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


Dream Angus the scottish Sandy (l’omino dei sogni scozzese)

“Dream Angus” is the Scottish version of Sandman (affectionately called Sandy) a mythical character of Northern Europe folklore, the sandy wizard, who brings happy dreams sprinkling magic sand into the eyes of sleeping children. In the animated movie by Dreamworks “Rise of the Guardians” he is a mute character who communicates through images formed with his magic golden dust; always cheerful, provides children with beautiful dreams and unleashes their imagination.
[“Dream Angus” è la versione scozzese dell’Omino dei Sogni (in inglese Sandman chiamato affettuosamente Sandy) un personaggio mitico del folklore del Nord Europa, il mago sabbiolino, che porta sogni felici cospargendo di sabbia magica gli occhi dei bambini addormentati. Nella versione animata della Dreamworks “Le 5 Leggende” (in inglese “Rise of the Guardians”) è un personaggio muto che comunica attraverso immagini formate con la sua dorata polvere magica; sempre allegro, fornisce ai bambini dei bei sogni e sbriglia la loro immaginazione.]

 OleLukoie By Fagilewhispers.jpg

In the fairy tale of Andersen, Ole Lukøje (in English Ole-Luk-Oie) tells the sleeping children fantastic stories opening up an umbrella full of drawings on their heads (but only good children can make happy dreams, the disobedient ones sleep without dreams and the little man opens an umbrella without drawings on their heads). The italian Gianni Rodari has undergone the charm of this character dedicating him a nursery rhyme in which he outlined a mischievous but good-natured spirit.
[Nella fiaba di Andersen Ole Chiudigliocchi (Ole Lukøje in inglese Ole-Luk-Oie) racconta ai bambini addormentati delle storie fantastiche aprendo sopra alla loro testa un ombrello pieno di disegni (ma solo i bambini buoni possono essere felici nel sogni, quelli disobbedenti dormono senza sogni e l’omino apre sulle loro teste un ombrello senza disegni). Il nostro Gianni Rodari ha subito il fascino del personaggio dedicandogli una filastrocca in cui l’onimo dispettoso ma bonario dorme sotto il nostro comò di giorno.]

And yet Hoffmann recounts about Der Sandmann who is a dark version of the boogeyman: he snatch the eyes of the children who does not want to sleep to feed his ravenous offspring.
E tuttavia Hoffmann racconta dell’uomo della sabbia (Der Sandmann) che è una cupa versione dell’uomo nero: ai bambini che non volevano dormire strappava gli occhi per darli in pasto alla sua è famelica prole dal becco ricurvo come i rapaci della notte.]


In the Celtic mythology Angus (Aengus) is the god of youth, of poetic inspiration and love, son of the Nymph Boann and of the Dagda of the Tuatha Dé Danann. In a scottish goodnight song he is called “Dream Angus“, the god of dreams and by night he carries a bag full of dreams. His wife is Caer Ibormeith and their love story is the meeting of the twin souls that can not be separated.
[Nella mitologia celtica Angus (Aengus) è il dio della giovinezza, dell’ispirazione poetica e dell’amore, figlio della Ninfa Boann e del Dagda dei Tuatha Dé Danann. In una canzone della buonanotte è chiamato “Dream Angus”, il dio dei sogni e la notte porta una sacca piena di sogni in vendita. Sua moglie è Caer Ibormeith (Bacca di Tasso) la loro storia  è l’incontro delle anime gemelle che non possono essere separate. ]

Twin souls

Illustration from The Dream of Aengus, by Ted Nasmith

 According to the myth, Angus fell in love with a maiden he saw in his dreams.
But she was under a spell and to be able to free her, Angus had to recognize her while she was living in the form of a swan. After much research he knew he would have to waited till Samain for going to Lake Dragon’s Mouth (Loch Bel Dracon), where he found 150 swans tied to couples with silver chains.

[Secondo il mito, Angus si innamorò della fanciulla che vedeva nei suoi sogni. Ma la fanciulla era sotto un sortilegio e per poterla liberare Angus doveva riconoscerla mentre viveva nella forma di cigno. Dopo molte ricerche seppe di doverla aspettare per la festa di Samain al lago di Dragon’s Mouth (Loch Bel Dracon in italiano Bocca del Drago) dove trovò 150 cigni legati a coppie con catene d’argento.]

Aengus sings in front of the lake during his transformation into a swan [Aengus canta davanti al lago nella sua trasformazione in cigno]- John Duncan 1908
Angus turned into a swan to call Caer, so they flew together over the lake three times singing a sweet melody that fell asleep all Ireland for three days and three nights; now they live in Brugh Na Boinne (Newgrange).
[Angus si trasformò in cigno per poter chiamare la sua Caer, così volarono insieme sorvolando il lago per tre volte cantavano una dolce melodia che addormentò l’Irlanda per tre giorni e tre notti; ora dimorano nel Brugh Na Boinne (Newgrange).]

