na my ain father, The eighth ane ye shoud be.'

10. He sent for his lady, As fast as send could he: 'Whar is my son that ye sent frae me, And my daughter, Lady Masery?'

11. 'Your son is at our king's court, Serving for meat an' fee, An' your daughter's at our queen's court, ... ... ...'

12. 'Ye lie, ye ill woman, Sae loud as I hear ye lie; My son's the laily worm, That lies at the fit o' the tree, And my daughter, Lady Masery, Is the machrel of the sea!'

13. She has tane a siller wan', An' gi'en him strokes three, And he has started up the bravest knight That ever your eyes did see.

14. She has ta'en a small horn, An' loud an' shrill blew she, An' a' the fish came her untill But the proud machrel of the sea: 'Ye shapeit me ance an unseemly shape, An' ye's never mare shape me.'

15. He has sent to the wood For whins and for hawthorn, An' he has ta'en that gay lady, An' there he did her burn.

[Annotation: 2.1 etc.: 'laily' = laidly, loathly.]


The Text is that given (nearly literatim) by Buchan and Motherwell, and also in the MSS. of the latter.

The Story.—This adventure of Owyne (Owain, 'the King's son Urien,' Ywaine, etc.), with the subsequent transformation, has a parallel in an Icelandic saga. Rehabilitation in human shape by means of a kiss is a common tale in the Scandinavian area; occasionally three kisses are necessary.

A similar ballad, now lost, but re-written by the contributor, from scraps of recitation by an old woman in Berwickshire, localises the story of the fire-drake ('the laidly worm') near Bamborough in Northumberland; and Kinloch said that the term 'Childe o' Wane' was still applied by disconsolate damsels of Bamborough to any youth who champions them. However, Mr. R. W. Clark of Bamborough, who has kindly made inquiries for me, could find no survival of this use.

The ballad is also called 'Kempion.'


1. Her mother died when she was young, Which gave her cause to make great moan; Her father married the warst woman That ever lived in Christendom.

2. She served her with foot and hand, In every thing that she could dee, Till once, in an unlucky time, She threw her in ower Craigy's sea.

3. Says, 'Lie you there, dove Isabel, And all my sorrows lie with thee; Till Kemp Owyne come ower the sea, And borrow you with kisses three, Let all the warld do what they will, Oh borrowed shall you never be!'

4. Her breath grew strang, her hair grew lang, And twisted thrice about the tree, And all the people, far and near, Thought that a savage beast was she.

5. These news did come to Kemp Owyne, Where he lived, far beyond the sea; He hasted him to Craigy's sea, And on the savage beast look'd he.

6. Her breath was strang, her hair was lang, And twisted was about the tree, And with a swing she came about: 'Come to Craigy's sea, and kiss with me.

7. 'Here is a royal belt,' she cried, 'That I have found in the green sea; And while your body it is on, Drawn shall your blood never be; But if you touch me, tail or fin, I vow my belt your death shall be.'

8. He stepped in, gave her a kiss, The royal belt he brought him wi'; Her breath was strang, her hair was lang, And twisted twice about the tree, And with a swing she came about: 'Come to Craigy's sea, and kiss with me.

9. 'Here is a royal ring,' she said, 'That I have found in the green sea; And while your finger it is on, Drawn shall your blood never be; But if you touch me, tail or fin, I swear my ring your death shall be.'

10. He stepped in, gave her a kiss, The royal ring he brought him wi'; Her breath was strang, her hair was lang, And twisted ance about the tree, And with a swing she came about: 'Come to Craigy's sea, and kiss with me.

11. 'Here is a royal brand,' she said, 'That I have found in the green sea; And while your body it is on, Drawn shall your blood never be; But if you touch me, tail or fin, I swear my brand your death shall be.'

12. He stepped in, gave her a kiss, The royal brand he brought him wi'; Her breath was sweet, her hair grew short, And twisted nane about the tree, And smilingly she came about, As fair a woman as fair could be.

[Annotations: 3.3: 'Kemp' = champion, knight. Cp. 'Childe' in Childe Maurice, etc. 3.4: 'borrow,' ransom.]


The Text is from the lost Fraser-Tytler-Brown MS., this ballad luckily having been transcribed before the MS. disappeared. Mrs. Brown recited another and a fuller version to Jamieson.

The Story.—Willie's mother, a witch, displeased at her son's choice, maliciously arrests by witchcraft the birth of Willie's son. Willie's travailing wife sends him again and again to bribe the witch, who refuses cup, steed, and girdle. Here our version makes such abrupt transitions, that it will be well to explain what takes place. The Belly Blind or Billie Blin (see Young Bekie, First Series, pp. 6, 7) advises Willie to make a sham baby of wax, and invite his witch-mother to the christening. Willie does so (in stanzas lost between our 33 and 34); the witch, believing the wax-baby to be flesh and blood, betrays all her craft by asking who has loosed the knots, ta'en out the kaims, ta'en down the woodbine, etc., these being the magic rites by which she has suspended birth. Willie instantly looses the knots and takes out the kaims, and his wife presents him with a bonny young son.

The story is common in Danish ballads, and occasional in Swedish. In the classics, Juno (Hera) on two occasions delayed childbirth and cheated Ilithyia, the sufferers being Latona and Alcmene. But the latest version of the story is said to have occurred in Arran in the nineteenth century. A young man, forsaking his sweetheart, married another maiden, who when her time came suffered exceedingly. A packman who chanced to be passing heard the tale and suspected the cause. Going to the discarded sweetheart, he told her that her rival had given birth to a fine child; thereupon she sprang up, pulled a large nail out of the beam, and called to her mother, 'Muckle good your craft has done!' The labouring wife was delivered forthwith. (See The Folklore Record, vol. ii. p. 117.)


1. Willie has taen him o'er the fame, He's woo'd a wife and brought her hame.

2. He's woo'd her for her yellow hair, But his mother wrought her mickle care,

3. And mickle dolour gard her dree, For lighter she can never be.

4. But in her bower she sits wi' pain, And Willie mourns o'er her in vain.

5. And to his mother he has gone, That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

6. He says: 'My ladie has a cup Wi' gowd and silver set about.

7. 'This goodlie gift shall be your ain, And let her be lighter o' her young bairn.'

8. 'Of her young bairn she'll ne'er be lighter, Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

9. 'But she shall die and turn to clay, And you shall wed another may.'

10. 'Another may I'll never wed, Another may I'll ne'er bring home.'

11. But sighing says that weary wight, 'I wish my life were at an end.'

12. 'Ye doe [ye] unto your mother again, That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

13. 'And say your ladie has a steed, The like o' 'm's no in the lands of Leed.

14. 'For he's golden shod before, And he's golden shod behind.

15. 'And at ilka tet of that horse's main There's a golden chess and a bell ringing.

16. 'This goodlie gift shall be your ain, And let me be lighter of my young bairn.'

17. 'O' her young bairn she'll ne'er be lighter, Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

18. 'But she shall die and turn to clay, And ye shall wed another may.'

19. 'Another may I'll never wed, Another may I'll neer bring hame.'

20. But sighing said that weary wight, 'I wish my life were at an end.'

21. 'Ye doe [ye] unto your mother again, That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

22. 'And say your ladie has a girdle, It's red gowd unto the middle.

23. 'And ay at every silver hem Hangs fifty silver bells and ten.

24. 'That goodlie gift sall be her ain, And let me be lighter of my young bairn.'

25. 'O' her young bairn she's ne'er be lighter, Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

26. 'But she shall die and turn to clay, And you shall wed another may.'

27. 'Another may I'll never wed, Another may I'll ne'er bring hame.'

28. But sighing says that weary wight, 'I wish my life were at an end.'

29. Then out and spake the Belly Blind; He spake aye in good time.

30. 'Ye doe ye to the market place, And there ye buy a loaf o' wax.

