Week 485: Twa Corbies, by Anon

As is frustratingly so often the case with ballads, it is not possible to know either who wrote this grim but powerful poem nor how old it is. The first mention of it occurs in a letter of 1802 from Charles Kirkpatrick to Sir Walter Scott, who said it had been collected from an old woman at Alva, and it first appeared in print in Walter Scott’s ‘Minstrelsy’ in 1812.

To me it feels much older, perhaps even having roots in mediaeval times, and indeed an English ballad with a very similar theme, ‘The Three Ravens’, is first recorded in 1611. But ‘The Three Ravens’ is much more upbeat, in that the knight’s hawk, hounds and lady stay with the knight to protect his remains rather than deserting him, and the relish with which, by contrast, the knight’s fate is related in this poem hints perhaps at a speaker for the common people, not averse to indulging in a bit of class revenge: I like to think of it being composed by some Ewan MacColl figure with a gift for the trenchant lyric and a big political chip on his shoulder. And yet the last stanza seems to rise above any rancour, recognising that there will be those who will mourn without closure for the knight in his unknown grave, and acknowledging the pathos inherent in all mortality with that haunting image of the wind blowing over bare bones forever.

The Twa Corbies

As I was walking all alane
I heard twa corbies making a mane:
The tane unto the tither did say,
‘Whar sall we gang and dine the day?’

‘—In behint yon auld fail dyke
I wot there lies a new-slain knight;
And naebody kens that he lies there
But his hawk, his hound, and his lady fair.

‘His hound is to the hunting gane,
His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
His lady’s ta’en anither mate,
So we may mak our dinner sweet.

‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,
And I’ll pike out his bonny blue e’en:
Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair
We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.

‘Mony a one for him maks mane,
But nane sall ken whar he is gane:
O’er his white banes, when they are bare,
The wind sall blaw for evermair.’


corbies=crows (or ravens)
the tane=one of them
tither= other
fail dyke=wall of turf
hause-bane=neck bone

Week 452: Orfeo, trad. arranged by Archie Fisher

This week a good example of the enduring and chameleonic power of story. It all started with the Greek myth of Orpheus, which tells how that matchless singer went down to the Underworld to bring back his lost love Eurydice. At some stage this finds its way into a ballad in Middle Danish and is given a happy ending (in the original story Orpheus cannot resist turning round to look back at Eurydice as they make their way up from Hades, thus breaking a prohibition and losing her again). It then makes its way to Shetland where it appears in a fragmented form in the Norn dialect of those islands. Finally it is taken in hand by the great Scottish folksinger Archie Fisher, who with the help of fellow singer Martin Carthy fills in the gaps and adds a stunning instrumental backing: I think it is his masterwork. Archie notes: ‘The second and fourth lines of each verse are all that remains of what is said to have been its middle Danish origins. Translated they mean “Early greens the wood” and “Where the hart goes yearly”.’

The fairy ride is reminiscent of the ballad ‘Tam Lin’, but the king of the fairies in this poem is less grudging than the vengeful queen in that one.

The word ‘gabber’ is a bit mysterious, but it may be a corrupt form of an old Scots word ‘gamari’, meaning ‘merriment’, and a ‘gabber reel’ is taken to mean ‘a sprightly tune’. Think, perhaps, Steve Earle and Sharon Shannon performing ‘The Galway Girl’…


There lived a king intae the east
Skoven arle grön
There lived a lady in the west
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

The king, he has a-huntin’ gane,
Skoven arle grön
And he left his lady all alane.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘I wish ye’d never gane away
Skoven arle grön
Your lady cold as death doth lay.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

For the King of Fairies wi’ his dert
Skoven arle grön
Has pierced your lady to the hert’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he has called his nobles all
Skoven arle grön
Tae waltz her corpse intae the hall.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he’s set guards three hundred three
Skoven arle grön
To watch her corpse both nicht and day
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

