Il Testamento dell’Avvelenato

Leggi in italiano

A folk ballad that inaugurates a narrative genre collected in multiple variations called “the testament of a poisoned”: the story of a dying son, because he has been poisoned, who returns to his mother to die in his bed and make a will; in all likelihood the ballad starts from Italy, passes through Germany to get to Sweden and then spread to the British Isles (Lord Randal) until it lands in America.
This is how Riccardo Venturi teaches us “This ballad may have originated very far from the moors and lochs, and very close to our home [Italy].The poison, in fact, is a very strange weapon in the fierce ballads of Britain, where they kill themselves with sword, it is a subtle, ‘feminine’ means of killing, and it is not by chance that it has always been considered, on a popular level, a really Italian thing.

“The poisoned”, or “The Testament of a poisoned”, is an Italian ballad attested for the first time in a repertoire of popular songs published in 1629 in Verona by a Florentine, Camillo called the Bianchino. It was then also reproduced by Alessandro d’Ancona in his essay “La poesia popolare italiana’ (in english The Italian Popular Poetry), Livorno, 1906 (volume II, page 126): the author expresses the opinion that the original text was Tuscan and contains some versions from the Como area and Lucca.
To date there are almost 200 regional versions of this ballad, based on the dialogue between mother (or sometimes the wife) and son who in some regions is called Henry, in other Peppino in others, as in Canton Ticino, Guerino: other characters intervene as the doctor, the confessor and the notary, only in the final we learn that his wife is the guilty (in some versions the sister or more rarely the mother)


The poisoning occurs by means of an eel. The eel was a very popular food in the Middle Ages, and consumed even in areas far from the sea as it could be kept alive for a long time. But it is known that the eel has a serpentine aspect and in fact the capitone (ie the eel with the big head) is often compared, at least in Italy, to the male penis.
At first glance the poisoning could be a revenge by the wife or lover due to a betrayal and it comes a spontaneously parallel with another red thread traced for Europe( ” the Occult Death“) indeed these ballads could originate from the same ancient mythological source: the hero goes hunting in the woods and is poisoned by a mysterious lady, then returns home and makes his will.
According to the psychoanalytic interpretation of Giordano Dall’Armellina in archetypal key, here we see the teaching-rite of passage that was given in ancient times through the telling. (see the italian text)


The melodies are very varied and range from lament to dance tunes.

Il canzoniere del Piemonte (in english: The songbook of Piedmont; voice Donata Pinti)
In this version the dialogue is between wife and husband; they call the notary to make a will.

Costantino Nigra #26 
"Moger l'ái tanto male,
signura moger
«Coz' l'as-to mangià a sinha
cavaliero gentil
«Mangià d'ün' anguilëlla
che 'l mi cör stà mal!"
"L'as-to mangià-la tüta
cavaliero gentil?»
«Oh sül che la testëta:
signora mojer"
«Coz' l'as-to fáit dla resta
cavaliero gentil?»
«L’ái dà-la alla cagnëta:
signora mojer"
«Duv' è-lo la cagnëta
cavaliero gentil?»
«L’è morta per la strada
signora mojer"
«Mandè a ciamè ’l nodaro
che 'l mi cör stà mal!"
«Coz' vos-to dal nodaro,
cavaliero gentil?»
«Voi fare testamento:
oh signur nodar»
«Coz' lass-to ai to frateli,
cavaliero gentil?»
«Tante bele cassinhe
oh signor notar"
«Coz' lass-to ale tue sorele,
cavaliero gentil?»
Tanti bei denari
oh signor notar»
«Coz' lass-to a la to mare,
cavaliero gentil?»
"La chiave del mio cuore
oh signur nodar»
«Coz' lass-to a tua mogera,
cavaliero gentil?»
«La forca da impichela:
oh signur nodar»
L'è chila ch' l'à 'ntossià-me
oh signur nodar»

i Gufi, Lombard area

IL TESTAMENTO DELL’AVVELENATO (come cantato da Nanni Svampa)
Dove sii staa jersira
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Dove sii staa jersira?
Son staa da la mia dama
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Son staa da la mia dama.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa v’halla daa de cena
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa v’halla daa de cena?
On’inguilletta arrosto
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
On’inguilletta arrosto.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
L’avii mangiada tuta
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
L’avii mangiada tuta?
Non n’ho mangiaa che meza
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Non n’ho mangiaa che meza.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa avii faa dell’altra mezza
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa avii faa dell’altra mezza?
L’hoo dada alla cagnola,
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
L’hoo dada alla cagnola.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa avii faa de la cagnola
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa avii faa de la cagnola?
L’è morta ‘dree a la strada,
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
L’è morta ‘dree a la strada.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
La v’ha giust daa ‘l veleno
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil,
la v’ha giust daa ‘l veleno?
Mandee a ciamà ‘l dottore
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Mandee a ciamà ‘l dottore.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè.
Perchè vorii ciamà ‘l dottore
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Perchè vorii ciamà ‘l dottore?XIII
Per farmi visitare
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Per farmi visitare.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Mandee a ciamà ‘l notaro
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Mandee a ciamà ‘l notaro.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Perchè vorii ciamà ‘l notaro
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Perchè vorii ciamà ‘l notaro?
Per fare testamento
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Per fare testamento.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa lassee alli vostri fratelli
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa lassee alli vostri fratelli?
Carozza coi cavalli
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
Carozza coi cavalli.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa lassee alle vostre sorelle
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa lassee alle vostre sorelle?
La dote per maritarle
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
La dote per maritarle.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa lassee alli vostri servi
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa lassee alli vostri servi?
La strada d’andà a messa
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
La strada d’andà a messa.
Ohimè ch’io moro, ohimè!
Cossa lassee alla vostra dama
figliol, mio caro fiorito e gentil?
Cossa lassee alla vostra dama?
La forca da impicarla
signora mamma, mio core sta mal!
La forca da impicarla.
Ohimèèèè ch’io mooooooro, ohiiiiiiiimè!

Monica Bassi & Bandabrian the version from the Veneto (sorrowful interpretation and beautiful black and white images)

La Piva dal Carner (later become BEV, Bonifica Emiliana Veneta), 1995. The Emilia version. Here the protagonist is a gallant knight named Enrico

Musicanta Maggio (Emilia area) in which also a dog dies poisoned for eating a piece of eel.

Angelo Branduardi in Futuro Antico III

Piva del Carner
Dov’è che sté ier sira, fiól mio Irrico?
Dov’è che sté ier sira, cavaliere gentile?
Sun ste da me surèla, mama la mia mama
sun ste da me surèla che il mio core sta male.
Che t’à dato da cena, fiól mio Irrico?
Che t’à dato da cena, cavaliere gentile?
Un’anguillina arosto, mama la mia mama
un’anguillina arosto che il mio core sta male.
Dove te l’ha condita, fiól mio Irrico?
Dove te l’ha condita, cavaliere gentile?
In un piattino d’oro, mama la mia mama
in un piattino d’oro che il mio core sta male.
Che parte è stè la tua, fiól mio Irrico?
Che parte è stè la tua, cavaliere gentile?
La testa e non la coda, mama la mia mama
la testa e non la coda che il mio core sta male.
Andè a ciamèr al prete, mama la mia mama
andè a ciamèr al prete che il mio core sta male.
Sin vot mai fèr dal prete, fiól mio Irrico?
sin vot mai fèr dal prete, cavaliere gentile?
Mi devo confessare, mama la mia mama
Mi devo confessare, che il mio core sta male
m’avete avvelenato mama la mia mama
m’avete avvelenato e il mio core sta male.
english translation from here
The will of the poisoned man
Where were you yesterday evening, my son Enrico?
Where were you, o gentle knight?
I went to see my sister, o mother
I went to see my sister and my heart is sick.
What did she give you for dinner, Enrico my son?
What did she give you for dinner, o gentle knight?
A small roasted eel, o mother
A small roasted eel and my heart is sick.
Where did she prepare it, my son Enrico?
Where did she prepare it, o gentle knight?
In a gold saucer, o mother
In a gold saucer, and my heart is sick.
Which part was yours, Enrico my son?
Which part was yours, o gentle knight?
The head and not the tail, o mother
The head and not the tail and my heart is sick.
Go call the priest, o mother
Go call the priest and my heart is sick.
Wherefore do you need the priest, Enrico my son?
Wherefore do you need the priest, o gentle knight?
I must be confessed, o mother
I must be confessed, and my heart is sick.
You poisoned me, o mother
You poisoned me and my heart is sick.


Beware the brown-haired woman

Leggi in italiano

One of the most popular ballads in the Anglo-American Balladry (second only to Barbara Allen) is collecterd by professor Child at number 73, with the title “Lord Thomas and Annet“.
Some scholars believe that the story (a kind of gothic fable) narrates the same love triangle of “William and Margaret” (Child #74) with the protagonist who instead of committing suicide prefers to go to church to kill her rival. As a Shakespeare’s tragedy, the murdered victims immediately become three. Depending on the version it is the blonde to kill the brown, or vice versa, but it is still the brown bride to be killed by her husband!


A Lord recommended by his family marries a rich landowner, although his heart beats for another woman. On the wedding day the rival also comes to church and insults the bride who, in a fit of mad jealousy, kills her and is herself killed by the Lord (who commits suicide soon after).
While today the story would have developed in twelve episodes of a TV series with revenges and counter-revenges (just to name one, Revenge) in the Middle Ages with forty stanzas they entertained the public on an evening at the castle.
The oldest versions are found in Scotland (or perhaps in England), but the origin of the ballad is certainly even more Nordic and the signal in this sense comes from the physical connotation of the bride: a woman with black hair. In a light-haired population such as the Norse, the foreign element that carries negativity is the dark, the principle of all evil. The ballad then spread to the British Isles and America following the Scottish and Irish migrations.