Yeats dedicates a poem to him The song of wandering Aengus published in 1899, in the collection of poems “The Wind among the reeds”.
The first to put the poem into music was the same Yeats who composed or adapted a traditional Irish melody: in 1907 he published his essay ‘Speaking to the Psaltery’ in which the poem is recited bardically, sung with the accompaniment of the psaltery; but many other artists were inspired by the text and composed further melodies. (see more)

Yeats gli dedica una poesia The song of wandering Aengus (La canzone di Aengus l’errante) pubblicata nel 1899, nella raccolta di poesie “The Wind among the reeds” (Il vento fra le canne). Il primo a mettere in musica la poesia è stato lo stesso Yeats che la compose o che vi adattò una melodia tradizionale irlandese : nel 1907 diede alle stampe il suo saggio ‘Speaking to the Psaltery’ in cui la poesia viene recitata alla maniera bardica ovvero cantata con l’accompagnamento del salterio; ma molti altri artisti furono ispirati dal testo e composero ulteriori melodie. continua

Dream Angus

Dream Angus is a legendary character in Scottish folklore that brings beautiful dreams to sleeping children.
From the moment Angus is born it is obvious that he is a gentle spirit and will be universally loved. Songbirds circle his head to serenade him to sleep as he rocks in his cradle, and the wildest hunting dog calms when in his presence.” (from qui)

Angus dei Sogni è un personaggio leggendario nel folklore scozzese che porta bei sogni ai bambini addormentati “Subito dalla sua nascita Angus è uno spirito gentile e sarà universalmente amato: gli uccelli canterini gli girano intorno alla testa per farlo addormentare, mentre si dondola nella culla, e il cane da caccia più selvaggio si calma quando è in sua presenza“.

Jackie Oates

Jean-Luc Lenoir in Old Celtic & Nordic Lullabies” 2016

Lynn Morrison

Can ye no hush your weepin’?
All the wee lambs are sleepin’
Birdies are nestlin’ nestlin’ together
Dream Angus is hirplin’ oer the heather
Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell
Angus is here wi’ dreams to sell
Hush my wee bairnie and sleep without fear
Dream Angus has brought you a dream my dear.
List’ to the curlew cryin’
Faintly the echos dyin’
Even the birdies and the beasties are sleepin’
But my bonny bairn is weepin’ weepin’
III (1)
Soon the lavrock sings his song
Welcoming the coming dawn
Lambies coorie doon the gither
Wi’ the yowies in the heather
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Perchè non smetti di piangere?
Tutti gli agnellini sono addormentati,
gli uccellini si stanno accoccolando insieme
Angus dei Sogni si aggira per la brughiera
Sogni da vendere, bei sogni da vendere
Angus è qui con i sogni da vendere
shhh mio piccolino, dormi senza paura
Angus dei Sogni ti ha portato un sogno mio caro
Ascolta il chiurlo che grida
piano si smorza l’eco
anche gli uccellini e le bestie dormono
ma il mio piccolino piange, piange
Presto l’allodola leverà il suo canto
per salutare l’arrivo dell’alba
gli agnelli si rannicchiano assieme
con le pecorelle nell’erica

1) or
Sweet the lavrock sings at morn,
Heraldin’ in a bright new dawn.
Wee lambs, they coorie doon taegether
Alang with their ewies in the heather.

The musical arrangements are however for everyone.
[Gli arrangiamenti sono però per tutti i gusti]
Debra Fotheringham

The Corries

Annie Lennox

Nam bu leam fhin thu thaladhainn thu

The melody of Dream Angus is very similar to a Gaelic lullaby “Nam bu leam fhin thu thaladhainn thu“, which is believed to have been sung by a fairy to an abandoned human child in the forest. On the Isle of Skye (Hebrides) it is associated with MacLeods clan of Dunvegan, who took enchanted creatures as nurses for their children.
Christina Stewart reports a couple of legends associated with this song:
In an alternative story, the wife of the chief of the MacLeods gives birth to a baby, much to the joy of the family.  However, the mother is a fairy woman and while the child is still a baby, she is forced to return to her own people.  One night, there is a great feast going on in Dunvegan Castle and the nursemaid who is supposed to be caring for the child is so attracted by the colour and festivity that she leaves the baby sleeping and goes to watch.  While she is away, the baby wakens and begins to cry.  When she hears it, she comes back and finds a woman cradling the baby, singing this song to him.  She has wrapped the child in an embroidered, yellow covering.  As the child calms, the woman hands the child back to the nursemaid and leaves.  The story goes that the woman was the baby’s mother, returned to see that her child was kept from harm and the yellow cover was the so-called Fairy Flag of Dunvegan, a banner which the clan should wave at times of dire need.  Legend has it that this otherworldly banner has miraculous powers and when unfurled in battle, the clan MacLeod would invariably defeat their enemies.  It can only be waved 3 times, though, after which it will fall into dust.  The flag has been waved twice so far – in 1480 at Blàr Bàgh na Fala and ten years later at the Battle of Glendale.  The flag itself certainly exists and is a popular attraction at Dunvegan Castle.  There are many stories associated with it and it’s origins and this is not the only lullaby said to have been sung by the baby’s mother. (from here)