31. 'Ye shape it bairn and bairnly like, And in twa glassen een ye pit;

32. 'And bid her come to your boy's christening; Then notice weel what she shall do.

33. 'And do you stand a little forebye, And listen weel what she shall say.'

*** *** ***

34. 'O wha has loosed the nine witch knots That was amo' that ladie's locks?

35. 'And wha has taen out the kaims of care That hangs amo' that ladie's hair?

36. 'And wha's taen down the bush o' woodbine That hang atween her bower and mine?

37. 'And wha has kill'd the master kid That ran beneath that ladie's bed?

38. 'And wha has loosed her left-foot shee, And lotten that lady lighter be?'

39. O Willie has loosed the nine witch knots That was amo' that ladie's locks.

40. And Willie's taen out the kaims o' care That hang amo' that ladie's hair.

41. And Willie's taen down the bush o' woodbine That hang atween her bower and thine.

42. And Willie has killed the master kid That ran beneath that ladie's bed.

43. And Willie has loosed her left-foot shee, And letten his ladie lighter be.

44. And now he's gotten a bonny young son, And mickle grace be him upon.

[Annotations: 19: 'I'll' is 'I' in both lines in the MS. 24.1: 'sall' is Scott's emendation for has in the MS.]


The Text is that of Herd's MS. and his Scots Songs. Other versions vary very slightly, and this is the oldest of them.

There is a fourteenth-century MS. (in the Cotton collection) containing a poem not unlike The Wee Wee Man; but there is no justification in deriving the ballad from the poem, which may be found in Ritson's Ancient Songs (1829), i. p. 40.

Scott incorporates the story with The Young Tamlane.


1. As I was wa'king all alone, Between a water and a wa', And there I spy'd a wee wee man, And he was the least that ere I saw.

2. His legs were scarce a shathmont's length, And thick and thimber was his thigh; Between his brows there was a span, And between his shoulders there was three.

3. He took up a meikle stane, And he flang 't as far as I could see; Though I had been a Wallace wight, I couldna liften't to my knee.

4. 'O wee wee man, but thou be strang! O tell me where thy dwelling be?' 'My dwelling's down at yon bonny bower; O will you go with me and see?'

5. On we lap, and awa' we rade, Till we came to yon bonny green; We lighted down for to bait our horse, And out there came a lady fine.

6. Four and twenty at her back, And they were a' clad out in green; Though the King of Scotland had been there, The warst o' them might hae been his queen.

7. On we lap, and awa' we rade, Till we came to yon bonny ha', Whare the roof was o' the beaten gould, And the floor was o' the cristal a'.

8. When we came to the stair-foot, Ladies were dancing, jimp and sma', But in the twinkling of an eye, My wee wee man was clean awa'.

[Annotations: 1.4: 'ere,' i.e. e'er. 2.1: 'shathmont,' a span. 2.2: 'thimber,' gross.]


The Text is that of Scott's Minstrelsy (1802). It was 'taken down from the recitation of a lady' (his mother's sister, Miss Christian Rutherford), and collated with a copy in the Tytler-Brown MS. The ballad is also called Gil Brenton, Lord Dingwall, Bangwell, Bengwill, or Brangwill, Bothwell, etc.

The Story is a great favourite, not only in Scandinavian ballads, but also in all northern literature. The magical agency of bed, blankets, sheets, and sword, is elsewhere extended to a chair, a stepping-stone by the bedside (see the Boy and the Mantle, First Series, p. 119), or the Billie Blin (see Young Bekie, First Series, pp. 6, 7, and Willie's Lady, p. 19). The Norwegian tale of Aase and the Prince is known to English readers in Dasent's Annie the Goosegirl. The Prince is possessed of a stepping-stone by his bedside, which answers his question night and morning, and enables him to detect the supposititious bride. See also Jamieson's translation of Ingefred and Gudrune, in Illustrations of Northern Antiquities, p. 340.


1. Cospatrick has sent o'er the faem, Cospatrick brought his ladye hame.

2. And fourscore ships have come her wi', The ladye by the grenewood tree.

3. There were twal' and twal' wi' baken bread, And twal' and twal' wi' gowd sae reid:

4. And twal' and twal' wi' bouted flour, And twal' and twal' wi' the paramour.

5. Sweet Willy was a widow's son, And at her stirrup he did run.

6. And she was clad in the finest pall, But aye she let the tears down fall.

7. 'O is your saddle set awrye? Or rides your steed for you owre high?

8. 'Or are you mourning in your tide That you suld be Cospatrick's bride?'

9. 'I am not mourning at this tide That I suld be Cospatrick's bride;

10. 'But I am sorrowing in my mood That I suld leave my mother good.

11. 'But, gentle boy, come tell to me, What is the custom of thy countrye?'

12. 'The custom thereof, my dame,' he says, 'Will ill a gentle laydye please.

13. 'Seven king's daughters has our lord wedded, And seven king's daughters has our lord bedded;

14. 'But he's cutted their breasts frae their breast-bane, And sent them mourning hame again.

15. 'Yet, gin you're sure that you're a maid, Ye may gae safely to his bed;

16. 'But gif o' that ye be na sure, Then hire some damsell o' your bour.'

17. The ladye's call'd her bour-maiden, That waiting was into her train.

18. 'Five thousand merks I will gie thee, To sleep this night with my lord for me.'

19. When bells were rung, and mass was sayne, And a' men unto bed were gane,

20. Cospatrick and the bonny maid, Into ae chamber they were laid.

21. 'Now speak to me, blankets, and speak to me, bed, And speak, thou sheet, inchanted web;

22. 'And speak up, my bonny brown sword, that winna lie, Is this a true maiden that lies by me?'

23. 'It is not a maid that you hae wedded, But it is a maid that you hae bedded;

24. 'It is a liel maiden that lies by thee, But not the maiden that it should be.'

25. O wrathfully he left the bed, And wrathfully his claiths on did;

26. And he has taen him thro' the ha', And on his mother he did ca'.

27. 'I am the most unhappy man, That ever was in Christen land!

28. 'I courted a maiden, meik and mild, And I hae gotten naething but a woman wi' child.'

29. 'O stay, my son, into this ha', And sport ye wi' your merrymen a';

30. 'And I will to the secret bour, To see how it fares wi' your paramour.'

31. The carline she was stark and sture, She aff the hinges dang the dure.

32. 'O is your bairn to laird or loun? Or is it to your father's groom?'

33. 'O hear me, mother, on my knee, Till my sad story I tell to thee:

34. 'O we were sisters, sisters seven, We were the fairest under heaven.

35. 'It fell on a summer's afternoon, When a' our toilsome task was done,

36. 'We cast the kavils us amang, To see which suld to the grene-wood gang.

37. 'Ohon! alas, for I was youngest, And aye my wierd it was the hardest!

38. 'The kavil it on me did fa', Whilk was the cause of a' my woe.

39. 'For to the grene-wood I maun gae, To pu' the red rose and the slae;

40. 'To pu' the red rose and the thyme, To deck my mother's bour and mine.

41. 'I hadna pu'd a flower but ane, When by there came a gallant hende,

42. 'Wi' high-coll'd hose and laigh-coll'd shoon, And he seem'd to be some king's son.

43. 'And be I maid, or be I nae, He kept me there till the close o' day.

44. 'And be I maid, or be I nane, He kept me there till the day was done.

45. 'He gae me a lock o' his yellow hair, And bade me keep it ever mair.

46. 'He gae me a carknet o' bonny beads, And bade me keep it against my needs.

47. 'He gae to me a gay gold ring, And bade me keep it abune a' thing.'

48. 'What did ye wi' the tokens rare That ye gat frae that gallant there?'

49. 'O bring that coffer unto me, And a' the tokens ye sall see.'

50. 'Now stay, daughter, your bour within, While I gae parley wi' my son.'

51. O she has taen her thro' the ha', And on her son began to ca':

52. 'What did you wi' the bonny beads, I bade ye keep against your needs?