A variant of the story sees two twin sisters separated from birth struggling with a man who subdues the blonde one, taking her as a concubine, and marries the other for her rich dowry. Anna kidnapped by a knight becomes her lover and generates various children. At the time of celebrating the wedding, however, the Lord prefers to turn to a woman of noble birth (and with a rich dowry) and relegates Anna to the rank of servant. The two women, however, on the same night of the wedding discover that they are sisters, the marriage is canceled and she returns home leaving the dowry to the lost sister. ( Child #62)

Finally, again on the subject of sisters, the very popular Cruel Sister, in which, out of jealousy, the brown sister drowns the blonde one and she is accused by a magical harp of her misdeed. (see)


A classic of fairy tales it is the connotation of the color of the hair to distinguish the good sister from the bad sister, an atavistic code derived from the fact that the dark hair was that of the foreigner, or the enemy. The distinction did not concern the color of the skin, even if the milk-white complexion was considered sexier (a matter of taste, once the cadaveric pallor smelled of wealth like in our times the Caribbean tan).
Probably the color could be considered in ancient times as a racial connotation, but in the Middle Ages it was more certainly a social connotation.
In this ballad, however, the blonde is the poor Annie or Eleonor (Ellender), while the brown one is the rich rival. So a further typically medieval reading is the one that contrasts the nobility of blood (but impoverished) against bankers and merchants, that is the new emerging class that wants to marry into the nobility to wear the coat of arms. All the positive features therefore fall on the blonde, while the brown girl does not even have a name that identifies her!

Anna or Ellender, the fair sister
Scottish versions
Lord Thomas and Fair Annet
Sweet Willie and Fair Annie
English versions
Lord Thomas and the Fair Ellender
American versions
Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender (The Brown Girl)
French version
Les tristes noces


Fair Ann, Patient Annie (Anna la bella, Anna la paziente)

A story generated at the dawn of the Middle Ages has become a popular ballad still sung today in mostly British but also Scandinavian folk circuits, with the title of Fair Ann (in Swedish Skon Anna); its disclosure in the courts of Europe was related to the transcription of Marie de France of the matter of Brittany (or Celtic if you prefer) in Anglo-Norman language.

[Una storia generata agli albori del Medioevo è diventata una ballata popolare ancora cantata nei circuiti folk odierni per lo più britannici ma anche scandinavi, con il titolo di Fair Ann ( in Svedese Skon Anna); la sua divulgazione nei “salotti” d’Europa fu relativa alla trascrizione di Maria di Francia della materia di Bretagna (o celtica che dir si voglia) in lingua anglo-normanna.]

Lai de Frêsne

For a twin birth, Fresne (in english “Ash tree”) is abandoned in front of the door of a convent, wrapped in a rich cover and with a gold bracelet on the wrist ( mementos attesting to her noble origins) . Welcomed in the Goron family (Guroun), she becomes her lover. But when choosing a bride for the future of the dynasty, marriage is combined with a rich lady known as La Codre (the hazel tree). In the final recognition it turns out that the two women are sisters.
The interweaving of history begins with the medieval belief that the twin birth would reveal the sexually reprehensible nature of the woman. In ancient times and throughout the Middle Ages it was common to abandon one of the twins to avoid the accusation of adultery: they abandoned the newborns in the fields or entrusting them to the river or depositing their basket in front of the churches or convents.
The ending, however, is a happy ending: as in fairy tales the heroine has to show her worth despite adversity and eventually receives her reward, the marriage is canceled, Fresne marries the man she loved devoutly, receiving as a dowry her share of inheritance. Her twin returns home and she too gets married.
This lai is translated into ancient English in the romance “Lay le Freiene.” (XIV century)
[A causa di un parto gemellare, Fresne (in italiano Frassino) è abbandonata davanti alla porta di un convento, avvolta nella classica copertina (che alla fine rivelerà le sue nobili origini) e con un bracciale d’oro al polso. Accolta dalla famiglia di Goron (Guroun) ne diventa l’amante. Ma al momento di scegliere una sposa per il futuro della dinastia, il matrimonio è combinato con una ricca dama conosciuta con il nome di La Codre (il nocciolo). Nell’agnizione finale si scopre che le due donne sono sorelle.
L’intreccio della storia prende l’avvio dalla credenza medievale che il parto gemellare rivelerebbe la natura sessualmente riprovevole della donna. Nei tempi antichi e per tutto l’Evo di Mezzo era frequente l’abbandono di uno dei due gemelli per evitare l’accusa di adulterio: si abbandonavano i neonati nei campi o affidandoli al fiume oppure deponendo la loro cesta di fronte alle chiese o ai conventi.
Il finale però è un lieto fine: come nelle fiabe l’eroina deve dimostrare il proprio valore nonostante le avversità e alla fine riceve la sua ricompensa, il matrimonio viene annullato, Fresne sposa l’uomo che amava devotamente, ricevendo in dote la sua parte di eredità. La gemella ritorna a casa e anche lei si sposa. .
Il lai viene tradotto in inglese antico nel romance “Lay le Freiene.” (XIV secolo)]

The Clerk’s Tale
[Il racconto del chierico]

The story is also echoed in the novella of Boccaccio (the last one of the Decameron) which has inspired Goffrey Chaucer for his Canterbury Tales: a tale of wifely obedience with the humble Griselda submitting herself in all respects to the will of the husband (accepting the murder of their two son born in the meantime and of being despiced for a younger and richer woman.)

[La storia trova eco anche nella novella del Boccaccio (ultima novella del Decamerone) alla quale si ispirò Goffrey Chaucer per i Racconti di Canterbury (nona novella “The Clerk’s Tale”): l’umile Griselda si sottomette in tutto e per tutto alla volontà del marito accettando come prova d’amore l’omicidio dei due figlioletti nati nel frattempo e infine l’essere ripudiata per una donna più giovane e ricca.]

W. Russell Flint: Griselda (madre e figlia nell’agnizione finale)

Fair Annie

A version of Fair Annie is transcribed in Thomas Percy’s “Reliques of Ancient Poetry” and Child includes the ballad (10 texts, # 62), in his collection; the story also recalls another ballad ” Fair Margaret and Sweet William ” (Child ballad # 74) but also “Lord Thomas & fair Eleanor (Annett) (Child ballad # 73) to such an extent as to consider these as variants of the former.
The most current version of the ballad comes from Peter Bellamy who in the 1980s adapted the Anglicized transcription of Bronson (“Tradition Tunes of the Child Ballads”), a version that became the starting point for the later folk-singers.
In the version handed down in the British Isles the girl is kidnapped by a knight from the sea, whose role in the story is however variously outlined by the storytellers: in the version become standard he is a predator that forces his lover to become a “servant” of the new rich wife. Annie is like Cinderella relegated to the attic of the castle with her bastard sons, she is good and submissive and she endures all the anguish for the final reward.

[Una versione di Fair Annie è trascritta nel “Reliques of Ancient Poetry” di Thomas Percy e il professor Child include la ballata (10 testi # 62), nella sua poderosa raccolta; la storia richiama peraltro un’altra ballata “Fair Margaret and Sweet William” (Child ballad #74) ma anche Lord Thomas & fair Eleanor (Annett)  (Child ballad #73) a tal punto da poter considerare queste come varianti della prima.
La versione più attuale della ballata ci viene da Peter Bellamy che negli anni 1980 adattò la trascrizione anglicizzata di Bronson (“Tradition Tunes of the Child Ballads”), versione diventata punto di partenza dei successivi folk-singer.
Nella versione tramandata nelle Isole Britanniche la fanciulla è rapida da un cavaliere venuto dal mare, il cui ruolo nel racconto è tuttavia variamente delineato dai cantastorie: nella versione diventata standard è un predatore che costringe la sua cortigiana a diventare una “serva” della nuova ricca moglie. Annie è una specie di Cenerentola relegata nella soffitta del castello con i suoi figli bastardi, come Cenerentola è una fanciulla buona e remissiva che sopporta tutte le angherie e nel finale viene premiata. ]

The Ballad of Fair Annie, Dante Rossetti, c. 1855

Peter Bellamy

Martin Simpson in The Bramble Briar 2001

Steve Tilston & Maggie Boyle in All Under the Sun, 1996

Bellamy’s version, square brackets for the verses added by Martin Simpson (and round brackets those skipped by Simpson)
[la versione è quella cantata da Bellamy, tra parentesi quadre le strofe aggiunte da Martin Simpson (e tra parentesi tonde quelle saltate da Simpson)]