La melodia di Dream Angus è molto simile a una ninna nanna gaelica “Nam bu leam fhin thu thaladhainn thu”, che si ritiene sia stata cantata da una fata a un bambino umano abbandonato nella foresta. Sull’isola di Skye (Isole Ebridi) è associata al clan MacLeods di Dunvegan che prendeva delle creature fatate come balia per i figli.
Christina Stewart riporta un paio di leggende associate a questo canto “In una storia alternativa, la moglie del capo dei MacLeod da alla luce un bambino, tutto per la gioia della famiglia. Tuttavia, la madre è una fata e quando il bambino è ancora piccolo, è costretta a tornare dalla sua stessa gente. Una notte, c’è una grande festa in corso nel Castello di Dunvegan e la bambinaia che doveva prendersi cura del bambino è così distratta dalla festa che lascia il bambino addormentato e va a vedere. Mentre lei è via, il bambino si sveglia e comincia a piangere. Quando lo sente, torna e trova una donna che culla il bambino, cantando questa canzone per lui. Aveva avvolto il bambino in una coperta gialla ricamata. Mentre il bambino si calma, la donna restituisce il bambino alla balia e se ne va. La storia racconta che la donna era la madre del bambino, tornata a vedere che il suo bambino fosse al sicuro e la copertina gialla era la cosiddetta “Fairy Flag of Dunvegan”, uno stendardo che il clan avrebbe dovuto agitare nei momenti di estremo bisogno. La leggenda narra che questo vessillo ultraterreno abbia poteri miracolosi e quando dispiegato in battaglia, il clan MacLeod avrebbe invariabilmente sconfitto i loro nemici. Può essere sventolato solo 3 volte, dopo di che cadrà nella polvere. La bandiera è stata sventolata due volte finora – nel 1480 a Blàr Bàgh na Fala e dieci anni dopo nella Battaglia di Glendale. La bandiera di per sé certamente esiste ed è un’attrazione popolare al Castello di Dunvegan. Ci sono molte storie associate ad esso e alle sue origini e questa non è l’unica ninnananna che si dice sia stata cantata dalla madre del bambino.”

Christina Stewart in Bairn’s Kist 2011

Scottish gaelic
Thàladhainn, thàladhainn, thàladhainn thu
Nam bu leam fhìn thu, leanabh mo chìche
Nam bu leam fhìn thu, thàladhainn thu
Thàladhainn, thàladhainn, thàladhainn thu
English translation:
If you were mine, I would lull you
Lull, lull, lull you
If you were mine, child of my breast
If you were mine, I would lull you
Lull, lull, lull you
traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Se tu fossi mio, ti cullerei
cullerei, cullerei
se tu fossi mio, bimbo del mio seno
se tu fossi mio, ti cullerei
cullerei, cullerei


Dinogad’s Smock (Pais Dinogad)

An Old Welsh lullaby found in the margins of a 7th Century Welsh battle poem ‘Y Gododdin’
[Un’antica ninna-nanna in cumbrico, il dialetto del gallese antico trascritta al margine di un manoscritto ‘Y Gododdin’ del VII secolo  ( nel Libro di Aneirin  datato al XIII secolo ) in cui si descrive la battaglia di Catraeth tra Britanni e Angli.]

Old Welsh was spoken throughout the whole of England, before the Anglo-Saxons came. The kingdom of Gododdin was a vast territory of Britain that arose after the Roman withdrawal from the lands conquered by Julius Caesar and included the northeastern area of the island including the Stirling area and the Northumberland with capital Edinburgh (Dun Eidyn).
[Il gallese antico a quei tempi prima dell’invasione degli Angli era parlato in tutta l’Inghilterra. Il regno di Gododdin era un vasto territorio della Britannia sorto dopo il ritiro dei Romani dai terreni conquistati da Giulio Cesare e comprendeva la zona nord-est dell’isola comprendente l’area di Stirling e il Northumberland con capitale Edimburgo (Dun Eidyn).]