53. 'What did you wi' the gay gold ring, I bade you keep abune a' thing?'

54. 'I gae them to a ladye gay, I met in grene-wood on a day.

55. 'But I wad gie a' my halls and tours, I had that ladye within my bours;

56. 'But I wad gie my very life, I had that ladye to my wife.'

57. 'Now keep, my son, your ha's and tours; Ye have that bright burd in your bours;

58. 'And keep, my son, your very life; Ye have that ladye to your wife.'

59. Now, or a month was come and gane, The ladye bore a bonny son;

60. And 'twas weel written on his breast-bane, 'Cospatrick is my father's name.'

61. 'O rowe my ladye in satin and silk, And wash my son in the morning milk.'

[Annotations: 18.1: A mark was two-thirds of a pound. 31.1: 'stark and sture,' sturdy and strong. 36.1: 'kavils' = kevels, lots. 37.2: 'wierd,' fate. 41.2: 'hende' (? = heynde, person). 42.1: 'high-coll'd ... laigh-coll'd,' high-cut ... low-cut. 46.1: 'carknet,' necklace. 57.2: 'burd,' maiden. 61.1: 'rowe,' roll, wrap.]


The Text is taken from Buchan's Ballads of the North of Scotland, and, like nearly all Buchan's versions, exhibits traces of vulgar remoulding. This ballad in particular has lost much of the original features. Kinloch called his version Hynde Etin, Allingham his compilation Etin the Forester.

The Story is given in a far finer style in romantic Scandinavian ballads. Prior translated two of them, The Maid and the Dwarf-King, and Agnes and the Merman, both Danish. The Norse ballads on this subject, which may still be heard sung, are exceptionally beautiful. Child says, 'They should make an Englishman's heart wring for his loss.'

In the present version we may with some confidence attribute to Buchan the stanzas from 48 to the end, as well as 15 and 16. The preference is given to Buchan's text merely because it retains features lost in Kinloch's version.


1. Lady Margaret sits in her bower door, Sewing at her silken seam; She heard a note in Elmond's wood, And wish'd she there had been.

2. She loot the seam fa' frae her side, And the needle to her tae, And she is on to Elmond-wood As fast as she coud gae.

3. She hadna pu'd a nut, a nut, Nor broken a branch but ane, Till by it came a young hind chiel, Says, 'Lady, lat alane.

4. 'O why pu' ye the nut, the nut, Or why brake ye the tree? For I am forester o' this wood: Ye shoud spier leave at me.'

5. 'I'll ask leave at no living man, Nor yet will I at thee; My father is king o'er a' this realm, This wood belongs to me.'

6. She hadna pu'd a nut, a nut, Nor broken a branch but three, Till by it came him Young Akin, And gard her lat them be.

7. The highest tree in Elmond's wood, He's pu'd it by the reet, And he has built for her a bower, Near by a hallow seat.

8. He's built a bower, made it secure Wi' carbuncle and stane; Tho' travellers were never sae nigh, Appearance it had nane.

9. He's kept her there in Elmond's wood For six lang years and one, Till six pretty sons to him she bear, And the seventh she's brought home.

10. It fell ance upon a day, This guid lord went from home, And he is to the hunting gane, Took wi' him his eldest son.

11. And when they were on a guid way, Wi' slowly pace did walk, The boy's heart being something wae, He thus began to talk.

12. 'A question I woud ask, father, Gin ye woudna angry be;' 'Say on, say on, my bonny boy, Ye'se nae be quarrell'd by me.'

13. 'I see my mither's cheeks aye weet, I never can see them dry; And I wonder what aileth my mither, To mourn continually.'

14. 'Your mither was a king's daughter, Sprung frae a high degree, And she might hae wed some worthy prince Had she nae been stown by me.

15. 'I was her father's cupbearer, Just at that fatal time; I catch'd her on a misty night, When summer was in prime.

16. 'My luve to her was most sincere, Her luve was great for me, But when she hardships doth endure, Her folly she does see.'

17. 'I'll shoot the buntin' o' the bush, The linnet o' the tree, And bring them to my dear mither, See if she'll merrier be.'

18. It fell upo' another day, This guid lord he thought lang, And he is to the hunting gane, Took wi' him his dog and gun.

19. Wi' bow and arrow by his side, He's aff, single, alane, And left his seven children to stay Wi' their mither at hame.

20. 'O I will tell to you, mither, Gin ye wadna angry be:' 'Speak on, speak on, my little wee boy, Ye'se nae be quarrell'd by me.'

21. 'As we came frae the hynd-hunting, We heard fine music ring:' 'My blessings on you, my bonny boy, I wish I'd been there my lane.'

22. He's ta'en his mither by the hand, His six brithers also, And they are on thro' Elmond's wood As fast as they coud go.

23. They wistna weel where they were gaen, Wi' the stratlins o' their feet; They wistna weel where they were gaen, Till at her father's yate.

24. 'I hae nae money in my pocket, But royal rings hae three; I'll gie them you, my little young son, And ye'll walk there for me.

25. 'Ye'll gie the first to the proud porter, And he will lat you in; Ye'll gie the next to the butler-boy, And he will show you ben.

26. 'Ye'll gie the third to the minstrel That plays before the King; He'll play success to the bonny boy Came thro' the wood him lane.'

27. He ga'e the first to the proud porter, And he open'd an' let him in; He ga'e the next to the butler-boy, And he has shown him ben;

28. He ga'e the third to the minstrel That play'd before the King; And he play'd success to the bonny boy Came thro' the wood him lane.

29. Now when he came before the King, Fell low down on his knee; The King he turned round about, And the saut tear blinded his e'e.

30. 'Win up, win up, my bonny boy, Gang frae my companie; Ye look sae like my dear daughter, My heart will birst in three.'

31. 'If I look like your dear daughter, A wonder it is none; If I look like your dear daughter, I am her eldest son.'

32. 'Will ye tell me, ye little wee boy, Where may my Margaret be?' 'She's just now standing at your yates, And my six brithers her wi'.'

33. 'O where are all my porter-boys That I pay meat and fee, To open my yates baith wide and braid? Let her come in to me.'

34. When she came in before the King, Fell low down on her knee; 'Win up, win up, my daughter dear, This day ye'll dine wi' me.'

35. 'Ae bit I canno eat, father, Nor ae drop can I drink, Till I see my mither and sister dear, For lang for them I think!'

36. When she came before the queen, Fell low down on her knee; 'Win up, win up, my daughter dear, This day ye'se dine wi' me.'

37. 'Ae bit I canno eat, mither, Nor ae drop can I drink, Until I see my dear sister, For lang for her I think.'

38. When that these two sisters met, She hail'd her courteouslie; 'Come ben, come ben, my sister dear, This day ye'se dine wi' me.'

39. 'Ae bit I canno eat, sister, Nor ae drop can I drink, Until I see my dear husband, For lang for him I think.'

40. 'O where are all my rangers bold That I pay meat and fee, To search the forest far an' wide, And bring Akin to me?'

41. Out it speaks the little wee boy: 'Na, na, this maunna be; Without ye grant a free pardon, I hope ye'll nae him see!'

42. 'O here I grant a free pardon, Well seal'd by my own han'; Ye may make search for Young Akin, As soon as ever you can.'

43. They search'd the country wide and braid, The forests far and near, And found him into Elmond's wood, Tearing his yellow hair.

44. 'Win up, win up now, Young Akin, Win up and boun wi' me; We're messengers come from the court, The king wants you to see.'

45. 'O lat him take frae me my head, Or hang me on a tree; For since I've lost my dear lady, Life's no pleasure to me.'

46. 'Your head will nae be touch'd, Akin, Nor hang'd upon a tree; Your lady's in her father's court, And all he wants is thee.'

47. When he came in before the King, Fell low down on his knee: 'Win up, win up now, Young Akin, This day ye'se dine wi' me.'