“Comb back your hair, Fair Annie,” he said,
“Comb it back into your crown (1).
For you must live a maiden's life
When I bring my new bride home.”
“Oh, how can I look maiden-like
When maiden I am none?
For six fair sons have I had by you
And a seventh coming on?”
“Oh, you will bake my bread,” he said,
“And you will keep my home.
And you will welcome my lady gay
When I bring my bridal home.”
And on the door he's hung a silken towel,
Pinned by a silver pin,
That Fair Annie she might wipe her eyes
As she went out and in.
Now, six months gone and nine comin' on
she thought the time o'er-long.
So she's taken a spyglass all in her hand
And up to the tower she has run.
She has look-ed east, she has look-ed west,
She has looked all under the sun,
And who should she see but Lord Thomas
All a-bringin' of his bridal home.
So she has called for her seven sons
By one, by two, by three,
And she has said to her eldest son,
“Oh, come tell me what you see.”
So he's look-ed east, he has look-ed west,
He has looked all under the sun.
And who should he see but his father dear,
He was bringin' of his new bride home.)
So it's, “Shall I dress in green?” she said,
“Or shall I dress in black?
Or shall I go down to the ragin' main
And send my soul to wrack? (2)”
“Oh, you need not dress in green,” he said,
“Nor you need not dress in black (3).
But throw you wide the great hall door
And welcome my father back.”
“Welcome home, Lord Thomas,” she said,
“And you're welcome unto me.
And welcome, welcome, your merry men all
That you've brought across the sea.”)
And she's serv-ed them with the best of the wine,
Yes, she's serv-ed them all 'round.
But she's drunk water from the well
For to keep her spirits down.
And she has served the long tables,
With the white bread and the brown,
But as she turned her round about,
So fast the tears fell down.
And he has turned him right and round about
And he's laughing amongst his men,
Saying, “Like you best the old lady
Or the new bride just come home?”]
And she's wait-ed upon them all the livelong day,
And she thought the time o'er long.
Then she's taken her flute all in her hand (4)
And up to her bower she has run.
She has fluted east, she has fluted west,
She has fluted loud and shrill.
She wished that her sons were seven greyhounds
And her a wolf on the hill.
“And I wished that my sons were seven young rats
Running on yon castle wall,
And I myself was an old grey cat,
How soon I would worry them all!”
“And I wished that my sons were seven young hares
Running on yon lilly lee,
And I myself was an good greyhound,
How worried then they would be! (5)”]
“Come downstairs,” the young bride says,
“Come down the stairs to me.
And pray tell me the name of your father dear,
And I'll tell mine to thee.”
“Well, King Douglas it was my father's name
And Queen Chatten was my mother;
Sweet Mary, she was my sister dear
As Prince Henry was our brother.”
“Well, if King Douglas it is your father's name
And Queen Chatten is your mother,
Then I'm sure that I am your sister dear
As Prince Henry, he is our brother.”
“And I have seven ships all out upon the sea
They are loaded to the brim (6).
And you shall have the six of them
And the seventh for to carry me home.
You shall have the six of them
When we've had Lord Thomas burned! (7)”

1) in the Middle Ages only the maidens kept their hair

down , while the marital ones weared their hair in a bun
2) the purpose is obviously suicide
3) the choice of the dress to wear is a common place

of ballads and colors they have a second meaning
4) as already in other ballads the truth is told through a song
5) Why the good, sweet and submissive Ann

would do harm to her children?
We know that Griselda' s husband, to test her submission,
orders her to leave their children in the hands of a servant
that will kill them. (in reality they are taken to nanny and hidden)
6) the rich dowry of the bride
7) the final cruel of this version is just one of the many possible endings

among "and they lived all married and happy (and all forgiven)"
traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
“Pettinati i capelli Anna la bella, -dice lui-
e sciogli la tua conocchia (1)
perchè devi vivere da fanciulla
quando porterò a casa la mia nuova moglie.”
“Come posso sembrare una fanciulla

quando non sono più vergine?
Ti ho dato sei bei bambini
e il settimo è in arrivo”
“Preparerai il pane -dice lui-
e governerai la casa
e accoglierai con buona grazia la mia dama
quando la porterò a casa come sposa.”
E sulla porta appese una tovaglietta di seta
appuntata da una spilla d'argento,
con cui Anna la bella avrebbe terso gli occhi
quando usciva e rientrava.
Sei mesi erano trascorsi e si era al nono mese,
lei pensò che fosse arrivato il momento,
così prese in mano un cannocchiale
e salì di corsa sulla torre.
Guardò a est e guardò a ovest
osservò ogni cosa all'aperto,
e chi vide se non Lord Thomas
che portava a casa la sua sposa?
Così lei chiamò i suoi sette figli,

uno ad uno
e disse al più grande,
“Vieni e dimmi ciò che vedi.”
Guardò a est e guardò a ovest
osservò ogni cosa,
e chi vide se non il caro padre
che portava a casa la sua sposa?
"Mi devo vestire di verde -dice lei-
o di nero?
O devo andare in mare aperto
e gettare la mia anima alla perdizione (2)?”
“Non ti vestirai di verde- dice lui-,
e nemmeno di nero (3)
ma precipitati al portone
per salutare il ritorno di mio padre.”
“Benvenuto a casa, Lord Thomas-dice lei-
e bentornato da me.
Benvenuto, benvenuto alla tua compagnia
che ti ha seguito in mare”

E li servì con il vino migliore,
si, tutti li servì.
Ma lei bevve l'acqua del pozzo
per mantenersi calma.
E servì alle lunghe tavolate,
il pane bianco e quello scuro,
ma mentre si aggirava intorno
così in fretta le lacrime le scendevano.
Anche lui si aggirava intorno
mentre rideva tra i suoi uomini,
dicendo “Preferite la vecchia signora
o la nuova sposa appena portata a casa?”
E li servì tutto il giorno,
e quando pensò che fosse arrivato il momento
prese il flauto tra le mani (4)
e nella sua camera si precipitò.
Suonò vero est e suonò verso ovest,
suonò chiaro e forte
desiderando che i figli fossero sette levrieri

e lei un lupo sulla collina.
“Vorrei che i miei figli fossero sette topolini
che corrono tra le mura del castello,
e io essere un vecchio gatto grigio,
come in breve li avrei messo paura!”
 Vorrei che i miei figli fossero sette leprotti
che corrono sottovento,
e io essere un buon segugio,
come preoccupati allora sarebbero! (5)”
“Scendete -dice la giovane sposa-
scendete dalle scale.
Ditemi per cortesia il nome del vostro caro padre
e io vi dirò quello del mio”
“Beh re Douglas era il nome di mio padre
e la regina Chatten era mia madre;
la cara Mary, era la mia amata sorella
mentre il principe Henry era nostro fratello.”
Beh se re Douglas è il nome di vostro padre
e la regina Chatten è vostra madre ,
allora sono certa di essere la vostra cara sorella
mentre il principe Henry è nostro fratello .”
“Ho sette navi in mare
a pieno carico (6).
Ne avrai sei
mentre la settima mi riporterà a casa.
Ne avrai sei
mentre Lord Thomas sarà messo al rogo! (7)”

1) nel medioevo solo le fanciulle tenevano i capelli sciolti, mentre le maritale

li intrecciavano e raccoglievano alla sommità del capo
2) il proposito è ovviamente il suicidio

3) la scelta dell'abito da indossare è un luogo comune delle ballate e i colori
hanno un secondo significato
4) come già in altre ballate la verità viene raccontata mediante una canzone

per mettere in moto il gran finale
5) perchè la buona, dolce e remissiva Anna vorrebbe fare del male
ai suoi bambini? Sembrerebbe una variante della versione boccaccesca in cui il marito
di Griselda, per saggiarne la sottomissione, le ordina di lasciare i bambini nelle mani di
un servitore perchè vengano uccisi (in realtà sono portati a balia e nascosti fino
al colpo di scena finale)
6) piene della ricca dote della sposa
7) il cruento finale di questa versione è solo uno dei tanti finali possibili

tra il vissero tutti sposati e contenti (e tutti perdonati)

Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger recorded another version in Blood & Roses ( Traditional Ballads from England, Scotland and the USA sung by Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. Copyright 1979 ) [Un’altra versione è quella di Ewan MacColl e Peggy Seeger]

Lindsay Straw in The Fairest Flower of Womankind 2017

from Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Child 62 A) 
Lindsay Straw version

“It’s narrow, narrow, make your bed
and learn to lie alone; 
For I’m going over the sea, fair Annie,
a fine bride to bring home. 
A fine bride to bring home, fair Anne,
with gold, and gear and name; 
For I took you as a waif woman,
now I’ll leave you as the same.” 

“But who will bake my bridal bread,
and who’ll brew my bridal ale? 
And who will welcome my brisk young bride
that I bring o’er the dale?” 
“When you come o’er the dale,” she said,
“I’ll host your feast that night,
And I will welcome your brisk young bride,
although it does me slight.” 

She’s taken her young son in her arms
and another by the hand, 
And she is up to the highest tower
to see him come to land. 
“Come see him come to land, my son,
look o’er yon sea strand; 
Come see your father’s brisk young bride
before she comes to land.” 

“You’re welcome to your house, Lord Tom,
you’re welcome to your land; 
You’re welcome with your fair lady
that you lead by the hand. 
I’ll lead you by the hand, lady,
over to your bowers; 
You’re welcome to your house, lady,
all that’s here is yours.” 

“I thank thee, Annie, I thank thee, Annie,
so dearly I thank thee; 
You’re the likest to my sister
that ever I did see. 
For never did I see the knight
that stole my sister away; 
Oh, shame on him and his company
and the land where’er he stay.” 

When bells were rung and mass was sung,
and all were bound for bed, 
She watched as Thomas and his bride
to their chamber they were led. 
As to their chamber they were led,
she sat down to harp them to sleep,
And as she harped and as she sang,
full sorely she did weep. 

“My gown is on,” said the brisk young bride,
“my shoes are on my feet,
I will go to Annie’s room
and see what makes her weep. 
What makes you weep, my Fair Annie,
why make you such a moan?” 
“It’s for the gold Lord Thomas wants,
for I can give him none.” 

“Who was your father, Fair Annie,
do you know who your mother was?” 
“King Easter was my father dear,
the queen my mother was.” 
“The queen my mother was also,
my father King Easter, too, 
So it shall not be for lack of gold
that your love shall part from you.” 

“For I myself have seven ships
all loaded to the brim, 
And I will give them all to you
and to your seven children. 
You and your seven children,
Lord Thomas shall not leave alone, 
And thanks to all the powers in heaven,
I go a maiden home.”
da Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (Child 62 A) 
versione Lindsay Straw 

traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
“Prepara il tuo letto e fallo stretto
e impara a stare da sola
perchè vado oltre il mare, Anna bella,
per portare a casa una moglie graziosa.
Per portare a casa una moglie, graziosa, Anna bella
con oro, sostanze e un titolo;
e siccome ti ho presa come una senza tetto
adesso ti lascio allo stesso modo.