Dinogad’s Smock

To the child named Dinogad the mother describes his father while hunting and fishing, Pais Dinogad is the ancestor of the English lullaby ‘Bye Baby Bunting’. A topographical reference in the lullaby allows us to place mother and child near the Castle Crag a hill fort in the heart of Lakeland (now Lake District National Park).
[Al bambino di nome Dinogad la mamma descrive il padre mentre caccia e pesca, Pais Dinogad è l’antenata della ninnananna inglese ‘Bye Baby Bunting’. Un riferimento topografico nella ninna-nanna ci permette di collocare madre e bambino nei pressi del Castle Crag un hill fort nel cuore del Lakeland (ora Lake District National Park).]

The lullaby could also be a complaint in which the woman cries the death of her husband in war!
[La ninna nanna potrebbe anche essere un lament in cui la donna piange la morte del marito in guerra]
William Parsons & Guy Hayward in Will and Guy at Old England Hole
the melody is very similar to an ecclesiastical litany
[la melodia è molto simile a una litania ecclesiastica]

Sean Parry a live version accompanied by the bardic lyra
[una versione live accompagnato dalla lyra bardica]

[Old Welsh]
Peis dinogat e vreith vreith.
o grwyn balaot ban wreith.
chwit chwit chwidogeith.
gochanwn gochenyn wythgeith.
pan elei dy dat ty e helya;
llath ar y ysgwyd llory eny law.
ef gelwi gwn gogyhwc.
“giff gaff. dhaly dhaly dhwg dhwg”.
ef lledi bysc yng corwc.
mal ban llad. llew llywywg.
pan elei dy dat ty e vynyd.
dydygai ef penn ywrch penn gwythwch pen hyd.
penn grugyar vreith o venyd.
penn pysc o rayadyr derwennyd.
or sawl yt gyrhaedei dy dat ty ae gicwein
o wythwch a llewyn a llwyuein.
nyt anghei oll ny uei oradein.
[Modern English]
Dinogad’s smock (1), pied (2), pied,
It was from marten’s skins that I made it.
‘Wheed, wheed, a whistling!’
We call, they call, the eight in chains (3).
When thy father went a-hunting,
A spear on his shoulder,
a club in his hand,
He would call the nimble hounds,
‘Giff, Gaff (4); catch, catch, fetch, fetch!’
He would kill a fish in his coracle (5)
As a lion kills its prey.
When thy father went to the mountain
He would bring back a roe-buck, a wild boar, a stag,/ A speckled grouse (6) from the mountain,
A fish from Rhaeadr Derwennydd (7).
Of all those that thy father reached with his lance,
Wild boar and lynx and fox,
None escaped which was not winged (8).
[traduzione italiano Cattia Salto]
Camiciola di Dinogad, pezzata, pezzata,
l’ho fatta con le pelli di martora.
“Wee, wee un fischio!”
si gridava, gli otto servi gridavano.
Quando tuo padre andava a caccia,
lancia in spalla,
mazza in mano,
chiamava i levrieri,
“Giff, Gaff; predi e porta” !
Uccideva un pesce nel suo coracle
come un leone uccide la sua preda.
Quando tuo padre andava sulla montagna
riportava un capriolo, un cinghiale, un cervo,
un gallo cedrone maculato,
un pesce nella cascata di Derwent.
Di tutti gli animali che tuo padre ha raggiunto con la sua lancia,
cinghiale e lince e volpe,
nessuno aveva ali per la fuga.
la sottoveste nel medioevo