48. But as they were at dinner set, The boy asked a boun: 'I wish we were in the good church, For to get christendoun.

49. 'We hae lived in guid green wood This seven years and ane; But a' this time, since e'er I mind, Was never a church within.'

50. 'Your asking's nae sae great, my boy, But granted it shall be: This day to guid church ye shall gang, And your mither shall gang you wi'.'

51. When she came unto the guid church, She at the door did stan'; She was sae sair sunk down wi' shame, She couldna come farer ben.

52. Then out it speaks the parish priest, And a sweet smile ga'e he: 'Come ben, come ben, my lily-flower, Present your babes to me.'

53. Charles, Vincent, Sam and Dick, And likewise James and John; They call'd the eldest Young Akin, Which was his father's name.

54. Then they staid in the royal court, And liv'd wi' mirth and glee, And when her father was deceas'd, Heir of the crown was she.

[Annotations: 4.4: 'spier,' ask. 14.4: 'stown,' stolen. 21.4: 'my lane,' by myself. Cp. 26.4. 23.2: 'stratlins,' strayings. 44.2: 'boun,' go.]


The Text is that communicated to the Folklore Record (vol. i. p. 60) by Miss Charlotte Latham, as it was written down from recitation by a girl in Sussex (1868).

The Story is so simple, and so reminiscent of other ballads, that we must suppose this version to be but a fragment of some forgotten ballad. Its chief interest lies in the setting forth of a common popular belief, namely, that excessive grief for the dead 'will not let them sleep.' Cp. Tibullus, Lib. 1. Eleg. 1, lines 67, 68:—

'Tu Manes ne laede meos: sed parce solutis Crinibus, et teneris, Delia, parce genis.'

The same belief is recorded in Germany, Scandinavia, India, Persia, and ancient Greece, as well as in England and Scotland (see Sir Walter Scott, Red-gauntlet, letter xi., note 2).

There is a version of this ballad beginning—

'Proud Boreas makes a hideous noise.'

It is almost needless to add that this is from Buchan's manuscripts.


1. 'The wind doth blow today, my love, And a few small drops of rain; I never had but one true love, In cold grave she was lain.

2. 'I'll do as much for my true love As any young man may; I'll sit and mourn all at her grave For a twelvemonth and a day.'

3. The twelvemonth and a day being up, The dead began to speak: 'Oh who sits weeping on my grave, And will not let me sleep?'

4. ''Tis I, my love, sits on your grave, And will not let you sleep; For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips, And that is all I seek.'

5. 'You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips; But my breath smells earthy strong; If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips, Your time will not be long.

6. ''Tis down in yonder garden green, Love, where we used to walk; The finest flower that ere was seen Is withered to a stalk.

7. 'The stalk is withered dry, my love, So will our hearts decay; So make yourself content, my love, Till God calls you away.'

[Annotations: 5.3,4: Cp. Clerk Sanders, 30.3,4 6.3: 'ere' = e'er.]


The Text.—This ballad was one of two transcribed from the now lost Tytler-Brown MS., and the transcript is given here. A considerable portion of the story is lost between stanzas 6 and 7.

The Story in its full form is found in a German poem of the twelfth or thirteenth century (Der Ritter von Stauffenberg) as well as in many Scandinavian ballads.

In the German tale, the fairy bound the knight to marry no one; on that condition she would come to him whenever he wished, if he were alone, and would bestow endless gifts upon him: if ever he did marry, he would die within three days. Eventually he was forced to marry, and died as he had been warned.

In seventy Scandinavian ballads, the story remains much the same. The hero's name is Oluf or Ole, or some modification of this, of which 'Colvill,' or 'Colven,' as we have it here, is the English equivalent. Oluf, riding out, is accosted by elves or dwarfs, and one of them asks him to dance with her. If he will, a gift is offered; if he will not, a threat is made. Gifts and threats naturally vary in different versions. He attempts to escape, is struck or stabbed fatally, and rides home and dies. His bride is for some time kept in ignorance of his death by various shifts, but at last discovers the truth, and her heart breaks. Oluf's mother dies also.

It will be seen from this account how much is lost in our ballad. But it is evident that Clerk Colven's lady has heard of his previous acquaintance with the mermaiden. This point survives only in four Faeroe ballads out of the seventy Scandinavian versions.

The story is also found in French, Breton, Spanish, etc.


1. Clark Colven and his gay ladie, As they walked to yon garden green, A belt about her middle gimp, Which cost Clark Colven crowns fifteen:

2. 'O hearken weel now, my good lord, O hearken weel to what I say; When ye gang to the wall o' Stream, O gang nae neer the well-fared may.'

3. 'O haud your tongue, my gay ladie, Tak nae sic care o' me; For I nae saw a fair woman I like so well as thee.'

4. He mounted on his berry-brown steed, And merry, merry rade he on, Till he came to the wall o' Stream, And there he saw the mermaiden.

5. 'Ye wash, ye wash, ye bonny may, And ay's ye wash your sark o' silk': 'It's a' for you, ye gentle knight, My skin is whiter than the milk.'

6. He's ta'en her by the milk-white hand, He's ta'en her by the sleeve sae green, And he's forgotten his gay ladie, And away with the fair maiden.

*** *** ***

7. 'Ohon, alas!' says Clark Colven, 'And aye sae sair's I mean my head!' And merrily leugh the mermaiden, 'O win on till you be dead.

8. 'But out ye tak your little pen-knife, And frae my sark ye shear a gare; Row that about your lovely head, And the pain ye'll never feel nae mair.'

9. Out he has ta'en his little pen-knife, And frae her sark he's shorn a gare, Rowed that about his lovely head, But the pain increased mair and mair.

10. 'Ohon, alas!' says Clark Colven, 'An' aye sae sair's I mean my head!' And merrily laugh'd the mermaiden, 'It will ay be war till ye be dead.'

11. Then out he drew his trusty blade, And thought wi' it to be her dead, But she's become a fish again, And merrily sprang into the fleed.

12. He's mounted on his berry-brown steed, And dowy, dowy rade he home, And heavily, heavily lighted down When to his ladie's bower-door he came.

13. 'Oh, mither, mither, mak my bed, And, gentle ladie, lay me down; Oh, brither, brither, unbend my bow, 'Twill never be bent by me again.'

14. His mither she has made his bed, His gentle ladie laid him down, His brither he has unbent his bow, 'Twas never bent by him again.

[Annotations: 1.3: 'gimp,' slender. 2.4: 'well-fared may,' well-favoured maiden. 7.3: 'leugh,' laughed. 8.2: 'gare,' strip. See First Series, Introduction, p. 1. 8.3: 'Row,' roll, bind. 10.4: 'war,' worse. 11.4: 'fleed,' flood. 12.2: 'dowy,' sad.]


all' e: toi pro:tista leo:n genet' e:ugeneios, autar epeita drako:n kai pardalis e:de megas sus; gigneto d' hugron hudo:r kai dendreon hupsipete:lon.

Odyssey, IV. 456-8.

The Text here given is from Johnson's Museum, communicated by Burns. Scott's version (1802), The Young Tamlane, contained certain verses, 'obtained from a gentleman residing near Langholm, which are said to be very ancient, though the language is somewhat of a modern cast.' —'Of a grossly modern invention,' says Child, 'and as unlike popular verse as anything can be.' Here is a specimen:—

'They sing, inspired with love and joy, Like skylarks in the air; Of solid sense, or thought that's grave, You'll find no traces there.'

A copy in the Glenriddell MSS. corresponds very closely with the one here printed, doubtless owing to Burns's friendship with Riddell. Both probably were derived from one common source.

The Story.—Although the ballad as it stands is purely Scottish, its main feature, the retransformation of Tam Lin, is found in popular mythology even before Homer's time.