Ma chi preparerà il pane per le nozze
e chi preparerà la birra per le nozze?
E chi accoglierà la mia giovane sposa
che porto dalla valle?"
"Quando verrai dalla valle-dice lei-
preparerò la tua festa (di nozze) la notte stessa,
e darò il benvenuto alla tua giovane moglie
anche se ciò mi offende"

Prese il giovane figlio tra le braccia
e l'altro per mano
e salì sulla torre più alta
per vederlo sbarcare a terra
"Vieni a vederlo sbarcare a terra, figlio mio
osserva lungo la spiaggio lontana;
vieni a vedere la giovane sposa di tuo padre
prima che sbarchi a terra"

“Benvenuto nella tua casa, Lord Tom,
benvenuto nella tua terra; 
sei il benvenuto con la tua signora
che conduci per mano. 
Vi accompagnerò, madama, nei vostri alloggi; 
siete la benvenuta nella vostra casa, madama,
tutto ciò che c'è, è vostro.” 

“Vi ringrazio, Annie, vi ringrazio, Annie,
tanto caramente vi ringrazio; 
siete più gentile della sorella
che non ho mai visto. 
Perchè non vidi mai il cavaliere
che rapì mia sorella.
Oh, vergogna su di lui e i suoi compagni
e sulla terra ovunque egli sia.” 

Poi le campare suonarono e la messa fu cantata
e tutti erano pronto ad andare a letto, 
non appena Thomas e la moglie 
si coricarono nella loro stanza. 
come si ritirarono nella loro stanza,
lei si mise all'arpa per farli addormentare,
e mentre suonava e cantava,
dolorosamente piangeva. 

“Sono ancora vestita,-disse la giovane sposa-
con le scarpe ai piedi,
andrò nella stanza di Anna
e vedrò cosa la fa piangere. 
Cosa ti fa piangere mia cara Anna,
che cosa ti da il tormento?” 
“E' per la ricchezza che Lord Thomas desidera,
perchè non posso dargliene.” 

“Chi era tuo padre, cara Anna,
e sai chi era tua madre?” 
“King Easter era il mio caro padre,
e mia madre era la regina.” 
"Anche mia madre era la regina,
e pure mio padre King Easter, 
così non sarà per mancanza d'oro 
che il tuo amore si separerà da te.

“Perchè ho sei sette navi stracariche (della dote), 
e darò tutto a te e ai tuoi sette figli,
tu e i tuoi sette figli
Lord Thomas non abbandonerà (1),
e grazie a dio, (2) 
ritorno fanciulla a casa.”

1) in questa versione il comportamento di Lord Thomas non è considerato riprovevole,

anzi è giustificato dalla necessità di dare una ricca discendenza  al suo lignaggio
2) il matrimonio non è stato consumato e quindi è annullabile,
la gemella dopo averle lasciato la sua parte di dote, se ne ritorna a casa

Beware the brown-haired woman

The Streams of Bunclody

An emigration song written by an Irishman in America it is a nostalgic lament for his village Bunclody, on the Slaney River in Wexford County. The period is that of mid-late nineteenth century, although the date of its first publication is 1903 (in “Music of Ireland” by Neill). From America the song has rebounded in Ireland.
Also titled “The Maid of Bunclody” this song begins with the verse “Oh were I at the moss house“, the melody is quite similar “Cuckoo is a pretty bird ” which also includes a stanza: the verses are a classic of the genre , the nostalgia for a girl from which the protagonist had to leave because of economic hardship, the nostalgia for the village where he spent his youth and left all his relatives.

[Una emigration song scritta da un irlandese in America e nostalgico della sua Bunclody, sul fiume Slaney nella contea di Wexford. Il periodo è quello di metà-fine Ottocento, anche se la data della sua prima pubblicazione è il 1903 (in “Music of Ireland” di Neill). Dall’America la canzone è rimbalzata in Irlanda.
Anche intitolata “The Maid of Bunclody“, inizia con il verso “Oh were I at the moss house”, la melodia è abbastanza simile a “Cuckoo is a pretty bird” di cui riprende anche una strofa: i versi sono un classico del genere, la nostalgia per la ragazza da cui il protagonista si è dovuto allontanare a causa della ristrettezze economiche, la nostalgia per il paesello dove ha trascorso la sua gioventù e ha lasciato tutti i suoi parenti.]

In spite of this song’s popularity, there is remarkably little information on it; the Roud index gives only one example – the version recorded from Mrs Nellie Walsh of Wexford in 1948. Colm O Lochlainn gives a version of it in his ‘Irish Street Ballads entitled ‘The Maid of Bunclody and the Lad She Loves so Dear’ which he says he learned from his father, who came from Kilkenny. It seems to have first appeared in print in a Broadside version published in 1846. There is a local tradition that ‘The Streams of Bunclody’ was written in America by an immigrant from County Wicklow and sent back to Ireland

Jim Carroll

Nonostante la popolarità della canzone abbiamo poche informazioni su di essa; l’indice Roud cita un solo esempio – la versione registrata da Nellie Walsh di Wexford nel 1948. Colm O Lochlainn riporta una versione in ‘Irish Street Ballads” dal titolo ‘The Maid of Bunclody and the Lad She Loves so Dear’ che ci dice aver appreso dal padre, il quale proveniva da Kilkenny. Pare sia stata stampata la prima volta in un Broadside del 1846.”
(Jim Carroll)

A local historian Fr. Séamus de Vál is convinced that the current version of the melody derives from the transcription in the book “Irish Street Ballads” published in 1939 by Colm Ó Lochlainn of Kilkenny, a version that became popular after the performance of the group ” Emmet Spiceland “when they sang it at Croke Park for the 1968 hurling final.
For the local people melody see in the session page

Uno studioso di storia locale Fr. Séamus de Vál è convinto che la versione attuale della melodia derivi proprio dalla trascrizione nel libro “Irish Street Ballads” pubblicato nel 1939 da Colm Ó Lochlainn di Kilkenny, una versione diventata popolare dopo l’esibizione del gruppo “Emmet Spiceland” quando la cantarono a Croke Park per la finale di hurling del 1968.
Per la melodia originaria della popolazione locale vedi

Luke Kelly

Sam Lee – The Moss House – live on The Ayala Show

Sean Doyle in The Light and the Half-Light 2004

Studio Group in Wold Music Ireland Vol. 1 2006

Deirdre Starr in “Between the Half Light” 2016

Oh were I at the moss house (1), where the birds do increase,
At the foot of Mount Leinster or some silent place,
By the streams of Bunclody where all pleasures do meet,
And all I would ask is one kiss from you, sweet.

Oh the streams of Bunclody they flow down so free,
By the streams of Bunclody I'm longing to be,
A-drinking strong liquor in the height of my cheer,
Here's a health to Bunclody and the lass I love dear.

The cuckoo (2) is a pretty good bird, it sings as it flies,
It brings us good tidings, and tells us no lies,
It sucks the young birds' eggs to make its voice clear
And the more it cries cuckoo the summer draws near (3).

If I was a clerk and could write a good hand,
I would write to my true-love that she might understand,
For I am a young fellow who is wounded in love
Once I lived in Bunclody, but now must remove.

If I was a lark and had wings I could fly
I would go to yon arbour where my love she does lie,
I'd proceed to yon arbour where my true love does lie,
And on her fond bosom contented I would die.

'Tis why my love slights me, as you may understand,
That she has a freehold and I have no land,
She has great store of riches, and a large sum of gold,
And everything fitting a house to uphold.

So fare you well father and my mother, adieu
My sister and brother farewell unto you,
I am bound for America my fortune to try,
When I think on Bunclody, I'm ready to die.

1) As early as 1700, moss was used as an insulator and sealant in country houses.
Sometimes the cottage was built on a layer of moss or near by shrub covered with moss

or with moss on the roof
2) the cuckoo (male) no longer sings once the season of love is over (end of May);

the cuckoo is like a seer for his alleged longevity. see
3) floating verses from the song of the cuckoo 
The cuckoo is a fine bird he sings as he flies,
He brings us good tidings and tells us no lies.
He sucks the sweet flowers to make his voice clear,
And the more he cries cuckoo, the summer is nigh 

Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Oh vorrei essere nella casetta con il muschio (1),
dove gli uccelli prosperano,
ai piedi del Monte Leinster o in un altro luogo solitario,
presso i torrenti di Bunclody dove si riuniscono tutti i piaceri,
e tutto ciò che chiederei è un tuo bacio, mia cara.

Oh i torrenti di Bunclody scorrono liberi,
vorrei essere presso i torrenti di Bunclody,
a bere liquore forte all'apice della gioia,
alla salute di Bunclody e della ragazza che amo.

Il cuculo (2) è un bel uccellino, canta in volo,
ci porta buone notizie, e non dice bugie,
succhia le uova degli uccellini per schiarire la voce (3)
e più egli grida, più l'estate si avvicina.

Se fossi uno studioso e sapessi scrivere bene
scriverei al mio amore affinchè capisca,
che io sono un giovanotto ferito dall'amore
che un tempo viveva a Bunclody, ma che ora deve partire.

Se fossi un allodola con le ali volerei
e vorrei andare in quel pergolato dove giace il mio amore,
mi dirigerei verso quel pergolato dove giace il mio amore,
e sul suo amato seno potrei morire contento.

Ecco perchè il mio amore mi ignora, come si può ben capire,
perchè lei è benestante e io non ho terra,
lei ha tante proprietà e una grande somma in oro
e tutto quanto necessario per mantenere una casa.

Così addio padre caro e madre, addio
sorella e fratello addio anche a voi
sono in partenza per l'America a cercare la fortuna
quando penso a Bunclody, sono pronto a morire.

