Week 349: The Black Furrow, by George Mackay Brown

It’s no easy thing to capture an authentic flavour of the old ballads, but I think George Mackay Brown manages it in this tale of a fiddler lured away, like Thomas the Rhymer, to elfland. I have an idea that I first heard the poem broadcast as part of a radio play, ‘A Spell for Green Corn’, many years ago.

The Black Furrow

“Darst thu gang b’ the black furrow
This night, thee and they song?”
“Wet me mouth wi’ the Lenten ale,
I’ll go along.”

They spied him near the black furrow
B’ the glim o’ the wolf star.
Slow the dance was in his feet
Dark the fiddle he bore.

There stood three men at the black furrow
And one was clad in grey.
No mortal hand had woven that cloth
B’ the sweet light o’ day.

There stood three men at the black furrow
And one was clad in green.
They’ve ta’en the fiddler b’ the hand
Where he was no more seen.

There stood three men at the black furrow
And one was clad in yellow.
They’ve led the fiddle through the door
Where never a bird could follow.

They’ve put the gowd cup in his hand,
Elfin bread on his tongue.
And there he bade a hunder years,
Him and his lawless song.

“Darst thu gang through the black furrow
On a mirk night, alone?”
“I’d rather sleep wit’ Christian folk,
Under a kirkyard stone.”

George Mackay Brown

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