A Cretan ballad, taken down about 1820-30, relates that a young peasant, falling in love with a nereid, was advised by an old woman to seize his beloved by the hair just before cock-crow, and hold her fast, whatever transformation she might undergo. He did so; the nymph became in turn a dog, a snake, a camel, and fire. In spite of all, he retained his hold; and at the next crowing of the cock she regained her beauty, and accompanied him home. After a year, in which she spoke no word, she bore a son. The peasant again applied to the old woman for a cure, and was advised to tell his wife that if she would not speak, he would throw the baby into the oven. On his carrying out the old woman's suggestion the nereid cried out, 'Let go my child, dog!' tore her baby from him, and vanished.

This tale was current among the Cretan peasantry in 1820. Two thousand years before, Apollodorus had told much the same story of Peleus and Thetis (Bibliotheca, iii. 13). The chief difference is that it was Thetis who placed her son on the fire, to make him immortal, and Peleus who cried out. The Tayl of the yong Tamlene is mentioned in the Complaint of Scotland (1549).

Carterhaugh is about a mile from Selkirk, at the confluence of the Ettrick and the Yarrow.

The significance of 34.3, 'Then throw me into well water,' is lost in the present version, by the position of the line after the 'burning gleed,' as it seems the reciter regarded the well-water merely as a means of extinguishing the gleed. But the immersion in water has a meaning far deeper and more interesting than that. It is a widespread and ancient belief in folklore that immersion in water (or sometimes milk) is indispensable to the recovery of human shape, after existence in a supernatural shape, or vice versa. The version in the Glenriddell MSS. rightly gives it as the last direction to Janet, to be adopted when the transformations are at an end:—

'First dip me in a stand o' milk, And then a stand o' water.'

For the beginning of Tam Lin, compare the meeting of Akin and Lady Margaret in Elmond-wood in Young Akin.


1. O I forbid you, maidens a', That wear gowd on your hair, To come or gae by Carterhaugh, For young Tam Lin is there.

2. There's nane that gaes by Carterhaugh But they leave him a wad, Either their rings, or green mantles, Or else their maidenhead.

3. Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has broded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she's awa' to Carterhaugh, As fast as she can hie.

4. When she came to Carterhaugh Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel'.

5. She had na pu'd a double rose, A rose but only twa, Till up then started young Tam Lin, Says, 'Lady, thou's pu' nae mae.

6. 'Why pu's thou the rose, Janet, And why breaks thou the wand? Or why comes thou to Carterhaugh Withoutten my command?'

7. 'Carterhaugh, it is my ain, My daddie gave it me; I'll come and gang by Carterhaugh, And ask nae leave at thee.' ... ... ...

8. Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has snooded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she is to her father's ha', As fast as she can hie.

9. Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the ba', And out then cam' the fair Janet, Ance the flower amang them a'.

10. Four and twenty ladies fair Were playing at the chess, And out then cam' the fair Janet, As green as onie glass.

11. Out then spak an auld grey knight, Lay o'er the castle wa', And says, 'Alas, fair Janet, for thee But we'll be blamed a'.'

12. 'Haud your tongue, ye auld fac'd knight, Some ill death may ye die! Father my bairn on whom I will, I'll father nane on thee.'

13. Out then spak her father dear, And he spak meek and mild; 'And ever alas, sweet Janet,' he says, 'I think thou gaes wi' child.'

14. 'If that I gae wi' child, father, Mysel' maun bear the blame; There's ne'er a laird about your ha' Shall get the bairn's name.

15. 'If my love were an earthly knight, As he's an elfin grey, I wadna gie my ain true-love For nae lord that ye hae.

16. 'The steed that my true-love rides on Is lighter than the wind; Wi' siller he is shod before, Wi' burning gowd behind.'

17. Janet has kilted her green kirtle A little aboon her knee, And she has snooded her yellow hair A little aboon her bree, And she's awa' to Carterhaugh, As fast as she can hie.

18. When she cam' to Carterhaugh, Tam Lin was at the well, And there she fand his steed standing, But away was himsel'.

19. She had na pu'd a double rose, A rose but only twa, Till up then started young Tam Lin, Says, 'Lady, thou pu's nae mae.

20. 'Why pu's thou the rose, Janet, Amang the groves sae green, And a' to kill the bonie babe That we gat us between?'

21. 'O tell me, tell me, Tam Lin,' she says, 'For's sake that died on tree, If e'er ye was in holy chapel, Or christendom did see?'

22. 'Roxbrugh he was my grandfather, Took me with him to bide, And ance it fell upon a day That wae did me betide.

23. 'And ance it fell upon a day, A cauld day and a snell, When we were frae the hunting come, That frae my horse I fell; The Queen o' Fairies she caught me, In yon green hill to dwell.

24. 'And pleasant is the fairy land, But, an eerie tale to tell, Ay at the end of seven years We pay a tiend to hell; I am sae fair and fu' o' flesh, I'm fear'd it be mysel'.

25. 'But the night is Halloween, lady, The morn is Hallowday; Then win me, win me, an ye will, For weel I wat ye may.

26. 'Just at the mirk and midnight hour The fairy folk will ride, And they that wad their true-love win, At Miles Cross they maun bide.'

27. 'But how shall I thee ken, Tam Lin, Or how my true-love know, Amang sae mony unco knights The like I never saw?'

28. 'O first let pass the black, lady, And syne let pass the brown, But quickly run to the milk-white steed, Pu' ye his rider down.

29. 'For I'll ride on the milk-white steed, And ay nearest the town; Because I was an earthly knight They gie me that renown.

30. 'My right hand will be glov'd, lady, My left hand will be bare, Cockt up shall my bonnet be, And kaim'd down shall my hair; And thae's the takens I gie thee, Nae doubt I will be there.

31. 'They'll turn me in your arms, lady, Into an esk and adder; But hold me fast, and fear me not, I am your bairn's father.

32. 'They'll turn me to a bear sae grim, And then a lion bold; But hold me fast, and fear me not, As ye shall love your child.

33. 'Again they'll turn me in your arms To a red het gaud of airn; But hold me fast, and fear me not, I'll do to you nae harm.

34. 'And last they'll turn me in your arms Into the burning gleed; Then throw me into well water, O throw me in wi' speed.

35. 'And then I'll be your ain true-love, I'll turn a naked knight; Then cover me wi' your green mantle, And cover me out o' sight.'

36. Gloomy, gloomy was the night, And eerie was the way, As fair Jenny in her green mantle To Miles Cross she did gae.

37. About the middle o' the night She heard the bridles ring; This lady was as glad at that As any earthly thing.

38. First she let the black pass by, And syne she let the brown; But quickly she ran to the milk-white steed, And pu'd the rider down.

39. Sae weel she minded whae he did say, And young Tarn Lin did win; Syne cover'd him wi' her green mantle, As blythe's a bird in spring.

40. Out then spak the Queen o' Fairies, Out of a bush o' broom: 'Them that has gotten young Tam Lin Has gotten a stately groom.'

41. Out then spak the Queen o' Fairies, And an angry woman was she: 'Shame betide her ill-far'd face, And an ill death may she die, For she's ta'en awa' the bonniest knight In a' my companie.

42. 'But had I kend, Tam Lin,' she says, 'What now this night I see, I wad hae ta'en out thy twa grey een, And put in twa een o' tree.'

[Annotations: 2.2: 'wad,' forfeit. 3.4: 'bree,' brow. 8.3: 'snooded,' tied with a fillet. 10.4: 'glass': perhaps a mistake for 'grass.' 23.2: 'snell,' keen. 24.4: 'tiend,' tithe. 31.2: 'esk,' newt. 33.2: 'gaud,' bar. 34.2: 'gleed,' a glowing coal. 42.4: 'tree,' wood.]


These two ballads must be considered together, as the last six verses (18-23) of The Clerk's Twa Sons, as here given, are a variant of The Wife of Usher's Well.