1) Già dal 1700 il muschio veniva utilizzato come isolante e sigillante 

nelle case di campagna o nei capanni dei taglialegna/cacciatori.
Talvolta si costruiva sopra uno strato di muschio o si addossava le abitazioni ad arbusti
ricoperti da muschio e, bagnando la costruzione, si velocizzava il suo processo di crescita.
2) il canto del cuculo è foriero di Primavera, anche perchè una volta terminata la stagione

dell’amore (fine maggio), il cuculo (maschio) non canta più.
La sua presunta longevità (nei proverbi si dice “”Vecchio come il cucco”) lo ha trasformato
in veggente.  vedi
3) versi fluttuanti dalla canzone del cuculo
The cuckoo is a fine bird he sings as he flies,
He brings us good tidings and tells us no lies.
He sucks the sweet flowers to make his voice clear,
And the more he cries cuckoo, the summer is nigh

I sergenti reclutatori nelle campagne britanniche del 700-800

Read the post in English

L’arruolamento nelle armate britanniche era a base volontaria, così nel 1700 e fino alla metà del 1800, giravano per le campagne i sergenti reclutatori accompagnati da un giovane tamburino: erano bravi a convincere i giovanotti già un po’ alticci che si trovavano nelle locande, a prendere  il famigerato scellino del Re (King’s Shilling).
Facevano leva sui disagiati, i mezzadri sfrattati e ridotti a lavorare come braccianti giornalieri, coloro che erano senza un mestiere e che vedevano nell’arruolamento l’alternativa per non morir di fame. I più ingenui si lasciavano vincere dal fascino dell’avventura o semplicemente erano troppo ubriachi per pensare lucidamente!

John Collet (1725-1780) The Recruiting Sergeant

Twa recruitin’ sergeants

La canzone “Twa recruitin’ sergeants” viene dalla tradizione scozzese ed è quasi un documento storico della vita nelle bothy farm : così i reclutatori facevano breccia nella vita dei disperati, i giovani ragazzi che conducevano una vita grama. L’origine della canzone è fatta risalire al 1700 ed è ritornata popolare negli anni 1960 con la versione di Jeannie Robertson.
A.L. Lloyd ha evidenziato che l’opera di Farquhar, “The Recruiting Officer” (1706), ha aiutato a diffondere ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’. La canzone è stata spesso cantata durante le guerre napoleoniche. E’ sopravvissuta per due secoli e mezzo tra i cantanti folk, in decrescendo, fino a quando sembrava si fosse limitata al nord-est scozzese “. Poi una variante tornò in auge nelle città inglesi con il titolo “Two Recruiting Sergeants from the Black Watch” (da Mudcat qui)

La melodia è ovviamente un’allegra marcetta, perfetta per entusiasmare i malcapitati..

Gaberlunzie (strofe I, II, III, V)

Schooner Fare (strofe I, II, IV, V)

Adam Raeburn & Friends

A Parcel o’ Rogues (strofe I, II, IV, V)

Twa recruiting sergeants came frae the Black Watch(1)
Tae markets and fairs, some recruits for tae catch.
But a’ that they ‘listed was forty and twa:
Enlist my bonnie laddie an’ come awa.
And it’s over the mountain and over the Main,
Through Gibralter, to France and Spain(2).
Pit a feather tae your bonnet, and a kilt aboon your knee,
Enlist my bonnie laddie and come awa with me.
Oh laddie ye dinna ken the danger that yer in.
If yer horses was to fleg, and yer owsen was to rin,(3)
This greedy old farmer, he wouldna pay yer fee.
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa wi’ me
With your tattie porin’s(5) and yer meal(6) and kale(7),
Yer soor sowan’ soorin’s(8) and yer ill-brewed ale,
Yer buttermilk(9), yer whey(10), and yer breid fired raw.
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa.
And its into the barn and out o’ the byre,
This ole farmer, he thinks ye never tire.
It’s slavery a’ yer life, a life o’ low degree.
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa with me
O laddie if ye’ve got a sweetheart an’ a bairn,
Ye’ll easily get rid o’ that ill-spun yarn(11).
Twa rattles o’ the drum(12), aye and that’ll pay it a’.
Sae list my bonnie laddie and come awa.
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Due sergenti reclutatori vennero dai Black Watch
per mercati e fiere, a prendere delle reclute.
ma ne arruolarono 42:
“Arruolati mio bel ragazzo e vieni via”
Per le montagne e oltre il mare,
attraverso Gibilterra, per la Francia e la Spagna(1).
metti una piuma sul tuo berretto(2) e un gonnellino sopra il ginocchio,
arruolati mio bel giovanotto e vieni via con me
Oh ragazzo non sai il pericolo al quale vai incontro
se i tuoi cavalli si spaventano e i buoi si mettono a correre(3)
questo taccagno di un vecchio contadino, potrebbe non pagarti il tuo stipendio
così arruolati mio bel giovanotto e vieni via con me me
Con la tua acqua delle patate, il tuo porridge e il cavolo,
la tua brodaglia scadente di avena e la birra mal fermentata
il tuo latticello e il siero del latte, e il pane mezzo crudo.
così arruolati mio bel giovanotto e vieni via con me me.
Dentro e fuori il fienile e la stalla,
questo vecchio contadino pensa che non ti stancherai mai
la tua è una vita da schiavo, una vita di degradazione.
così arruolati mio bel giovanotto e vieni via con me me.
O ragazzo se avessi una fidanzata o un bambino,
potresti facilmente sbarazzarti di quella brutta storia, due rullate di tamburo(12), si, ti ripagheranno di tutto
così arruolati mio bel giovanotto e vieni via

Le frasi del sergente si commentano da sole
1) citazione da “Over the hills and far away“: ovviamente non si fa cenno alle indie occidentali e alle varie colonie dell’impero!!
2) la divisa dei Black Watch: plaid scozzese nero e verde, gilè e giacca rossi e berretto blu, moschetto, baionetta, spadone e pugnale. Nel 1795 adottarono il pennacchio rosso (in inglese red hackle) per il loro berretto.

3) i sergenti si rivolgevano ai cavallanti e aratori stagionali delle grandi fattorie scozzesi
4) sicuramente gli animali della fattoria erano nutriti meglio dei suoi lavoranti! Il sergente sapeva come parlare alla “pancia” del suo pubblico: uno degli istinti primari quello del cibo!
L’elenco di cibi insipidi era lo standard per i lavoratori agricoli. Ord in “Songs And Ballads” dice “Molte canzoni si riferiscono al cibo fornito dall’agricoltore ai suoi braccianti, che, in molti casi, era di pessima qualità”. Ord continua: “Se la colazione era scarsa, la cena non era migliore:
il pane era spesso,la farinata d’avena scarsa, / la zuppa era una brodaglia
Ho inseguito l’orzo nel piatto, / E ce n’erano tre chicchi.
(tradotto da qui).
5) Tattie pourin’s=l’acqua di bollitura delle patate
6) Meal: avena
7) kale=varietà di cavolo
8) sourin’s sowans: si prepara con gli scarti d’avena messi a macerare e fatti fermentare e infine bollendo il liquido per ottenere un blando sostituto della birra
9) Buttermilk – il latticello che si forma nella preparazione del burro come prodotto secondario di scarto
10) Whey: siero del latte che si forma nella preparazione del formaggio, dopo la cagliata.
11) modo di dire: spin a yarn= raccontare una storia
12) la gloria della battaglia


Bob Hallett del gruppo folk-rock canadese Great Big Sea ha riscritto il testo della tradizione scozzese “Twa recruitin’ sergeants” in memoria dell’Esercito Terranoviano, annientato durante la battaglia della Somme (Francia) durante la Prima Grande Guerra. Il 1 Luglio è il Giorno della Memoria nell’Isola di Terranova e Labrador in ricordo del bagno di sangue e della vita dei suoi giovani figli uccisi a Beaumont Hamel, il primo giorno della Battaglia.
All’epoca della grande guerra Terranova era una colonia inglese e anche i Terranoviani fecero la loro parte inviando 500 uomini (il Newfoundland Regiment), che accorsero su base volontaria all’appello del loro Re (e il re li omaggiò graziosamente dell’appellativo Royal dopo la guerra, come sentito ringraziamento per il loro sacrificio)

Non voglio soffermarmi nella rievocazione della battaglia, credo che basti la poesia di Ungaretti “Soldati”
“Si sta come
sugli alberi
le foglie”

Great Big Sea in “Play” 1997 Il video è un omaggio a tutti i soldati di Terranova

Two recruiting sergeants came to the CLB (1),
for the sons of the merchants (2), to join the Blue Puttees (3)
So in the bow all the hands enlisted, five hundred young men
Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me
They crossed the broad Atlantic in the brave Florizel,
And on the sands of Suvla (4), they entered into hell
And on those bloody beaches, the first of them fell
So it’s over the mountains, and over the sea
Come brave Newfoundlanders and join the Blue Puttees
You’ll fight the Hun in Flanders, and at Galipoli
Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me
Then the call came from London, for the last July drive
To the trenches with the regiment, prepare yourselves to die
The roll call next morning, just a handful survived (4).
Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me
The stone men on Water Street still cry for the day
When the pride of the city went marching away
A thousand men slaughtered, to hear the King say
Enlist you Newfoundlanders and come follow me
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Due sergenti reclutatori vennero dal CLB
perché i figli dei mercanti si unissero ai Blue Puttees
così nel salone tutte le braccia arruolarono, 500 giovani uomini:
“Arruolatevi Terranoviani e seguitemi”
Attraversarono l’Atlantico sull’ardita Florizel
e sulla spiaggia di Sulva  atterrarono all’inferno
e su quelle spiagge insanguinate, i primi tra di loro caddero
Per le montagne e oltre il mare,
venite valorosi Terranoviani e unitevi ai Blue Puttees
combatterete gli Unni nelle Fiandre e a Gallipoli,
arruolatevi Terranoviani e venite via con me
Poi la chiamata venne da Londra per i restanti, la campagna di Luglio
“sulle trincee con il reggimento, preparatevi a morire”
All’appello del giorno dopo solo una manciata risposero
“Arruolatevi Terranoviani e seguitemi”
I negozianti di Water Street ancora piangono quel giorno
quando l’orgoglio della città se ne andò marciando
un migliaio di uomini macellati per ascoltare il re dire
“Arruolatevi Terranoviani e seguitemi”

1) gruppo paramilitare che costituì il nucleo del nascente Esercito
2) pescatori e contadini servivano alla giovane colonia
3) ovvero il Royal Newfoundland Regiment il soprannome Blue Puttees venne dalle pezze blu con cui si fasciavano i polpacci, dette fasce mollettiere, una parola perduta, una moda lanciata proprio nella prima guerra mondiale, in cui praticamente tutti i soldati degli eserciti schierati nel conflitto indossavano le fasce mollettiere (qui)
4) quelli che rimasero dopo la campagna del 1915 che vennero inglobati in un Reggimento di 800 uomini, mandato al macello alle trincee del Somme il 1° Luglio 1916


Morag and the Kelpie

Leggi in italiano

In the most placid rivers of Ireland and in the dark depths of the Scottish lakes live water demons, fairy creatures, that feed on human flesh: they are “kelpie”, “each uisge” (in English water-horse), “eich- mhara “(in English sea horse); to want to be picky kelpie lives preferably near the rapids of the rivers, fords and waterfalls, while each uisge prefers the lakes and the sea, but kelpie is the most used word for both. Similar creatures are also told in Norse legends (Bäckahästen, the river horse) – and Germanic (nix in the form of fish or frog). (first part)


At the summer pastures of the Highlands they are still told of the beautiful Morag (Marion) seduced by a kelpie in human form; she, while noticing the strangeness of her husband, did not understand his true nature, if not after the birth of their child and … she decided to abandoning baby in swaddling clothes and husband shapeshifter!