1) in the Middle Ages, the smock was a petticoat with long ends (or under the knees) with or without sleeves, the garment that was in immediate contact with the skin, the one that for us today is underwear. The fabric is hemp or linen depending on the social class (and for the nobles it could be silk). In the Renaissance parts of the shirt could be embroidered with gold and silver threads
[nel Medioevo con smock si denominava la sottoveste, un camice lungo fini ai piedi (o sotto le ginocchia) con o senza maniche, l’indumento che stava a immediato contatto con la pelle, quella che per noi oggi è la biancheria intima. Il tessuto andava dalla canapa al lino più o meno fine a seconda della classe sociale (e per i nobili poteva essere di seta). Nel rinascimento parti della camicia potevano essere ricamate con fili d’oro e d’argento]
2) mi immagino sia l’antenata delle tradizionali copertine pathworck
3) I think referring to the callings of the beaters to send the game towards the hunters
[immagino si riferisca al richiamo dei battitori per mandare la selvaggina verso i cacciatori]
4) the names of the dogs [i nomi dei cani]
5) rudimentale imbarcazione di vimini ricoperta con pelli per impermeabilizzare la struttura
6) è il fagiano di montagna detto anche gallo cedrone
7) Rhaeadr Derwennydd, or Derwent waterfall; in Britain there are about ten river names derived from the same root (meaning only water flowing through an oak forest) – including four that are actually called “Derwent” – in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Northumberland and Yorkshire, but the only Derwent river with a waterfall is in Cumbria. “The Derwent’s waterfall is now famous to tourists worldwide as the Lodore Falls, which still crash picturesquely through woodland just south of the lake of Derwentwater, at the head of Borrowdale. Up the slope from the Lodore Falls is a wooded area known as Hogs’ Earth – is this the place that Dinogad’s daddy went hunting for boar? – and above that, a hill called Castle Crag.” (from here)
[Rhaeadr Derwennydd
 , o cascata Derwent; in Gran Bretagna ci sono circa dieci nomi di fiume derivati ​​dalla stessa radice (significa solo acqua che scorre attraverso un bosco di querce) – tra cui quattro che in realtà sono chiamati “Derwent” – in Cumbria, Derbyshire, Northumberland e Yorkshire, ma l’unico fiume Derwent con una cascata si trova in Cumbria “La cascata del Derwent è ora famosa ai turisti di tutto il mondo come le cascate di Lodore, che ancora si schiantano pittorescamente attraverso i boschi appena a sud del lago di Derwentwater, alla testa di Borrowdale. Il pendio delle cascate di Lodore è una zona boscosa conosciuta come Terra degli Hogs – è questo il posto in cui il papà di Dinogad andava a caccia di cinghiali? – e sopra a tutto, una collina chiamata Castle Crag]
8) his father was a good hunter and his prey had no escape [il padre era un buon cacciatore e le sue prede non avevano scampo]

Pilgrimage to Pais Dinogad – Finding a Lost Lullaby in Anglesey/Ynys Mon (The British Pilgrimage Trust)

Ffynnon ( Lynne Denman & Stacey Blythe) in Celtic Music from Welsh 2002

in which only the first verse is repeated on a melody that recalls a simple nursery rhyme; at the first verse they combines a count of the sheep “yan, tan, tether ..” according to the ancient custom see ; for the rest of the lullaby the speech is used.
[in cui si ripete solo la prima strofa su di una melodia che richiama una semplice filastrocca dei bambini; alla prima strofa unisce una conta delle pecore “yan, tan, tether..” secondo l’antica usanza vedi per il resto della ninna-nanna viene usato il parlato]

 Peis dinogat e vreith vreith.
o grwyn balaot ban wreith.
chwit chwit chwidogeith.
gochanwn gochenyn wythgeith.
Pais Dinogad sydd fraith, fraith,
O groen y bela y mae’i waith.
`Chwí! Chwí!’ Chwibanwaith.
Gwaeddwn ni, gwaeddant hwy – yr wyth gaeth.
[Modern English]
Dinogad’s shift is speckled, speckled,
It was made from the pelts of martens.
`Wee! Wee!’ Whistling.
We call, they call, the eight in chains.

Jean-Luc Lenoir in Old Celtic & Nordic Lullabies” 2016

Joglaresa & Sianed Jones in Sing We Yule 2017 adding a tune according to the Welsh bardic style [si aggiunge un canto secondo lo stile bardico gallese]

Bye Baby Bunting

Rebecca Hadwen


Dinogad’s Smock: a 6th-century Cumbrian lullaby

Apples in Winter: New Years Eve in Great Brittany

Leggi in italiano


The apple tree is a tree that was born in the mountains of Central Asia and it has spread along the commercial “silk road”, moving to the west. It is commonly believed that it was the ancient Romans who brought the apple tree to Britain, yet the most recent archaeological excavations in Armagh (Northern Ireland) found apple seeds dating back to the 10th century BC. In fact, the apple appears in many Druidic teachings and in Celtic poetry and mythology.
The apples are stored for a long time in a cool and dry place like attics, becoming one of the few fruits that can be eaten in winter.


The apple tree is the embodiment of the female principle; a medieval narration tells us the love story of Aillin and Baile, two children in love to whom the Druids had prophesied that they would never meet in life, but only after death to never separate again: the macabre (or romantic) prophecy came true magically with the union of the wood of two trees, the apple and the yew grown on their graves!
The legend is set at the time of Celtic Ireland by King Cormac mac Airt (II-IV century), but it is somewhat inconsistent with respect to the archaeological sources in our possession; they tell the story of the “taball filidh” (the poet’s tablet) -probably a wooden tablet or a waxed tablet in use with the ancient Greeks and Romans – one made from the wood of the apple tree of Aillin and the other from the wood of the Baile rate, that they indissolubly linked to each other when they found themselves nearby for the first time (to Samain during the party presided over by Art, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles, king of Erinn). If the story were true, the bards of Ireland writed they poems on wooden tablets; these two tablets were one from Leinster (apple), the other from Ulster (rate) and for their magical adherence were preserved as rarities in the treasure of Tara.
The story seems to be a variant of the love knot between the rose and thorn, recalled in the medieval ballads (grown from the respective tombs of the unfortunate lovers, they come together and intertwine with each other).