Texts.The Clerk's Twa Sons is taken from Kinloch's MSS., in the handwriting of James Chambers, as it was sung to his grandmother by an old woman.

The Wife of Usher's Well is from Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, and however incomplete, may well stand alone.

The Story has a fairly close parallel in the well-known German ballad, 'Das Schloss in Oesterreich'; and a ballad found both in Spain and Italy has resemblances to each. But in these two ballads, especially in The Wife of Usher's Well, the interest lies rather in the impressiveness of the verses than in the story.


1. O I will sing to you a sang, But oh my heart is sair! The clerk's twa sons in Owsenford Has to learn some unco lair.

2. They hadna been in fair Parish A twelvemonth an' a day, Till the clerk's twa sons o' Owsenford Wi' the mayor's twa daughters lay.

3. O word's gaen to the mighty mayor, As he sail'd on the sea, That the clerk's twa sons o' Owsenford Wi' his twa daughters lay.

4. 'If they hae lain wi' my twa daughters, Meg and Marjorie, The morn, or I taste meat or drink, They shall be hangit hie.'

5. O word's gaen to the clerk himself, As he sat drinkin' wine, That his twa sons in fair Parish Were bound in prison strong.

6. Then up and spak the clerk's ladye, And she spak pow'rfully: 'O tak with ye a purse of gold, Or take with ye three, And if ye canna get William, Bring Andrew hame to me.'

7. 'O lye ye here for owsen, dear sons, Or lie ye here for kye? Or what is it that ye lie for, Sae sair bound as ye lie?'

8. 'We lie not here for owsen, dear father, Nor yet lie here for kye; But it's for a little o' dear-bought love Sae sair bound as we lye.'

9. O he's gane to the mighty mayor And he spake powerfully:

'Will ye grant me my twa sons' lives, Either for gold or fee? Or will ye be sae gude a man As grant them baith to me?'

10. 'I'll no' grant ye yere twa sons' lives, Neither for gold or fee, Nor will I be sae gude a man As gie them back to thee; Before the morn at twelve o'clock Ye'll see them hangit hie.'

11. Up and spak his twa daughters, And they spak pow'rfully: 'Will ye grant us our twa loves' lives, Either for gold or fee? Or will ye be sae gude a man As grant them baith to me?'

12. 'I 'll no' grant ye yere twa loves' lives, Neither for gold or fee, Nor will I be sae gude a man As grant their lives to thee; Before the morn at twelve o'clock Ye'll see them hangit hie.'

13. O he's ta'en out these proper youths, And hang'd them on a tree, And he's bidden the clerk o' Owsenford Gang hame to his ladie.

14. His lady sits on yon castle-wa', Beholding dale and doun, An' there she saw her ain gude lord Come walkin' to the toun.

15. 'Ye're welcome, welcome, my ain gude lord, Ye're welcome hame to me; But where away are my twa sons? Ye should hae brought them wi' ye.'

16. 'It's I've putten them to a deeper lair, An' to a higher schule; Yere ain twa sons 'ill no' be here Till the hallow days o' Yule.'

17. 'O sorrow, sorrow, come mak' my bed, An' dool come lay me doon! For I'll neither eat nor drink, Nor set a fit on ground.'

18. The hallow days of Yule are come, The nights are lang and dark; An' in an' cam' her ain twa sons, Wi' their hats made o' the bark.

19. 'O eat an' drink, my merry men a', The better shall ye fare, For my twa sons the[y] are come hame To me for evermair.'

20. She has gaen an' made their bed, An' she's made it saft an' fine, An' she's happit them wi' her gay mantel, Because they were her ain.

21. O the young cock crew i' the merry Linkem, An' the wild fowl chirp'd for day; The aulder to the younger did say, 'Dear brother, we maun away.'

22. 'Lie still, lie still, a little wee while, Lie still but if we may; For gin my mother miss us away, She'll gae mad or it be day.'

23. O it's they've ta'en up their mother's mantel, And they've hang'd it on the pin: 'O lang may ye hing, my mother's mantel, Or ye hap us again!'

[Annotations: 1.4: 'lair,' lesson. Cp. 16.1. 7.1 etc.: 'owsen,' oxen. 17.2: 'dool,' grief. 18: Here begins The Wife of Usher's Well in a variant. 20.3: 'happit,' wrapped. 21.1: 'Linkem,' perhaps a stock ballad-locality, like 'Lin,' etc. See First Series, Introduction, p. 1.]


1. There lived a wife at Usher's Well, And a wealthy wife was she; She had three stout and stalwart sons, And sent them o'er the sea.

2. They hadna been a week from her, A week but barely ane, When word came to the carline wife That her three sons were gane.

3. They hadna been a week from her, A week but barely three, When word came to the carlin wife, That her sons she'd never see.

4. 'I wish the wind may never cease, Nor fishes in the flood, Till my three sons come hame to me, In earthly flesh and blood.'

5. It fell about the Martinmass, When nights are lang and mirk, The carlin wife's three sons came hame, And their hats were o' the birk.

6. It neither grew in syke nor ditch, Nor yet in ony sheugh; But at the gates o' Paradise That birk grew fair eneugh. ... ... ...

7. 'Blow up the fire, my maidens, Bring water from the well; For a' my house shall feast this night, Since my three sons are well.'

8. And she has made to them a bed, She's made it large and wide, And she's ta'en her mantle her about, Sat down at the bedside. ... ... ...

9. Up then crew the red, red cock, And up and crew the gray; The eldest to the youngest said, ''Tis time we were away.'

10. The cock he hadna craw'd but once, And clapp'd his wings at a', Whan the youngest to the eldest said, 'Brother, we must awa'.

11. 'The cock doth craw, the day doth daw, The channerin' worm doth chide; Gin we be mist out o' our place, A sair pain we maun bide.

12. 'Fare-ye-weel, my mother dear! Fareweel to barn and byre! And fare-ye-weel, the bonny lass That kindles my mother's fire!' ... ... ...

[Annotations: 2.3: 'carline,' old woman. 5.4: 'birk,' birch. 6.1: 'syke,' marsh. 6.2: 'sheugh,' ditch. 11.2: 'channerin',' fretting.]


The Text was communicated to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland by Captain F. W. L. Thomas, who took it down from the dictation of an old woman of Shetland.

The Story is concerned with the Finn-myth. The Finns live in the depths of the sea. 'Their transfiguration into seals seems to be more a kind of deception they practise. For the males are described as most daring boatmen, with powerful sweep of the oar, who chase foreign vessels on the sea.... By means of a "skin" which they possess, the men and the women among them are able to change themselves into seals. But on shore, after having taken off the wrappage, they are, and behave like, real human beings.... Many a Finn woman has got into the power of a Shetlander, and borne children to him; but if the Finn woman succeeded in re-obtaining her sea-skin, or seal-skin, she escaped across the water' (Karl Blind in the Contemporary Review, September 1881, pp. 399-400). The same writer, in quoting a verse of this ballad, says, 'Shool Skerry means Seal's Isle.' The whole article is of great interest.

'G. S. L.,' the author of Shetland Fireside Tales, or the Hermit of Trosswickness (1877), remarks: 'The belief that witches and wizards came from the coast of Norway disguised as seals was entertained by many of the Shetland peasantry even so late as the beginning of the present century.' He goes on to prove the supernatural character of seals by relating an exploit of his own, in which a gun pointed at a seal refused to go off.

Sule Skerrie is a lonely islet to the north-east of Cape Wrath, about as far therefrom as from the Shetland Isles.

Another version of this ballad, unknown to Child, is given in the Appendix.


1. An eartly nourris sits and sings, And aye she sings, 'Ba, lily wean! Little ken I my bairnis father, Far less the land that he staps in.'

2. Then ane arose at her bed-fit. An' a grumly guest I'm sure was he: 'Here am I, thy bairnis father, Although that I be not comelie.