On the Isle of Skye they still sing a song in Gaelic, ‘Oran-tàlaidh an eich-uisge’ or ‘Oran each-uisge’ (The water kelpie’s song) the “Lullaby of the kelpie” a melancholy air with which the kelpie cradled his child without a mother, and at the same time a plea to Morag to return to them, both he and the child needed her.
Of this lament we know several textual versions handed down to today in the Hebrides. The melodies revolve around an old Scottish aria entitled “Crodh Chailein” (in English “Colin’s cattle) evidently considered a melody of the fairies.
Another song, sweet and melancholic at the same time, is entitled Song of the Kelpie or even ARRANE GHELBY

Dh’èirich mi moch, b’ fheàrr nach do dh’èirich

So translates from Scottish Gaelic Tom Thomson “I got up early, it would have been better not to” (see)

Julie Fowlis in Alterum 2017

Scottish gaelic
Dh’èirich mi moch, dh’èirich mi moch, B’fheàrr nach d’ dh’èirich
Mo chreach lèir na chuir a-mach mi.
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
Bha ceò sa bheinn, Bha ceò sa bheinn, is uisge frasach
’s thachair orms’ a’ ghruagach thlachdmhor.
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò
Bheir mi dhut fìon, Bheir mi dhut fìon, ‘S gach nì a b’ ait leat,
Ach nach èirinn leat sa mhadainn,
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
’Nighean nan gamhna, ’Nighean nan gamhna, Bha mi ma’ riut,
Anns a’ chrò is càch nan cadal
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
An daoidh gheal donn, An daoidh gheal donn, Rug i mac dhomh.
Ged is fuar a rinn i altram,
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.

Bha laogh mo laoidh, Bha laogh mo laoidh, ri taobh cnocan
gun teine, gun sgàth, gun fhasgadh.
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
A Mhòr a ghaoil, A Mhòr, a ghaoil, Till ri d’ mhacan,
’S bheir mi goidean breagha breac dhut.
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
English translation *
I arose early
I arose early –
would that I hadn’t.
I was distressed by what sent me out (1).
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
There was mist on the hill
There was mist on the hill
and showers of rain
and I came across a pleasant maiden
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
I’ll give you wine
I’ll give you wine
and all that will please you
but I won’t arise with you in the morning (2).
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
Girl of the calves (3)
Girl of the calves
I was with you in the cattle-fold (4)
and the rest were asleep.
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
The fine brown wicked one (5)
The fine brown wicked one
bore me a son
although coldly did she nurse him
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
The calf (6) of my song
The calf of my song
was beside a hillock
without fire, protection or shelter (7).
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
Mòr, my love
Mòr, my love, return to your little son
and I’ll give you a beautiful speckled withes (8).
Hill ò bha hò, Hill ò bha hò.
English translation also here
1)  the kelpie, suffering from loneliness, leaves the lake early in the morning and takes on human form
2) the shapeshifter promises food and comfort to the girl to convince her to follow him, but he warns her, he is a nocturnal creature and will not wake up with her in the morning!
3) gamhna = cattle between 1 year and 2 years translates Tom Thomson stitks; that is heifer, the cow that has not yet given birth, the verse in addition to qualifying the work of the girl (herdswoman) also wants to be a compliment, in Italian “bella manza” as a busty woman, with abundant and seductive shapes
4) the kelpie remembers the night meeting when they had sex (and obviously nine months later their son was born)
5) after the good memories of the past it comes the present, the woman has discovered the true nature of her companion and she dislikes their child
6) continuing in the comparison the kelpie calls “calf” its baby, that is “small child”
7) A typical “exposition” of fairy children is described. A practice of “birth control” widespread in the countryside of Europe, was the abandonment of newborns in the forest, so that fairies would take care of them; once the practice was widespread both against illegitimate people, and newborns with obvious physical deformations or ill-looking. The custom of “exposing” the baby was connected with the belief that he was “swapped” or kidnapped by the fairies and replaced with a changeling, a shapeshifter who for a while resembles the human child, but ultimately always takes its true appearance.
8) breagha breac dhut. Tom Thomson translates = speckled band (of withy). I searched the dictionary: it is a crown made by intertwining the branches of willow; it reminds me of the Celtic crowns of flowers and leaves


Margaret Stewart & Allan MacDonald recorded it under the title “Òran Tàlaidh An Eich-Uisge” in 2001 (from Colla Mo Rùn) following the collection of Frances Tolmie (‘Cumha an EichUisge’ vol I)

english translation *
I and III
Sleep my child, Sleep my child
Sleep my child, Sleep my child
Hì hó, hó bha hó, Hì hó, hao i hà
Fast of foot you are
Great as a horse you are
II and IV
My darling son
Oh my lovely little horse
You are far from the township
You will be sought after (1)
scottish gaelic
O hó bà a leinibh hó, O hó bà a leinibh hà
Bà a leinibh hó bha hó, Hó bà a leinibh hao i hà
Hì hó, hó bha hó, Hì hó, hao i hà
‘S luath dha d’ chois thu, hó bha hó
‘S mór nad each thu, hao i hà
O hó m’eudail a mac hó
O hó m’eachan sgèimheach hà
‘S fhad ‘n ‘n bhail’ thu, hò bha hò
Nìtear d’iarraidh, hao i hà

1) The kelpie sings the lullaby to its child abandoned by the human mother and comforts him by telling him that when he grows up he’ll be a little heartbreaker

With the title of ‘A Mhór, a Mhór, till ri d’ mhacan the same story is present in the archives of Tobar an Dualchais, from the voice of three witnesses of the Isle of Skye

A similar story is told in the island of Benbecula with the title of Bheirinn Dhut Iasg, Bheirinn Dhut Iasg see

in Suantraighe, A Collection of Celtic Lullabies 2006 sings another fragment with the title “The Skye Water Kelpie’s lullaby” (see the version of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser below)

English translation *
Mór (1), my love! Mór, my treasure!
Come back to your little son
and you will get a speckled trout from the lake.
Mór, my darling! Tonight the night
Is wetly showering my son
on the shelter of a knoll.
Mór, my love! Mór, my treasure!
Lacking fire, lacking food, lacking shelter,
and you continually lamenting (2).
Mór, my love! Mór, my darling!
My gray, old, toothless mouth
to your silly little mouth,
and me singing  tunes by Ben Frochkie. (3)
Scottish gaelic
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Till gu d’mhacan is gheabh
thu’m bradan breac o’n loch.
A Mhór a shògh! Tha’n oiche nochd
Gu fliuch frasach aig mo mhacsa
ri sgath chnocain.
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Gun teine, gun tuar, gun fhasgadh,
is tu sìor chòineadh.
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Mo sheana-chab liath ri
do bheul beag baoth
is mi seinn phort dhuit am Beinn Frochdaidh.

1) Mhórag or Mór is the name of the maiden loved by the kelpie
2) it is the incessant cry of the child abandoned by his human mother in the cold and without food
3) mountain between Gesture and Portree on the Isle of Skye

Skye Water Kelpie’s Lullaby

With the title “Cronan na Eich-mhara”, the same fragment sung by Caera is also reported in the book of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and Kenneth MacLeod “Songs of the Hebrides” 1909 (page 94)

Kenneth MacLeod
Avore, my love, my joy
To thy baby come
And troutlings you’ll get out of the loch
Avore, my heart, the night is dark,
wet and dreary.
Here’s your bairnie neath the rock
Avore, my love, my joy,
wanting fire here,
wanting shelter, wanting comfort
our babe is crying by the loch
Avore, my heart, my bridet
My gray old mouth
touching thy sweet lips,
and me singing Old songs to thee,
by Ben Frochkie (1)
1) between Gesto and Portree in Skye
Scottish gaelic
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Till gu d’mhacan is gheabh
thu’m bradan breac o’n loch.
A Mhór a shògh! Tha’n oiche nochd
Gu fliuch frasach aig mo mhacsa
ri sgath chnocain.
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Gun teine, gun tuar, gun fhasgadh,
is tu sìor chòineadh.
A Mhór a ghaoil! A Mhór a shògh!
Mo sheana-chab liath ri
do bheul beag baoth
is mi seinn phort dhuit am Beinn Frochdaidh.
Skye Water Kelpie’s Lullaby
Dh’èirich mi moch, b’ fheàrr nach do dh’èirich
Òran Tàlaidh An Eich-Uisge
A Mhór, a Mhór, till ri d’ mhacan
Cronan na Eich-mhara
Song of the Kelpie
Up, ride with the kelpie