But the main association of the apple tree with the Celtic world is the Island of the apples, Avalon, the land of the Fairies.
Geoffrey of Monmouth writes in the Historia Regum Britanniae (1136)
Insula pomorum quæ fortunata vocatur,
Ex re nomen habet, quia se singula profert.
Non opus est illi sulcantibus arva colonis,
Omnis abest cultus, nisi quem natura ministrat,
Ultro fœcundas segetes producit, & herbas,
Nataque poma suis prætonso germine sylvis.

The isle of Apples, truly fortunate,
Where unforc’d goods and willing comforts meet.
Not there the fields require the rustick’s hand,
But nature only cultivates the land.
The fertile plains with corn and herbs are proud,
And golden apples smile in ev’ry wood.“.

Fairies’ food that can make immortal or restore health to the sick, the apple is the basis of the preparation of cider, a low-alcohol drink obtained from the fermentation of fruits such as apples, pears or loquats, typical of the United Kingdom, Basque Country and of Normandy. see


by Hedingham Fair

The oldest form of the winter celebration of the Wassail provides the blessing of trees and bees, so important for pollination, in order to ensure a healthy harvest for the next year.
“Apple Wassail”, is the blessing of the orchards: during the ritual they sing and make a spell, with a great noise they beating pots and pans (or shooting in the air) to ward off evil spirits, pourring some cider around the roots of the oldest tree; finally all drink to the health of the apple trees and the future harvest, eating sweet buns, and leaving a slice to the spirit of tree (to feed the robins), placed on the branches of the plant as thanksgiving.
(see more)


The second rite comes from Wales called “Hel Calennig” (Literally “the hunt of the Calends”) based on the ancient tradition of exchanging a gift for the first of January. (some scholars believe that the ritual derives from the customs practiced in the Roman Empire for the New Year. see Strenia)

Hel Calennig” is a Welsh tradition of the first day of the new year: an apple impaled on three sticks like a tripod, decorated with cloves and a sprig evergreen. This “trophy” is brought as a gift (or shown) in the neighbors’ house by the children singing a good-luck song.
In return they receive bread and cheese or some coins.

Blwyddyn newydd dda i chwi,
Gwyliau llawen i chwi,
Meistr a meistres bob un trwy’r ty,
Gwyliau llawen i chwi,
Codwch yn foreu, a rheswch y tan,
A cherddwch i’r ffynon i ymofyn dwr glan.
A happy new year to you,
May your holidays be merry,
Master and mistress – everyone in the house;
May your holidays be merry,
Arise in the morning; bestir the fire,
And go to the well to fetch fresh water

The New Year is also the Hoodening Day in Wales when Mari Lwyd, “Y Fari Lwyd”   (in English “Gray Mare”) is brought home.


Paul Bommer

Mari Lwyd is the Welsh version of the hooden horse. Tradition still practiced in central and south Wales, in particular in Llantrisant and Pontyclun on New Year’s Eve. The mask consists of a horse’s head (a real skull) with movable jaw and disquieting eyes made from two pieces of green bottle, decorated with colored ribbons and carried on a pole by a person hidden under a wide white sheet.
The wassailers stop to sing in front of the doors of the houses and call the mistress and challenge her in a pwnco, a sort of debate between the two sides, often with insolent verses. The victory of the singing challenge allows the wassailers to enter the house to eat sweets and drink beer.
As we can see in the illustration, the landlady holds a broom in her hand and she does not want to let the wassailers enter, because they are bringers of chaos.
The revel as all the rituals of the peasant world requires a certain degree of drunkenness and harassing behavior. In fact, the mare will turn around the room trying to take the women, she is clearly a monstrous and otherworldly creature who must be appeased with some offers. Sometimes a small child stands with a sweet and manages to calm the beast. keep it going. see more

Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Welsh gaelic
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno

1) if the people of the house were defeated in the poetic contest, the Mari Lwyd claimed the right to stay at dinner with all his followers. Alternatively they offered a glennig, (a small tip), a glass of glaster, (water and milk) or beer

At Cwm Gwaun (Gwaun Valley), above Abergwaun (Fishguard), the community celebrates Yr Hen Galan (the old New Year) on January 13, according to the calendar prior to 1752.
Even in Wales as in Scotland is still rooted the practice of Firstfoot: here must be a man with a lucky name (Dafydd, Sion, Ifan or Siencyn), or alternatively a woman with a lucky name (Sian, Sioned, Mair or Marged ); in New Year’s Eve there was also a wren hunting.