3. 'I am a man, upo' the lan', An' I am a silkie in the sea; And when I'm far and far frae lan', My dwelling is in Sule Skerrie.'

4. 'It was na weel,' quo' the maiden fair, 'It was na weel, indeed,' quo' she, 'That the Great Silkie of Sule Skerrie Suld hae come and aught a bairn to me.'

5. Now he has ta'en a purse of goud, And he has pat it upo' her knee, Sayin', 'Gie to me my little young son, An' tak thee up thy nourris-fee.

6. 'An' it sall come to pass on a simmer's day, When the sin shines het on evera stane, That I will tak my little young son, An' teach him for to swim the faem.

7. 'An' thu sall marry a proud gunner, An' a proud gunner I'm sure he'll be, An' the very first schot that ere he schoots, He'll schoot baith my young son and me.'

[Annotations: 1.1: 'nourris,' nurse, nursing-mother. 2.2: 'grumly,' muddy, dreggy. —Jamieson. 3.2: 'silkie,' seal. 4.4: 'aught,' have.]


The Text is given in full from Herd's MSS., where it concludes with a version of Sweet William's Ghost; and the last three stanzas, 42-44, are from Scott's later version of the ballad (1833) from recitation. Child divides the ballad as follows:— Clerk Sanders, 1-26 of the present version; Sweet William's Ghost, 27-41. Scott made 'one or two conjectural emendations in the arrangement of the stanzas.'

The Story of this admirable ballad in its various forms is paralleled in one or two of its incidents by a similar collection of Scandinavian ballads. Jamieson introduced into his version certain questions and answers (of the prevaricating type found in a baser form in Our Goodman) which are professedly of Scandinavian origin.


1. Clark Sanders and May Margret Walkt ower yon gravel'd green; And sad and heavy was the love, I wat, it fell this twa between.

2. 'A bed, a bed,' Clark Sanders said, 'A bed, a bed, for you and I:' 'Fye no, fye no,' the lady said, 'Until the day we married be.

3. 'For in it will come my seven brothers, And a' their torches burning bright; They'll say, We hae but ae sister, And here her lying wi' a knight.'

4. 'Ye'l take the sourde fray my scabbord, And lowly, lowly lift the gin, And you may say, your oth to save, You never let Clerk Sanders in.

5. 'Yele take a napken in your hand, And ye'l ty up baith your een, An' ye may say, your oth to save, That ye saw na Sandy sen late yestreen.

6. 'Yele take me in your armes twa, Yele carrey me ben into your bed, And ye may say, your oth to save, In your bower-floor I never tread.'

7. She has ta'en the sourde fray his scabbord. And lowly, lowly lifted the gin; She was to swear, her oth to save, She never let Clerk Sanders in.

8. She has tain a napkin in her hand, And she ty'd up baith her een; She was to swear, her oth to save, She saw na him sene late yestreen.

9. She has ta'en him in her armes twa, And carried him ben into her bed; She was to swear, her oth to save, He never in her bower-floor tread.

10. In and came her seven brothers, And all their torches burning bright; Says thay, We hae but ae sister, And see there her lying wi' a knight.

11. Out and speaks the first of them, 'A wat they hay been lovers dear;' Out and speaks the next of them, 'They hay been in love this many a year.'

12. Out an' speaks the third of them, 'It wear great sin this twa to twain;' Out an' speaks the fourth of them, 'It wear a sin to kill a sleeping man.'

13. Out an' speaks the fifth of them, 'A wat they'll near be twain'd by me;' Out an' speaks the sixt of them, 'We'l tak our leave an' gae our way.'

14. Out an' speaks the seventh of them, 'Altho' there wear no a man but me, I'se bear the brand into my hand Shall quickly gar Clark Sanders die.'

15. Out he has ta'en a bright long brand, And he has striped it throw the straw, And throw and throw Clarke Sanders' body A wat he has gard cold iron gae.

16. Sanders he started, an' Margret she lapt Intill his arms where she lay; And well and wellsom was the night, A wat it was between these twa.

17. And they lay still, and sleeped sound, Untill the day began to daw; And kindly till him she did say, 'It is time, trew-love, ye wear awa'.'

18. They lay still, and sleeped sound, Untill the sun began to shine; She lookt between her and the wa', And dull and heavy was his een.

19. She thought it had been a loathsome sweat, A wat it had fallen this twa between; But it was the blood of his fair body, A wat his life days wair na lang.

20. 'O Sanders, I'le do for your sake What other ladys would na thoule; When seven years is come and gone, There's near a shoe go on my sole.

21. 'O Sanders, I'le do for your sake What other ladies would think mare; When seven years is come and gone, There's nere a comb go in my hair.

22. 'O Sanders, I'le do for your sake, What other ladies would think lack; When seven years is come and gone, I'le wear nought but dowy black.'

23. The bells gaed clinking throw the towne, To carry the dead corps to the clay; An' sighing says her May Margret, 'A wat I bide a doulfou' day.'

24. In an' come her father dear, Stout steping on the floor; ... ... ... ... ... ...

25. 'Hold your toung, my doughter dear, Let a' your mourning a-bee; I'le carry the dead corps to the clay, An' I'le come back an' comfort thee.'

26. 'Comfort well your seven sons; For comforted will I never bee; For it was neither lord nor loune That was in bower last night wi' mee.'

27. Whan bells war rung, an' mass was sung, A wat a' man to bed were gone, Clark Sanders came to Margret's window, With mony a sad sigh and groan.

28. 'Are ye sleeping, Margret?' he says, 'Or are ye waking presentlie? Give me my faith and trouthe again, A wat, trew-love, I gied to thee.'

29. 'Your faith and trouth ye's never get, Nor our trew love shall never twain, Till ye come with me in my bower, And kiss me both cheek and chin.'

30. 'My mouth it is full cold, Margret, It has the smell now of the ground; And if I kiss thy comely mouth, Thy life days will not be long.

31. 'Cocks are crowing a merry mid-larf, I wat the wild fule boded day; Gie me my faith and trouthe again. And let me fare me on my way.'

32. 'Thy faith and trouth thou shall na get, And our trew love shall never twin, Till ye tell me what comes of women A wat that dy's in strong traveling?'

33. 'Their beds are made in the heavens high, Down at the foot of our good Lord's knee, Well set about wi' gillyflowers: A wat sweet company for to see.

34. 'O, cocks are crowing a merry mid-larf, A wat the wilde foule boded day; The salms of Heaven will be sung, And ere now I'le be misst away.'

35. Up she has tain a bright long wand, And she has straked her trouth thereon; She has given [it] him out at the shot-window, Wi' many a sad sigh and heavy groan.

36. 'I thank you, Margret; I thank you, Margret, And I thank you heartilie; Gin ever the dead come for the quick, Be sure, Margret, I'll come again for thee.'

37. It's hose an' shoon an' gound alane, She clame the wall and follow'd him, Until she came to a green forest, On this she lost the sight of him.

38. 'Is there any room at your head, Sanders? Is there any room at your feet? Or any room at your twa sides, Whare fain, fain woud I sleep?'

39. 'Thair is na room at my head, Margret, Thair is na room at my feet; There is room at my twa sides, For ladys for to sleep.

40. 'Cold meal is my covering owre, But an' my winding sheet; My bed it is full low, I say, Down among the hongerey worms I sleep.

41. 'Cold meal is my covering owre, But an' my winding sheet; The dew it falls na sooner down Then ay it is full weet.

42. 'But plait a wand o' bonny birk, And lay it on my breast; And shed a tear upon my grave, And wish my saul gude rest.

43. 'And fair Margret, and rare Margret, And Margret o' veritie, Gin e'er ye love another man, Ne'er love him as ye did me.'

44. Then up and crew the milk-white cock, And up and crew the grey; The lover vanish'd in the air, And she gaed weeping away.