Kelpie: water shapeshifter of the Celtic folklore

Leggi in italiano

In the most placid rivers of Ireland and in the dark depths of the Scottish lakes live water demons, fairy creatures, that feed on human flesh: they are “kelpie”, “each uisge” (in English water-horse), “eich- mhara “(in English sea horse); to want to be picky kelpie lives preferably near the rapids of the rivers, fords and waterfalls, while each uisge prefers the lakes and the sea, but kelpie is the most used word for both. Similar creatures are also told in Norse legends (Bäckahästen, the river horse) – and Germanic (nix in the form of fish or frog). (first part)

Liiga Klavina Kelpie


In the time of the myth it was believed that there was a certain symmetry between the terrestrial creatures and those of the waters, so men and women were the newts and the mermaids, while among the marine animals there was the horse with the fish tail. It sleeps in solitary ponds or in the sea, is shown on the banks of rivers and lakes, and although its reign is the aquatic one, the kelpie can take the form of a beautiful horse (sometimes with a white mantle sometimes with a black mantle) but also of a beautiful boy or of a lovely girl.

a Kelpie in the form of a maiden


Being a solitary creature, Kelpie is often looking for a partner who is described as a “leannan-sith” (a fairy-lover). Mary Mackellar in her essay ‘The Shieling: Its Traditions and Songs‘ writes of the many enchanted seductions to the summer pastures, when shepherds carried sheep on the highlands, going to live for the whole season in the isolated huts (shielings) next to rivers and ponds. The only way to distinguish the shapeshifters when they took the form of a young boy or a girl was to comb their hair: if sand and algae were caught in the comb it was a kelpie!


In some legends the kelpie is described as a solitary crature that to find a partner, it abducts a young woman: the kelpie is considerate and kind to her, and while keeping her prisoner, tries to comfort her. This one comes from the land of Clan Mackenzie and concerns the kelpie who lives in Loch Garve (Inverness)

“There’s a spot at the eastern end of Loch Garve, ye ken,” [Rupert] said, rolling his eyes around the gathering to be sure everyone was listening, “that never freezes. It’s always black water there, even when the rest o’ the loch is frozen solid, for that’s the waterhorse’s chimney.”
The waterhorse of Loch Garve, like so many of his kind, had stolen a young girl who came to the loch to draw water, and carried her away to live in the depths of the loch and be his wife. Woe betide any maiden, or any man, for that matter, who met a fine horse by the water’s side and thought to ride upon him, for a rider once mounted could not dismount, and the horse would step into the water, turn into a fish, and swim to his home with the hapless rider still stuck fast to his back.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, “Raiders in the Rocks”. Copyright© 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

With the passing of time in Scotland the kelpie has become however a monster of the waters as the infamous Nessie of the Loch Ness.


The Kelpie is considered an evil creature a kind of demon that hunts victims to seduce and drown (and devour) them in the abyss (a memory of ancient sacrifices to the spirits of the waters?) So popular wisdom first recommended not to climb incautiously on the back of a lonely horse (because once we climbed on a kelpie there is no possibility of going down) and secondly if we have climbed and we are going to end up dragged in the deep water, we have to look for bridles to tame it (easier said than done naturally).


Nix of german river

The equivalent in Germanic folklore is nix or nixie (depending on whether male or female) of which the kelpie is one of the possible incarnations: the nix is shown in the form of frog or toad or small fish or a strange fish to human form. Wanting to make a distinction between Kelpie and Nix we can say that the first prefers to attract the victims in the form of a horse to get them on the back and carry them to the abyss; the second instead attracts them in human form with sweet melodies (they are sirens / nymphs with a beautiful singing or mermen skilled musicians)

Liga Kļaviņa

Skye Water Kelpie’s Lullaby
Dh’èirich mi moch, b’ fheàrr nach do dh’èirich
Òran Tàlaidh An Eich-Uisge
A Mhór, a Mhór, till ri d’ mhacan
Cronan na Eich-mhara
Song of the Kelpie
Up, ride with the kelpie


Il Kelpie mutaforma acquatico del folklore celtico

Read the post in English

Nei fiumi più placidi d’Irlanda e nelle profondità oscure dei laghi scozzesi vivono dei demoni acquatici, creature fatate mutaforma, che si nutrono di carne umana: sono “kelpie“, “each uisge” (in inglese water-horse),  “eich-mhara” (in inglese sea horse), cavalli d’acqua e del mare; a voler essere pignoli il kelpie vive preferibilmente nei pressi delle rapide dei fiumi, dei guadi e delle cascate, mentre l’each uisge preferisce i laghi e il mare, ma kelpie è la parola più usata per entrambi. Di creature analoghe si narra anche nelle leggende norrene (Bäckahästen, il cavallo di fiume)- e germaniche (nix sotto forma di pesce o di rana). (prima parte)

Liiga Klavina Kelpie


Nel tempo del mito era convinzione che esistesse una certa simmetria tra le creature terrestri e quelle delle acque, così uomini e donne erano i tritoni e le sirene, mentre tra gli animali marini non mancava la figura del cavallo con la coda di pesce. Dorme negli stagni solitari o in mare, si mostra sulle rive dei fiumi e dei laghi, e benchè il suo regno sia quello acquatico, il kelpie può assumere le sembianze di un bellissimo cavallo (a volte dal manto candido a volte dal manto nero) ma anche di bel ragazzo o d’amabile fanciulla.

un Kelpie in sembianze di fanciulla


Essendo una creatura solitaria, il Kelpie  è spesso in cerca di un compagno/compagna e viene descritto come un “leannan-sith” ovvero una “fata-amante”. Mary Mackellar nel suo saggio ‘The Shieling: Its Traditions and Songs’ (Gaelic Society of Inverness 1889 qui) scrive delle molte seduzioni fatate ai pascoli estivi, quando i pastori portavano le pecore sugli altopiani, andando a vivere per tutta la stagione nelle isolate malghe (shielings) accanto a fiumi e laghetti. L’unico modo per distinguere i mutaforma quando prendevano le sembianze di un giovanetto o di una fanciulla era quella di pettinare i loro capelli: se sabbia e alghe restavano impigliate nel pettine si trattava di un kelpie!


In alcune leggende il kelpie è descritto come una cratura solitaria che per mettere su famiglia, rapisce una giovane donna, eppure è premuroso e gentile con lei, e pur tenendola prigioniera, cerca di confortarla. Questa viene dalla terra del Clan Mackenzie e riguarda il kelpie che abita nel Loch Garve (dalle parti di Inverness)

Nel libro “La Straniera” di Diana Gabaldon troviamo questa versione della leggenda del Kelpie. “A quanto potei capire, questi esseri abitavano in qualunque tipo di massa acquatica, ed erano particolarmente frequenti nei fiordi e nei canali, benché molti vivessero dentro agli abissi dei lochs. «C’è un punto, nell’estremità orientale di Loch Garve», disse, spostando lo sguardo tra i vari membri del gruppo per accertarsi che tutti lo stessero ascoltando, «che non gela mai. L’acqua lì è sempre nera, anche quando il resto del loch è tutto ghiacciato: si tratta infatti del comignolo del cavallo d’acqua.» Quello di Loch Garve, come molti altri della sua razza, aveva rapito una fanciulla che era venuta al loch ad attingere acqua, e se l’era portata con sé in fondo agli abissi perché gli facesse da moglie. Qualunque donna, o uomo se è per questo, provi il desiderio, dopo aver trovato un bel cavallo in riva al lago, di salirgli in groppa, andrà incontro a parecchi guai, perché una volta montato il cavaliere non potrà più scendere; a quel punto il cavallo si tufferà in acqua, si trasformerà in un pesce e nuoterà fino alla sua dimora con lo sventurato cavaliere saldamente attaccato al dorso. «Orbene, una volta sott’acqua il cavallo avrà solo denti da pesce», disse Rupert, ondulando il palmo per imitare il movimento delle pinne, «e si nutre di lumache, di alghe e di altri cibi freddi e bagnati. Ha il sangue gelido come l’acqua, e non gli serve nessun fuoco, mentre una donna umana ha bisogno di calore.» …«Dunque la moglie del cavallo d’acqua era triste e soffriva il freddo e la fame, nella sua nuova dimora subacquea, non piacendole granché le lumache e le alghe che lui le serviva per cena. Così il cavallo, essendo di buon cuore, si recò sulla riva del loch vicino alla casa di un uomo che aveva fama di essere un bravo capomastro. E, quando l’uomo scese giù al fiume e vide il bell’animale dorato con le briglie d’argento che risplendevano al sole, non poté resistere alla voglia di montargli in sella. «Naturalmente il cavallo si tuffa in acqua e lo porta fino alla sua dimora fredda e viscida negli abissi. A quel punto dice al capomastro che se vuol tornare in libertà dovrà costruire un bel caminetto, con tanto di comignolo, in modo che sua moglie possa avere un fuoco dove scaldarsi le mani e friggere il pesce.» «Così il capomastro, non avendo altra scelta, fece come gli era stato chiesto. E il cavallo mantenne la promessa: lo riportò sulla riva vicino a casa sua. Fu così che la moglie del cavallo d’acqua poté starsene al calduccio, tutta contenta, con grande abbondanza di pesce fritto per cena. Dunque l’acqua non gela mai, all’estremità orientale di Loch Garve, perché il calore del comignolo del cavallo d’acqua scioglie il ghiaccio. » (Pag.317)

Con il passar del tempo in Scozia il kelpie è diventato tuttavia un mostro delle acque come il famigerato Nessie del Loch Ness.


Più spesso il Kelpie è considerata una creatura malvagia una sorta di demone che va a caccia di vittime da sedurre e far annegare (e divorare) negli abissi (un ricordo di antichi sacrifici agli spiriti delle acque?) Così la saggezza popolare raccomandava per prima cosa di non salire mai incautamente in groppa ad un cavallo solitario (perchè  una volta saliti su un kelpie non c’è più possibilità di scendere) e per seconda cosa se proprio ci siamo saliti e stiamo per finire trascinati nelle acque profonde, di cercare le briglie per domarlo (più facile a dirsi che a farsi naturalmente).