At nicht when they lay fast asleep
Skoven arle grön
Oot o’ the hoos her corpse did sweep
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And the king has gane to the woodward wear
Skoven arle grön
And a band of horsemen him drew near
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And some did ride and some did sing
Skoven arle grön
He spied his lady them amang
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And in yon hill there was a hall
Skoven arle grön
And in went she and the horsemen all
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And after them the king has gaen
Skoven arle grön
But when he cam it was grey stane
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he took oot his pipes to play
Skoven arle grön
But sair his hert with dule and wae
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

But he has played a gabber reel
Skoven arle grön
That would have made a sick heart heal
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Now come ye in into oor hall
Skoven arle grön
Now come ye in amongst us all’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

Now he’s gone in into their hall
Skoven arle grön
And he’s gone in among them all
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And he took oot his pipes to play
Skoven arle grön
But sair his hert with dule and wae
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

And first he played the notes o’ noy
Skoven arle grön
And then he played the notes o’ joy
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Noo tell to us what will ye hae?
Skoven arle grön
What shall we gi’ you for your play?’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘What I will hae I will ye tell
Skoven arle grön
And that’s my lady Isabel’
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

‘Ye take your lady and gang hame
Skoven arle grön
And ye be king o’er all your ain’.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

He’s taen his lady and gane hame
Skoven arle grön
And he is king o’er all his ain.
Hvor hjorten han gar arlig

Traditional, arr. Archie Fisher

Week 399: The Bonny Earl of Moray, by Anon

This popular ballad, Child 181, probably dates from the 17th century and is based on a historical incident. James Stewart, Earl of Moray (Lord Doune) was suspected by James VI of Scotland of having been involved with the Earl of Bothwell in an attempt on the king’s life. He issued a warrant for Moray’s arrest in 1592, charging George Gordon, the Earl of Huntly, with carrying it out. Huntly had a long-standing feud with Moray and took the opportunity, rather than arrest Moray, to kill him outside Moray’s castle in Fife. According to the ballad, James felt that Huntly had exceeded his brief, though he took no action against him.

The song is incidentally famous for having given rise to the term ‘mondegreen’ for a misheard song lyric. This was coined by the American writer Sylvia Wright, who described how, as a young girl, she misheard the final two lines of the first verse as ‘they have slain the Earl o’ Moray, and Lady Mondegreen.’ She said that she always imagined the Earl dying beside his faithful lover ‘Lady Mondegreen’, and refused to hear the real words, because they were less romantic than her misheard version.

I have often wished that there could be a comparable term based not a mishearing but on a possible misunderstanding or over-interpretation of a line that goes beyond anything intended by the poet. For example, when I first read A.E.Housman’s ‘Bredon Hill’ and came to the lines ‘They tolled the one bell only/Groom was there none to see’ I read it with an emphasis on the ‘see’, which gave me a shiver as I imagined an invisible figure of Death stalking beside the coffin like a bridegroom. But it seems quite possible that this conceit never entered Housman’s mind. Ah well, another one for the Elysian fields. ‘Hey, Alfred, you know that poem of yours…’

Like all ballads it is best heard with its tune: there is a good version by the Ian Campbell Folk Group.

The Bonny Earl of Moray

Ye Hielands an ye Lowlands
O, whaur hae ye been
They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray
And lain him on the green.

Now wae betide thee, Huntly
And whaurfor did ye sae?
I hae bade ye bring him wi ye
But forbade ye him tae slay.

He was a braw gallant,
And he rid at the ring;
And the bonny Earl o’ Moray,
O he might hae been a king!

He was a braw gallant,
And he play’d at the ba’;
And the bonny Earl o’ Moray
Was the flower amang them a’!

He was a braw gallant,
And he play’d at the gluve;
And the bonny Earl o’ Moray,
O he was the Queen’s luve!

O lang will his Lady
Look owre the Castle Downe,
Ere she see the Earl o’ Moray
Come sounding through the town!


Week 398: She Moved Through The Fair, by Anon/Padraic Colum

This is in my view one of the most beautiful of all folksongs. It began life as a traditional Irish air of some antiquity, and at least the words of the last verse are traditional; the first three verses are said to have been composed by the Irish poet Padraic Colum, though again based to some extent on traditional lyrics. Colum definitely added the third verse, though, to make it clear, he said, that the bride had died before her wedding-day: this verse seems a bit redundant and is often omitted in performance.

