FROM OUTLANDER BOOK
The Dowie Dens of Yarrow – a ballad from the Scottish Border. Murtagh teaches this song to Claire when they travel together looking for Jamie after he is taken by the Watch.
(continue “The Search” Outlander Tv season I)
“The Dowie Dens of Yarrow”, “The Dewy Dens of Yarrow” or “The Breas of Yarrow”, “The Banks of Yarrow” exists in many variants in Child’s book ( The O Braes’ Yarrow Child ballad IV, # 214). The story was also told in the poem by William Hamilton, published in Tea-Table Miscellany (Allan Ramsay, 1723) and also in Reliques (Thomas Percy, vol II 1765): Hamilton was inspired by an old Scottish ballad of the oral tradition (see)
Kenneth S. Goldstein commented “Child printed nineteen texts of this beautiful Scottish tragic ballad, the oldest dating from the 18th century. Sir Walter Scott, who first published it in his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803), believed that the ballad referred to a duel fought at the beginning of the 17th century between John Scott of Tushielaw and Walter Scott of Thirlestane in which the latter was slain. Child pointed out inaccuracies in this theory but tended to give credence to the possibility that the ballad did refer to an actual occurrence in Scott family history that was not too far removed from that of the ballad tale.
In a recent article, Norman Cazden discussed various social and historical implications of this ballad (and its relationship to Child 215, Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow), as well as deriding Scott’s theories as to its origin.” (see Mainly Norfolk)
The area is a sort of “Bermuda triangle” of the Celtic world, a strip of land rich in traditional tales of fairy raptures and magical apparitions!
(see also the Tam lin ballad)
The hero of the ballad was a knight of great bravery, popularly believed to be John Scott, sixth son of the Laird of Harden. According to history, he met a treacherous and untimely death in Ettrick Forest at the hands of his kin, the Scotts of Gilmanscleugh in the seventeenth century.
THE AGREEMENT OVER YARROW’S VALLEY
The song describes a young man (perhaps a border reiver) killed in an ambush near the Yarrow river by the brothers of the woman he loved. In some versions, the lady rejects nine suitors in preference for a servant or ploughman; the nine make a pact to kill the her real lover, in other they are men sent by the lady’s father.The reiver manages to kill or wound his assailants but eventually falls, pierced by the youngest of them.
The lady may see the events in a dream, some versions of the song end with the lady grieving, in others she dies of grief.
The structure is the classical one of the ancient ballads with the revealing of the story between the questions and answers of the protagonists and the commonplace of the death announced to the parents.
So many textual versions and different melodies, which I have grouped into three strands.
The melody was collected by Lucy Broadwood from John Potts of Whitehope Farm, Peeblesshire, published in The Journal of the Folk Song Society, vol.V (1905).
Matthew White (Canadian countertenor): Skye Consort in the Cd “O Sweet Woods 2013”, the arrangement is very interesting, with a Baroque atmosphere that echoes the era in which the first version is traced. Only verses I, II, IV, V, VI, VIII and XIV are performed
Mad Pudding in Dirt & Stone -1996 (except V verse) listen
There lived a lady in the north (1);
You could scarcely find her marrow (2).
She was courted by nine noblemen
On the dewy dells (3) of Yarrow (4)
Her father had a bonny ploughboy (5)
And she did love him dearly.
She dressed him up like a noble lord
For to fight for her on Yarrow(6).
She kissed his cheek, she kamed his hair,
As oft she had done before O (7),
She gilted him with a right good sword
For to fight for her on Yarrow.
As he climbed up yon high hill
And they came down the other,
There he spied nine noblemen
On the dewy dells of Yarrow.
‘Did you come here for to drink red wine,
Or did you come here to borrow?
Or did you come here with a single sword
For to fight for her on Yarrow?’
‘I came not here for to drink red wine,
And I came not here to borrow,
But I came here with a single sword
For to fight for her on Yarrow’
‘There are nine of you and one of me,
And that’s but an even number,
But it’s man to man I’ll fight you all
And die for her on Yarrow’
Three he drew and three he slew
And two lie deadly wounded,
When a stubborn knight crept up behind
And pierced him with his arrow.
‘Go home, go home, my false young man,
And tell your sister Sarah
That her true lover John lies dead and gone/ On the dewy dells of Yarrow’
As he gaed down yon high hill
And she came down the other,
It’s then he met his sister dear
A-coming fast to Yarrow.
‘O brother dear, I had a dream last night,’
‘I can read it into sorrow;
Your true lover John lies dead and gone/ On the dewy dells of Yarrow.’
This maiden’s hair was three-quarters long (8),
The colour of it was yellow.
She tied it around his middle side (9)
And she carried him home to Yarrow.
She kissed his cheeks, she kamed his hair
As oft she had done before O,
Her true lover John lies dead and gone,
on the dewy dells of Yarrow.
O mother dear, make me my bed,
And make it long and narrow,
For the one that died for me today,
I shall die for him tomorrow
‘O father dear, you have seven sons;
You can wed them all tomorrow,
For the fairest flower amongst them all (9)
Is the one that died on Yarrow.
1) the north is not only a geographical location but a code word in balladry for a sad story
2) marrow= a companion, a bosom friend, a kindred spirit (a husband)
3) dowue, dewy= sad, melancholy, dreary, dismal
Dens, dells= a narrow valley or ravine, usually wooded, a dingle
4) Yarrow is a river but also an officinal herb, Achillea millefolium. So the definition of the place “the valleys of the Yarrow” becomes more vague but also symbolic: the yarrow is a plant associated with death, and in popular beliefs the sign of a mourning.