Nix del fiume

Il corrispettivo nel folklore germanico è il nix o nixie (a secondo se di sesso maschile o femminile) di cui il kelpie è una delle possibili incarnazioni: il nix si mostra nella forma di rana o rospo o di piccolo pesce o di uno strano pesce a forma umana. Volendo fare un distinguo fra Kelpie e Nix possiamo affermare che il primo preferisce attirare la vittima sotto forma di cavallo per farla salire in groppa e trasportarla negli abissi il secondo invece l’attira in forma umana con dolci melodie (sono sirene/ninfe dal bel canto o tritoni abili musicisti).

Liga Kļaviņa

Theodor_Kittelsen_-_Nøkken_som_hvit_hestARCHIVIO CANTI
Skye Water Kelpie’s Lullaby
Dh’èirich mi moch, b’ fheàrr nach do dh’èirich
Òran Tàlaidh An Eich-Uisge
A Mhór, a Mhór, till ri d’ mhacan
Cronan na Eich-mhara
Song of the Kelpie
Up, ride with the kelpie


The importance of being.. Reily

Leggi in italiano

TITLES: A Fair Young Maid all in her Garden, There Was A Maid In Her Father’s Garden, Pretty, Fair Maid in the Garden, John Riley, Johnny Riley, The Broken Token, The Young and Single Sailor

Joan Baez popularised this ballad with John Reily title in the 60s:  it is a classic love story of probable seventeenth-century origins, in which the woman remains faithful to her lover or promised spouse who has gone to war or embarked on a vessel. The song is classified as reily ballad because it is structured as a dialogue between the protagonist  (in disguise) usually called John or George, Willie or Thomas Riley (Rally, Reilly) and the woman, example of loyalty ( first part)


The text of this version reminds me of the Oscar Wild comedy, “The Importance of Being Earnest” Wilde’s contradictory to Shakespeare in the famous Juliet declaration on the name of Romeo:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

This is the melody in the American tradition as collected in the field (Providence, Kentucky) in the 30s by Alan Lomax. Joe Hickerson penned “There are two ballads titled “John (George)  Riley” in G. Malcolm Laws’s American Balladry  from British Broadsides (1957). In number N36, the returned man claims that  Riley was killed so as to test his lover’s steadfastness. In number N37,  which is our ballad, there is no such claim. Rather, he suggests they sail  away to Pennsylvania; when she refuses, he reveals his identity. In the many  versions found, the man’s last name is spelled in various ways, and in some  cases he is “Young Riley.” Several scholars cite a possible origin  in “The Constant Damsel,” published in a 1791 Dublin songbook.
Peggy’s learned the song in childhood from a field  recording in the Library of Congress Folk Archive: AFS 1504B1 as sung by Mrs.  Lucy Garrison and recorded by Alan and Elizabeth Lomax in Providence,  Kentucky, in 1937. This was transcribed by Ruth Crawford Seeger and included  in John and Alan Lomax’s Our Singing Country (1941), p. 168. Previously, the  first verse and melody as collected from Mrs. Garrison at Little Goose Creek,  Manchester, Clay Co., Kentucky, in 1917 appeared in Cecil Sharp’s English  Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians (1932), vol. 2, p. 22. Peggy’s  singing is listed as the source for the ballad on pp. 161-162 of Alan Lomax’s  The Folk Songs of North America in the English Language (1960), with  “melodies and guitar chords transcribed by Peggy Seeger.” In 1964  it appeared on p. 39 of Peggy’s Folk Songs of Peggy Seeger (Oak Publications.  edited by Ethel Raim). Peggy recorded it on  Folk-Lyric FL114, American Folk Songs for Banjo and her brother Pete included  this version on his first Folkways LP, FP 3 (FA 2003), Darling Corey (1950).” (from here)

The dialogue between them seems more like a skirmish between lovers in which she proves to be chilly and offended, while he, returned after leaving her alone for three years, jokingly pretends not to know her and asks her to marry him because he is fascinated by his graces! So in the end she yields and paraphrasing Shakespeare says “If you be he,  and your name is Riley..

Peggy  Seeger in “Heading for home”  2003

Pete Seeger in “Darling Corey/Goofing-Off Suite” 1993

Peggy  Seeger version
As I walked out  one morning early
To take the  sweet and pleasant air
Who should I  spy but a fair young lady
Her cheeks  being like a lily fair.
I stepped up to  her, right boldly asking
Would she be a  sailor’s wife?
O no, kind sir, I’d rather tarry
And remain single for all my life.
Tell me, kind  miss, and what makes you differ
From all the rest of womankind?
I see you’re  fair, you are young, you’re handsome
And for to  marry might be inclined.
The truth, kind  sir, I will plainly tell you
I might have  married three years ago
To one John  Riley who left this country
He is the cause of all my woe.
Come along with  me, don’t you think on Riley,
Come along with  me to some distant shore;
We will set sail for Pennsylvanie
Adieu, sweet  England, forevermore.
I’ll not go  with you to Pennsylvanie
I’ll not go  with you that distant shore;
My heart’s with  Riley, I will ne’er forget him
Although I may  never see him no more.
And when he  seen she truly loved him
He give her  kisses, one two and three,
Says, I am  Riley, your own true lover
That’s been the  cause of your misery.
If you be he,  and your name is Riley,
I’ll go with  you to that distant shore.
We will set  sail to Pennsylvanie,
Adieu, kind friends, forevermore.


In this version the identification is based on the ring that probably the two sweethearts had exchanged as a token of love before departure. A beautiful Celtic Bluegrass style version!

Tim  O’Brien in Fiddler’s Green 2005

Pretty fair  maid was in her garden
When a stranger came a-riding by
He came up to the gate and called her
Said pretty  fair maid would you be my bride
She said I’ve a true love who’s in the army
And he’s been gone for seven long years
And if he’s  gone for seven years longer
I’ll still be waiting for him here
Perhaps he’s on some watercourse drowning
Perhaps he’s on some battlefield slain
Perhaps he’s to a fair girl married
And you may never see him again
Well if he’s  drown, I hope he’s happy
Or if he’s on some battlefield slain
And if he’s to some fair girl married
I’ll love the girl that married him
He took his hand out of his pocket
And on his finger he wore a golden ring (1)
And when she saw that band a-shining
A brand new song her heart did sing
And then he  threw his arms all around her
Kisses gave her one, two, three
Said I’m your true and loving soldier
That’s come  back home to marry thee
1)  the ring that they exchanged on the day of departure


Fair Maid in the Garden: the ballad of John Riley

Leggi in italiano

TITLES: A Fair Young Maid all in her Garden, There Was A Maid In Her Father’s Garden, Pretty, Fair Maid in the Garden, John Riley, Johnny Riley, The Broken Token, The Young and Single Sailor

Joan Baez popularised this ballad with John Reily title in the 60s (a lot of groups proposed it in that decade including Simon & Garfunkel, Judi Collins): it is a classic love story of probable seventeenth-century origins, in which the woman remains faithful to her lover or promised spouse who has gone to war or embarked on a vessel. The song is classified as reily ballad because it is structured as a dialogue between the protagonist (in disguise) usually called John or George, Willie or Thomas Riley (Rally, Reilly) and the woman, example of loyalty, and often appears a sign of recognition, for example, a gift exchanged or an object broken in half (other examples: “Her mantle so green“, “The Banks of Claudy“).

In most of these stories the man returns after a long time and, not recognized by the woman, tests her loyalty. But the girl refuses, saying she can not give him her heart because she is waiting for the return of her true love. The man so reassured, reveals himself and the two crown their love with marriage.
The story recalls the archetypal figures of Ulysses and Penelope, when Ulysses, in disguise, returns twenty years after to his Ithaca , and he is not recognized by his wife. It is also a subject of fiction, on men returning from war changed in physique and psyche or who are clearly another person, accepted in spite of everything by his wife mostly for practical reasons; she ends up preferring this new or different person to the previous husband!

The origin of the theme in English and American balladry has been identified in the seventeenth-century ballad entitled “The constant maids resolution: or The damsels loyal love to a seaman” found under the title “The Constant Damsel” in “The Vocal Enchantress” ( Dublin 1791) and in various nineteenth-century American publications under various titles. There are many text versions with small variations combined with different melodies


Although a traditional song, it has been credited to Rick Neff and Bob Gibson (of the Byrds, the American version of the Beatles), in the album “Fifth Dimension” of 1966 (see): actually the song had already been recorded by the american folk singer Joan Baez in her second album released in 1960 with the title of “John Riley”; in the notes she writes traditional song, arrangement by Joan Baez; it is her version to become a standard!



Fair young maid all in her garden,
strange young man passer-by, he said:
«Fair maid, will you marry me?».
This answer then was her reply:
‒ Οh, no, kind   sir, I cannot marry thee,
for I’ve a love and he sails the sea.
Though he’s been gone for seven years,
still no man shall marry me.
‒ What if he’s in some battle slain
or if he’s drowned in the deep salt sea?
What if he’s found another love
and he and his love both married be?
‒ Well, if he’s in some battle slain
I will die when the moon doth wane.
And if he’s drowned in the deep salt sea,
then I’ll be true to his memory.
And if he’s found another love
and he and his love both married be,
I wish them health and happiness,
where they dwell across the sea.
He pickes her up in his arms so strong
and kisses gave her: One, two, three.
‒ Say weep no more, my own true love,
for I’m your long-lost John Riley!
1) seven is a recurring number in ballads to indicate the duration of a separation. The reference to the number seven is not accidental: it is a magic or symbolic number linked to death or change. If a husband left for the war and did not return within seven years, the wife could remarry.

second part