It has been covered by countless professional folk singers, usually with an instrumental accompaniment. Yet one of the most moving versions I have ever heard was an a cappella performance by an unnamed young woman in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, part of a remembrance service for victims of the Omagh bombing, as featured in the BBC’s ‘Soul Music’ series which devotes a whole program to the song.

She Moved Through The Fair

My young love said to me, ‘My mother won’t mind
And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kind’
And she stepped away from me and this she did say:
‘It will not be long, love, till our wedding day’

She stepped away from me and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her move here and move there
Until she turned homeward with one star awake
As the swan in the evening moves over the lake

All of the people were saying, ‘No two ever wed,
But one had a sorrow that never was said’,
But she smiled as she passed me with her goods and her gear
And that was the last time that I saw my dear.

Last night she came to me, my young love came in,
So softly she entered her feet made no din
And she laid her hand on me and this she did say
‘It will not be long, love, ’til our wedding day’

Anon/Padraic Colum

Week 382: Mill O’Tifty’s Annie, by Anon

This week a Scots ballad, Child 233, that takes us back into a dark mediaeval time, scarcely imaginable now, when a woman was the chattel of her family, to be disposed of in marriage for their profit and convenience, and if she stepped out of line could be brutalised and even subject to a so-called ‘honour killing’. This girl’s crime was to love one below her station; in the similarly themed ‘Bonnie Susie Cleland’ (Child 65) the crime is even worse: Susie falls in love with an Englishman. Along with the tragedy here there is a bit of perhaps unintentional Jane-Austenish social comedy: Lord Fyvie is struck by Annie’s beauty, and rather regrets that of course there could no question of a mere miller’s daughter becoming Lady Fyvie, while at the same time Annie’s father is equally dismissive of the idea of Annie marrying a mere trumpeter, even one in Lord Fyvie’s retinue. Doesn’t say much for the social standing of musicians…

The ballad has been covered by, among others, Jean Redpath on ‘Song of the Seals’ and Martin Simpson.

Mill O’Tifty’s Annie

At Mill O’ Tifty there lived a man
In the neighbourhood of Fyvie
He had a bonnie dochter dear
Whose name was Bonnie Annie.

Her bloom was like the springing flower
That hails the rosy morning,
With innocence and graceful mien
Her beauteous form adorning.

Lord Fyvie had a trumpeter
By the name o’ Andrew Lammie
He had the art tae win the heart
O’ Mill o’ Tifty’s Annie.

Proper he was, both young and gay,
His like was not in Fyvie,
Nor was ane there that could compare
With this same Andrew Lammie.

Lord Fyvie he rade by the mill
Whaur lived Tifty’s Annie
And his trumpeter rade him before
Even this same Andrew Lammie

Her mother cried her tae the door
Saying, ‘Come here tae me, my Annie
Did e’er ye see a bonnier man
Than the trumpeter o’ Fyvie?’

Nae thing she said, but sighing sore
‘Alas for Bonnie Annie’.
Love so oppressed her tender breast
Thinking on Andrew Lammie

‘Love comes in at my bedside
And love lies doon aside me
Love has possessed my tender breast
And love will waste my body

‘The first time me and my love met
‘Twas in the woods o’ Fyvie
His lovely form and speech so soft
Soon gained the heart of Annie.

He ca’d me ‘Mistress’, I said ‘No
I was Tifty’s Bonnie Annie’
With apples sweet he did me treat
And kisses soft and mony.

‘It’s up and doon in Tifty’s den
Where the burn runs clear and bonnie
I’ve often gane tae meet my love
My bonnie Andrew Lammie’

Her faither cam’ tae hear o’ this
And a letter wrote tae Fyvie
Tae say his dochter was bewitched
By his servant Andrew Lammie.

Then up the stair his trumpeter
He called soon and shortly:
‘Pray tell me soon what’s this you’ve done
To Tifty’s bonny Annie.’