The “Apples in winter” is an Irish jig also known by many other titles (see)

David Power uillean pipe & Willie Kelly violin in “Apples in winter” (n enjoyable cd of jigs and reels + some traditional Irish air)


Anglo concertina, Cittern, & Guitar


second part



Joy to the world! The Lord is come & Bradfield from Yorkshire

Joy to the world -Christmas carol
Word: Isaac Watts (1719)
Tune: Lowell Mason (1836-8)

The text of “Joy to the World” was written by Isaac Watts when he was a Protestant pastor in the Church of St. Mark’s Lane (Stoke Newingron, London); the intent was to create more current hymns, for reviving the psalms of the Old Testament, so the psalm 98 “Sing to the Lord a new song” (refrain: “The Lord has revealed his justice to the people “) has become the more poetic “Joy to the World” published in his collection “The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament” (1719); originally it was not a Christmas carol, as it referred to the second coming of Jesus, so Watts reinterpreted the Old Testament psalm in the light of the New Testament.
[Il testo di “Joy to the World” è stato scritto da Isaac Watts quando era pastore protestante nella Chiesa di St. Mark’s Lane (Stoke Newingron, Londra); l’intento era quello di creare degli inni più attuali, rinverdendo i salmi del Vecchio Testamento,  ispirandosi ai Salmi di Davide, così il salmo 98Cantate al Signore un canto nuovo(ritornello: “Il Signore ha rivelato ai popoli la sua giustizia”) è diventato il molto più poetico “Joy to the World” pubblicato nella sua raccolta  The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament (1719); in origine non era un canto natalizio, in quanto si riferiva alla seconda venuta di Gesù, così Watts reinterpretò il Salmo del Vecchio Testamento alla luce del Nuovo.]
The most popular melody, at least in the USA, derives from “Antioch” by the American Lowell Mason composed in 1836-8 making an arrangement of Handel’s “Messiah (1742)”.
[La melodia più popolare, perlomeno negli USA, deriva da “Antiochia” dell’americano Lowell Mason composta nel 1836-8 facendo un arrangiamento del “Messia” di Handel (1742).]

The Gothard Sisters in “Falling Snow” 2016 (I, II, I, IV)

Pentatonix 2015 (I, II, IV)

Celtic Woman 2013

Moya Brennan  in An Irish Christmas 2005 (I, II, IV)

Joy to the world (1)! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing. (3)
Joy to the world (earth)! the Saviour reigns;
Your sweetest songs employ (4);
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
III (6)
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessingsflow
Far as the curse (7) is found
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove (8)
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love.
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Gioia nel mondo (1)! il Signore è venuto;
la terra riceverà (2) il suo Re,
ogni cuore preparerà un posto per Lui,
e cielo e terra cantano
cielo e terra cantano
cielo, e cielo e terra cantano (3)
Gioia nel mondo! Regna il Salvatore;
le più dolci canzoni si ricorrono (4),
mentre terra e mare (5), rocce, colline e pianure, ripetono il suono gioioso.
III (6)
Non più peccati e affanni cresceranno,
né le spine infesteranno il terreno;
Egli viene a diffondere la Sua benedizione
fin dove si annida la maledizione (7).
Egli governa il mondo con verità e grazia
e dimostra alle nazioni (8)
gli splendori della Sua rettitudine
e i prodigi del suo amore.

1) the psalm describes the second coming of Jesus when he returns in triumph at the end of time. The birth of Jesus overlaps with his second coming when the Earth will be the renewed Earthly Paradise
[il salmo descrive la seconda venuta di Gesù quando ritornerà in trionfo alla fine dei tempi. La nascita di Gesù si sovrappone alla sua seconda venuta quando la Terra sarà il rinnovato Paradiso Terrestre]
2) In his first coming Jesus was not accepted by all men, indeed he was crucified
[ho preferito risolvere l’imperativo con il futuro. Nella sua prima venuta Gesù non è stato accettato da tutti gli uomini, anzi è stato crocefisso]
3) fuging tune  [tipico esempio di melodia fugata]
4) also written as
 [scritto anche come] “Let men their songs employ” ègli uomini canteranno le loro canzoni] they are the righteous men entered the kingdom of God to sing hymns to the Lord [sono i giusti gli uomini entrati nel regno di Dio a cantare inni al Signore]
5) letteralmente “campi e acque”
6) the verse is generally skipped because it is not part of psalm 98 [la strofa generalmente è saltata perchè non facente parte del salmo 98]
the Pentatonix sing a kind of refrain in its place [i Pentatonix cantano al suo posto una specie di ritornello]
Joy to the world, now we sing
Let the earth receive her king
Joy to the world, now we sing
Let the angel voices ring
Joy to the world, now we sing
Let men their songs employ
Joy to the world, now we sing
Repeat the sounding joy
7) the curse thrown by God to Adam after the original sin “Cursed is the ground because of you” [la maledizione è quella lanciata da Dio ad Adamo dopo il peccato originale “Maledetto è il suolo per causa tua”]
8) only with the kingdom of God on earth there will be the peace in the world [solo con il regno di Dio sulla Terra si troverà la pace nel mondo]; letteralmente “fa sì che i popoli provino”