From the healing powers already known in the times of Homer and used by the Druids, the plant is the main ingredient of a magic potion worthy of the secret recipe of the Panoramix druid. It is said that in the Upper Valle del Lys (Valle d’Aosta, Italy) the Salassi were great consumers of a drink that infused courage and strength. It became known as Ebòlabò and it is a drink still prepared by the inhabitants of the valley based on “achillea moscata”.
5) In some versions the boy is a country man but not necessarily a peasant, rather a cadet son of a small country nobility. Near Yarrow (Yarrow Krik) there is still a stone with an ancient inscription near a place called the “Warrior’s rest“.
6) Matthew White
“She killed here with a single sword
On the dewy dells of Yarrow”
7) the typical behavior of a devoted wife who looks after, combs and dresses her husband, the same care and devotion that she will give to the corpse
8) In the Middle Ages the girls wore very long hair knotted in a thick braid
9) some interpret the verse as an expression of mourning in which the girl cuts her long hair (that reaches her knees) up to her waist. The phrase literally means, however, that she uses her hair to carry away the corpse interweaving them like a rope. The image is a little grotesque for our standards, but it must have been a common practice at the time
10) the verse says that the handsome peasant was the bravest of all, certainly not the brother!
Second version: the lady makes a dream in which she is picking up the red heather on the slopes of the Yarrow, an omen of misfortune.
A Scottish legend explains how the common heather has become white: Malvina, daughter of a Celtic bard, was engaged to a warrior named Oscar. Oscar was killed in battle, and the messenger that delivered the news gave her heather as a token of Oscar’s love. As her tears fell on the heather, it turned white. Since then the white heather is the emblem of faithful love; the resemblance to the Norse legend of Baldur and the mistletoe is surprising.
Karine Powart version shows us the most extensive text of the ballad that the Pentangle translate into English and reduce to 7 verses
Bert Jansh Yarrow, in Moonshine (1973).
The Pentangle in Open the Door, 1985 ( I, II, III, IV, VI, VIII, XIII)
There was a lady in the north
You scarce would find her marrow
She was courted by nine gentlemen
And a plooboy lad fae Yarrow
Well, nine sat drinking at the wine
As oft they’d done afore O
And they made a vow amang themselves
Tae fight for her on Yarrow
She’s washed his face, she’s combed his hair,/ As she has done before,
She’s placed a brand down by his side,
To fight for her on Yarrow.
So he’s come ower yon high, high hill
And doon by the den sae narrow
And there he spied nine armed men
Come tae fight wi’ him on Yarrow
He says, “There’s nine o’ you and but one o’ me/ It’s an unequal marrow”
But I’ll fight ye a’ noo one by one
On the Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow
So it’s three he slew and three withdrew
An’ three he wounded sairly
‘Til her brother, he came in beyond
And he wounded him maist foully
“Gae hame, gae hame, ye fause young man
And bring yer sister sorrow
For her ain true love lies pale and wan
On the Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow”
“Oh mither, (2) I hae dreamed a dream
A dream o’ doul and sorrow
I dreamed I was pu’ing the heathery bells (3)
On the Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow”
“Oh daughter dear, I ken yer dream
And I doobt it will bring sorrow
For yer ain true love lies pale and wan
On the Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow”
An’ so she’s run ower yon high, high hill
An’ doon by the den sae narrow
And it’s there she spied her dear lover John
Lyin’ pale and deid on Yarrow
And so she’s washed his face an’ she’s kaimed his hair
As aft she’d done afore O
And she’s wrapped it ‘roond her middle sae sma’ (4)
And she’s carried him hame tae Yarrow
“Oh haud yer tongue, my daughter dear/ What need for a’ this sorrow?
I’ll wed ye tae a far better man
Than the one who’s slain on Yarrow”
“Oh faither, ye hae seven sons
And ye may wed them a’ the morrow
But the fairest floo’er amang them a’
Was the plooboy lad fae Yarrow”
“Oh mother, mother mak my bed
And mak it saft and narrow
For my love died for me this day
And I’ll die for him tomorrow”
8) qui il verso risulta un po’ oscuro mancando il particolare dei lunghi capelli di lei annodati in treccia che diventano corde da traino per portare il cadavere a casa
1) The Pentangle
It’s three he’s wounded, and three withdrew,
And three he’s killed on Yarrow,
2) The Pentangle say “father
3) heather bell is the name of the Erica cinerea ; a Scottish legend explains how the common heather has become white: Malvina, daughter of a Celtic bard, was engaged to a warrior named Oscar. Oscar was killed in battle, and the messenger that delivered the news gave her heather as a token of Oscar’s love. As her tears fell on the heather, it turned white. Since then the white heather is the emblem of faithful love; the resemblance to the Norse legend of Baldur and the mistletoe is surprising.
THE HEATHERY HILLS OF YARROW
It’s Bothy band version that begins the story from the ambush and develops the dialogue between the lady and her relatives until her tragic death.
Bothy band (Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill voice) in After hours, 1979
It’s three drew and three slew,
And three lay deadly wounded,
When her brother John stepped in between,
And stuck his knife right through him.
As she went up yon high high hill,
And down through yonder valley,
Her brother John came down the glen,
Returning home from Yarrow.
Oh brother dear I dreamt last night
I’m afraid it will bring sorrow,
I dreamt that you were spilling blood,
On the dewy dens of Yarrow.
Oh sister dear I read your dream,
I’m afraid it will bring sorrow,
For your true love John lies dead and gone
On the heathery hills of Yarrow.
This fair maid’s hair being three quarters long,
And the colour it was yellow,
She tied it round his middle waist,
And she carried him home from Yarrow.
Oh father dear you’ve got seven sons,
You can wed them all tomorrow,
But a flower like my true love John,
Will never bloom in Yarrow.
This fair maid she being tall and slim,
The fairest maid in Yarrow,
She laid her head on her father’s arm,
And she died through grief and sorrow.