‘Woe be to Mill of Tifty’s pride,
For it has ruined many;
They’ll not have ’t said that she should wed
The trumpeter of Fyvie.

‘In wicked art I had no part,
Nor therein am I canny;
True love alone the heart has won
Of Tifty’s bonnie Annie.

Lord Fyvie he rade by the mill
‘What ails ye, Bonnie Annie?’
‘It’s a’ for love that I maun die
For bonnie Andrew Lammie’

‘Oh Tifty, Tifty gie consent                     [Lord Fyvie speaks]
And let your dochter marry.’
’It’ll be tae ane o’ higher degree            [Annie’s father speaks]
Than the trumpeter o’ Fyvie.’

‘Had she been born o’ richer kin           [Lord Fyvie speaks]
As she is rich in beauty
I was hae ta’en the lass mysel’
And made her my ain lady’

‘Oh, Fyvie’s lands are far and wide       [Annie speaks]
An’ they are wondrous bonnie
But I wadnae gie my ain true love
No’ for a’ your lands o’ Fyvie’

At this her faither struck her sore
And likewise did her mother
Her sisters a’ they did her scorn
But wae’s me for her brother

Her brother struck her wondrous sore
Wi’ cruel strokes and many
He broke her back on the high hall-door
A’ for likin’ Andrew Lammie

‘Oh faither, mother, sisters a’
Why sae cruel tae your Annie?
My heart was broken first by love
Noo my brother’s broke my body

‘Oh mother, mother mak’ my bed
An’ lay my face tae Fyvie
Thus will I lie and will I die
For my ain dear Andrew Lammie’


Week 375: Nottamun Town, by Anon

I can’t say that I have ever been a fan of nonsense verse – as a child I felt rather strongly that you could take your Snark and Boojum and stuff ‘em up your Jumblies – but this strange antique piece, possibly dating from the Middle Ages, is rather different. There is a line in ‘King Lear’ where the disguised Kent observes to Lear ‘This is not altogether fool, my Lord’, and in the same way I feel that this is not altogether a nonsense poem, though I can’t claim to have the key to it. One theory links it to the mediaeval Feast of Fools or to mummers’ plays, another to the ‘World Turned Upside Down’ theme popular with pamphleteers at the time of the English Civil War. I feel myself that while it may be social commentary, it also carries a strong personal note of alienation and despair at the world’s folly.

The poem exists in many somewhat different versions: the one I present here is mainly from the singing of the English folk artist Shirley Collins..

Nottamun Town

In Nottamun Town, in Nottamun Town
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun Town

I rode a big horse that was called a grey mare
Grey mane and grey tail, green stripes down her back
Grey mane and grey tail, green stripes down her back
There weren’t a hair on her that was not coal black

She stood so still threw me to the dirt
She tore at my hide, she bruised my shirt
From saddle to stirrup I mounted again
And on my ten toes I rode over the plain

And the King and the Queen and a company more
Came a-riding behind and a-walking before
Then a stark naked drummer came marching along
With his hands in his bosom a-beating a drum

They laughed and they smiled, not a soul did look gay
They talked all the while, not a word they did say
I called for a cup to drive gladness away
And stifle the dust for it rained the whole day

Sat down on a hard hot cold frozen stone
Ten thousand stood round me yet I was alone
Took my hat in my hand for to keep my head warm
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born


Week 347: Donal Og, by Anon, translated by Lady Gregory

This is part translation, part adaptation by Lady Augusta Gregory of an anonymous Irish ballad. You will find the date of the original quoted in various places online as 8th century, but I am sceptical: that’s very early, earlier even than poems like ‘Pangur Ban’ and ‘Lament of the Old Woman of Beare’, and it just doesn’t have the feel of Old Irish to me, so I suspect that a typo somewhere, possibly for 18th century, has become perpetuated. Any Celtic scholars among us who can cast light on the matter? But whatever the date of the original, I think it’s a remarkable piece of translation/recreation. 

Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;
the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.
It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;
and that you may be without a mate until you find me.

You promised me, and you said a lie to me,
that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;
I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,
and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.