[Annotations: 1.2: 'gravel'd green'; probably corrupt: perhaps a green with gravelled walks. 1.4: 'I wat'; cp. 11.2, 13.2, 15.4, etc. 4.2: 'gin,' altered in the MS. to 'pin.' In either case, it ... part of the door-latch. 6.2: 'ben,' within. 12.2: 'twain,' separate. 15: Cp. The Bonny Birdy, 15.1-4 (First Series, p. 28). 15.2: 'striped,' whetted. See First Series, Introduction, pp. xlix-l. 16.3: 'well and wellsom,' probably a corruption of 'wae and waesome,' sad and woful. 20.2: 'thoule,' endure. 22.2: 'lack,' discredit. 22.4: 'dowy,' mournful. 30.3,4: Cp. The Unquiet Grave, 5.3,4. 31.1: 'mid-larf,' probably corrupt: changed by Scott to 'midnight.' The meaning is unknown. 35.3: 'shot-window,' a window which opens and shuts. See First Series, Introduction, p. 1. 40.1: 'meal,' mould, earth.]


The Text is given from two copies in Herd's MSS. as collated by Child, with the exception of two lines, 9.3,4, which are taken from a third and shorter copy in Herd's MSS., printed by him in the Scottish Songs. Scott's ballad, Earl Richard, is described by him as made up from the above-mentioned copies of Herd, with some trivial alterations adopted from tradition—a totally inadequate account of wholesale alterations. Scott also gives a similar ballad in Lord William.

The Story.—Young Hunting, a king's son, tells a former mistress that he has a new sweetheart whom he loves thrice as well. The lady conceals her anger, plies him with wine, and slays him in his drunken sleep. Her deed unluckily is overseen by a bonny bird, whom she attempts to coax into captivity, but fails. She dresses Young Hunting for riding, and throws him into the Clyde. The king his father asks for him. She swears by corn (see First Series, Glasgerion, p. 1) that she has not seen him since yesterday at noon. The king's divers search for him in vain, until the bonny bird reminds them of the method of finding a drowned corpse by the means of candles. The lady still denies her guilt, and accuses her maid 'Catheren,' but the bonfire refuses to consume the innocent Catheren. When the real culprit is put in, she burns like hoky-gren.

The discovery of a drowned body by candles is a recognised piece of folklore. Usually the candle is stuck in a loaf of bread or on a cork, and set afloat in the river; sometimes a hole is cut in a loaf of bread and mercury poured in to weight it; even a chip of wood is used. The superstition still survives. The most rational explanation offered is that as eddies in rapid streams form deep pools, in which a body might easily be caught, so a floating substance indicates the place by being caught in the centre of the eddy.

The failure of the fire to burn an innocent maid is also, of course, a well-known incident.


1. 'O Lady, rock never your young son young One hour longer for me, For I have a sweetheart in Garlick's Wells I love thrice better than thee.

2. 'The very sols of my love's feet Is whiter then thy face:' 'But nevertheless na, Young Hunting, Ye'l stay wi' me all night.'

3. She has birl'd in him Young Hunting The good ale and the beer, Till he was as fou drunken As any wild-wood steer.

4. She has birl'd in him Young Hunting The good ale and the wine, Till he was as fou drunken As any wild-wood swine.

5. Up she has tain him Young Hunting, And she has had him to her bed, ... ... ... ... ... ...

6. And she has minded her on a little penknife, That hangs low down by her gare, And she has gin him Young Hunting A deep wound and a sare.

7. Out an' spake the bonny bird, That flew abon her head: 'Lady, keep well thy green clothing Fra that good lord's blood.'

8. 'O better I'll keep my green clothing Fra that good lord's blood, Nor thou can keep thy flattering toung, That flatters in thy head.

9. 'Light down, light down, my bonny bird, Light down upon my hand, And ye sail hae a cage o' the gowd Where ye hae but the wand.

10. 'O siller, O siller shall be thy hire, An' goud shall be thy fee, An' every month into the year Thy cage shall changed be.'

11. 'I winna light down, I shanna light down, I winna light on thy hand; For soon, soon wad ye do to me As ye done to Young Hunting.'

12. She has booted and spir'd him Young Hunting As he had been gan to ride, A hunting-horn about his neck, An' the sharp sourd by his side; And she has had him to yon wan water, For a' man calls it Clyde.

13. The deepest pot intill it a' She has puten Young Hunting in; A green truff upon his breast, To hold that good lord down.

14. It fell once upon a day The king was going to ride, And he sent for him Young Hunting, To ride on his right side.

15. She has turn'd her right and round about, She sware now by the corn: 'I saw na thy son, Young Hunting, Sen yesterday at morn.'

16. She has turn'd her right and round about, She sware now by the moon: 'I saw na thy son, Young Hunting, Sen yesterday at noon.

17. 'It fears me sair in Clyde Water That he is drown'd therein:' O they ha' sent for the king's duckers To duck for Young Hunting.

18. They ducked in at the tae water-bank, They ducked out at the tither: 'We'll duck no more for Young Hunting All tho' he wear our brother.'

19. Out an' spake the bonny bird, That flew abon their heads: ... ... ... ... ... ...

20. 'O he's na drown'd in Clyde Water, He is slain and put therein; The lady that lives in yon castil Slew him and put him in.

21. 'Leave aff your ducking on the day, And duck upon the night; Whear ever that sakeless knight lys slain, The candels will shine bright.'

22. Thay left off their ducking o' the day, And ducked upon the night, And where that sakeless knight lay slain, The candles shone full bright.

23. The deepest pot intill it a' Thay got Young Hunting in; A green turff upon his brest, To hold that good lord down.

24. O thay hae sent aff men to the wood To hew down baith thorn an' fern, That they might get a great bonefire To burn that lady in. 'Put na the wyte on me,' she says, 'It was her May Catheren.'

25. Whan thay had tane her May Catheren, In the bonefire set her in, It wad na take upon her cheeks, Nor take upon her chin, Nor yet upon her yallow hair, To healle the deadly sin.

26. Out they hae tain her May Catheren And they hay put that lady in; O it took upon her cheek, her cheek, An' it took upon her chin, An' it took on her fair body, She burnt like hoky-gren.

[Annotations: 3.1: 'birl'd,' poured; 'him,' i.e. for him. 4.4: See First Series, Brown Robin, 7.4; Fause Footrage, 16.4; and Introduction, p. li. 6.2: 'gare,' part of the dress. See First Series, Introduction, p. 1. 8.3: 'flattering,' wagging. 9.4: 'wand,' wood, wicker. 13.1: 'pot,' pot-hole: a hole scooped by the action of the stream in the rock-bed of a river. 13.3: 'truff' = turf. 17.3: 'duckers,' divers. 21.3: 'sakeless,' innocent. 24.5: 'wyte,' blame. 24.6: 'May,' maid. 26.6: 'hoky-gren'; 'gren' is a bough or twig; 'hoakie,' according to Jamieson, is a fire that has been covered up with cinders. 'Hoky-gren,' therefore, is perhaps a kind of charcoal. Scott substitutes 'hollin green,' green holly.]




The Texts of these two variations on the same theme are taken from T. Ravenscroft's Melismata, 1611, and Scott's Minstrelsy, 1803, respectively. There are several other versions of the Scots ballad, while Motherwell prints The Three Ravens, changing only the burden.

Chappell (Popular Music of the Olden Time) says of the English version that he has been 'favored with a variety of copies of it, written down from memory; and all differing in some respects, both as to words and tune, but with sufficient resemblance to prove a similar origin.' Consciously or not, the ballad, as set by him to its traditional tune, is to be sung without the threefold repetition shown by Ravenscroft, thus compressing two verses of the ballad into each repetition of the tune, and halving the length of the song.


1. There were three rauens sat on a tree, Downe a downe, hay down, hay downe There were three rauens sat on a tree, With a downe There were three rauens sat on a tree, They were as blacke as they might be. With a downe derrie, derrie, derrie, downe, downe.

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