You promised me a thing that was hard for you,
a ship of gold under a silver mast;
twelve towns with a market in all of them,
and a fine white court by the side of the sea.

You promised me a thing that is not possible,
that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;
that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;
and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.

When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,
I sit down and I go through my trouble;
when I see the world and do not see my boy,
he that has an amber shade in his hair.

It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;
the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.
And myself on my knees reading the Passion;
and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.

My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,
or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;
it was a bad time she took for telling me that;
it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.

My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,
or as the black coal that is on the smith’s forge;
or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;
it was you that put that darkness over my life.

You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from me;
you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;
you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;
and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!

Anon, translated by Lady Gregory

Week 335: Thomas the Rhymer, by Anon

This magnificent and magical ballad has a habit of popping up at odd places in our culture: for example, it is said to have given Washington Irving, who heard it on a visit to Sir Walter Scott, the idea for ‘Rip van Winkle’, it inspired a bravura reworking by Rudyard Kipling, ‘The Last Rhyme of True Thomas’, and a setting of it by Steeleye Span was chosen by the late and much missed Terry Pratchett as the one disc out of the eight that he would take to a desert island: he described it as having a ‘twilight atmosphere’.

And just a quick note for anyone interested: my own ‘Collected Poems’ is now available from Greenwich Exchange, see http://www.greenex.co.uk/ge_record_detail.asp?ID=191 For more details see ‘News’.

Thomas the Rhymer

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank;
A ferlie he spied wi’ his e’e;
And there he saw a ladye bright
Come riding down by the Eildon Tree.

Her skirt was o’ the grass-green silk,
Her mantle o’ the velvet fyne;
At ilka tett o’ her horse’s mane,
Hung fifty siller bells and nine.

True Thomas he pu’d aff his cap,
And louted low down on his knee:
‘Hail to thee, Mary, Queen of Heaven!
For thy peer on earth could never be.’

‘O no, O no, Thomas,’ she said,
‘That name does not belang to me;
I’m but the Queen o’ fair Elfland,
That am hither come to visit thee.

‘Harp and carp, Thomas,’ she said;
‘Harp and carp along wi’ me;
And if ye dare to kiss my lips,
Sure of your bodie I will be.’

‘Betide me weal, betide me woe,
That weird shall never daunten me.’
Syne he has kiss’d her rosy lips,
All underneath the Eildon Tree.

‘Now ye maun go wi’ me,’ she said,
‘True Thomas, ye maun go wi’ me;
And ye maun serve me seven years,
Thro’ weal or woe as may chance to be.’

She’s mounted on her milk-white steed,
She’s ta’en true Thomas up behind;
And aye, whene’er her bridle rang,
The steed gaed swifter than the wind.

O they rade on, and farther on,
The steed gaed swifter than the wind;
Until they reach’d a desert wide,
And living land was left behind.

‘Light down, light down now, true Thomas,
And lean your head upon my knee;
Abide ye there a little space,
And I will show you ferlies three.

‘O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset wi’ thorns and briers?
That is the Path of Righteousness,
Though after it but few inquires.

‘And see ye not yon braid, braid road,
That lies across the lily leven?
That is the Path of Wickedness,
Though some call it the Road to Heaven.

‘And see ye not yon bonny road
That winds about the fernie brae?
That is the Road to fair Elfland,
Where thou and I this night maun gae.

‘But, Thomas, ye sall haud your tongue,
Whatever ye may hear or see;
For speak ye word in Elfyn-land,
Ye’ll ne’er win back to your ain countrie.’

O they rade on, and farther on,
And they waded rivers abune the knee;
And they saw neither sun nor moon,
But they heard the roaring of the sea.

It was mirk, mirk night, there was nae starlight,
They waded thro’ red blude to the knee;
For a’ the blude that’s shed on the earth
Rins through the springs o’ that countrie.

Syne they came to a garden green,
And she pu’d an apple frae a tree:
‘Take this for thy wages, true Thomas;
It will give thee the tongue that can never lee.’

‘My tongue is my ain,’ true Thomas he said;
‘A gudely gift ye wad gie to me!
I neither dought to buy or sell
At fair or tryst where I might be.

‘I dought neither speak to prince or peer,
Nor ask of grace from fair ladye!’—
‘Now haud thy peace, Thomas,’ she said,
‘For as I say, so must it be.’

He has gotten a coat of the even cloth,
And a pair o’ shoon of the velvet green;
And till seven years were gane and past,
True Thomas on earth was never seen.


Week 302: The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

Last Friday I happened to catch the end of one of this year’s Proms concerts which was showcasing British folksong, and the closing piece was a mass singing of the beautiful ballad ‘The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry’. I confess that I wasn’t much taken with this rendering – not as bad as those wince-making drawing-room arrangements of folksong beloved of early twentieth century British composers, but still far too orchestrated and ornamented for my taste. Give me an a cappella version, or at best a very modest instrumental accompaniment: the words of great folksongs are words of power and magic, and they should be allowed to speak for themselves.

A ‘silkie’ (or selkie) was one of the seafolk, enchanted creatures who lived in the sea as seals but could come ashore, take on human form and even take a human husband or wife.

As usual with ballads, there are several versions of the text: what I give here is a shorter version from the Shetlands (Child ballad 113), made popular in the sixties by Joan Baez; there is a much longer Orcadian version favoured by the great Scots ballad singers Jean Redpath and Archie Fisher, and sung to a tune that may be more authentic, but I rather like the more compact Shetland version and like its tune too.

The Great Silkie of Sule Skerry

An earthly nourris sits and sings,
And aye, she sings ‘Ba lily wean,
Little ken I my bairn’s father,
Far less the land that he staps in’.

Then ane arose at her bed fit.
And a grumly guest I’m sure was he,
Saying ‘Here am I, thy bairn’s father,
Although I be not comely.’

‘I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie on the sea,
And when I’m far and far frae land,
My dwelling is in Sule Skerrie.’

And he has ta’en a purse of gold
And he has placed it upon her knee,
Saying, ‘Give to me my little young son,
And take thee up thy nurse’s fee.

‘It shall come to pass on a summer’s day,
When the sun shines het on every stane,
That I shall fetch my little young son,
And teach him for to swim the faem.

‘And thu shall marry a proud gunner,
And a proud gunner I’m sure he’ll be,
And the very first shot that e’er he shoots
He’ll shoot both my young son and me.’


Week 288: The Wife of Usher’s Well, by Anon

One of the great Child ballads, Child 79, shot through with a pagan wildness and superstition coexisting uneasily with its veneer of Christianity. The old woman of the title is no meek acceptor of God’s will but a powerful witch, able to curse the elements themselves, that have taken her sons from her, and give them no rest till those sons are returned to her. And so they are, but not ‘in earthly flesh and blood’ as she had wished, but as revenants still bound, like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, to Purgatory, and all her efforts to feast them and give them rest are doomed: one night is all they are allowed.

What has always struck me about these grim, spare poems is how, give or take a few strange words and spellings, they remain so alive and immediate for us, often more so than much of the poetry of later centuries.

carline wife = old woman
fashes = troubles
flood = sea
birk = birch
syke = gully, trench
sheugh = ditch, furrow
daw = dawn
channerin = grumbling, chiding
gin = if

The Wife of Usher’s Well

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.

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.

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

‘I wish the wind may never cease,
Nor fashes in the flood,
Till my three sons come hame to me,
In earthly flesh and blood!’

It fell about the Martinmas,
When nights are lang and mirk,
The carline wife’s three sons came hame,
And their hats were o’ the birk.

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

‘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.’

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.

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

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

‘The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,
The channerin’ worm doth chide;
Gin we be miss’d out o’ our place,
A sair pain we maun bide.’

‘Lie still, lie still but a little wee while,
Lie still but if we may;
Gin my mother should miss us when she wakes,
She’ll go mad ere it be day.’

‘Fare ye weel, my mother dear!
Fareweel to barn and byre!
And fare ye weel, the bonny lass
That kindles my mother’s fire!’