The version of “Joy to the World” according to the tradition of South Yorkshire (Berkshire village) when the singers gathered in the pub to sing Christmas with traditional songs considered too “popular” by the Church.
[La versione di “Joy to the World” secondo la tradizione del South Yorkshire (Berkshire village) quando i cantori si riunivano nel pub per cantare il Natale con canti tradizionali ritenuti troppo “popolari” dalla Chiesa.]
Kate Rusby in “The Frost is All Over” 2015

Hark to the bells on Christmas Day
From the church on the hill above
Telling the birth of our Saviour dear
With His message of truth and love
Oh the merry bells of Christmas
Ring their sound (message)* so sweet and gay
May you know true joy and gladness

On every Christmas Day
Born in a stable cold and bare
With a manger for His bed
Mary and shepherds on holy ground
In that lowly cattle shed
Carols and choirs fill the air
With this joyfull (wonderful) * song of peace
And there is joy on earth today
With this song (our praise)* that that will never cease
Peace to the world (Glory to God)* and peace to men
Is the sound (news)* our dear bells bring
Nations will worship on earth below
With this carol that Angels sing
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Ascolta le campane il giorno di Natale
dalla chiesa in cima alla collina
che annunciano la nascita del nostro amato Salvatore, con il suo messaggio di verità e amore
Le allegre campane di Natale
cantano il loro canto (messaggio) dolce e gaio

per farvi conoscere la vera gioia e felicità
a ogni Natale
Nato in una stalla al freddo e nudo
con una mangiatoia come culla
Maria e i pastori sulla terra santa
in quell’umile ricovero per il bestiame
Inni e cori riempiono l’aria
con questo gioioso (meraviglioso) canto di pace
e c’è gioia in terra oggi
con questo canto (la nostra preghiera) che non finirà mai
“Pace alla terra (Gloria a Dio) e pace agli uomini”
è il canto (la novella) che le nostre amate campane portano,
le nazioni ti adoreranno giù sulla terra
con questo inno che gli angeli cantano

*alcune variazioni testuali




Good King Wenceslas

Forse una delle canzoni natalizie più famose è una composizione ottocentesca di  John Mason Neale sulla scia del Christmas Revival vittoriano. Nel 1853 il reverendo John Mason Neale scelse san Venceslao come protagonista di un canto per bambini sulla generosità, “Good King Wenceslas” (Il buon re Venceslao), divenne ben presto un canto natalizio tradizionale nel giorno di Santo Stefano (il giorno del Boxing Day, un tempo il giorno dedicato alla carità).
Perhaps one of the most famous Christmas carols is a nineteenth-century composition by John Mason Neale in the wake of the Victorian Christmas Revival. In 1853 the Reverend John Mason Neale chose St. Wenceslas as the protagonist of a children’s song about generosity, “Good King Wenceslas”, soon became a traditional Christmas song on St. Stephen’s Day (the Boxing Day once the day dedicated to charity).
Venceslao è realmente esistito e fu Duca di Boemia nel X secolo (tra il 921 e il 929/935), colui che favorì la diffusione del Cristianesimo  in un paese ancora fortemente legato alle antiche tradizioni, fatto uccidere dal fratello per salire al trono, è venerato sia dalla Chiesa Cattolica che Ortodossa e santo patrono della Repubblica Ceca;secondo la leggenda era un uomo generoso e gentile, scrive Cosma di Praga  rifacendosi alle sue agiografie”Ma le sue azioni credo che tu sappia meglio di quanto potrei dirti; perché, come si legge nella sua Passione , nessuno dubita che, alzandosi ogni notte dal suo letto nobile, a piedi nudi e con un solo ciambellano, andò in giro alle chiese di Dio e diede generosamente elemosine a vedove, orfani, prigionieri e afflitti di ogni difficoltà, tanto che era considerato, non un principe, ma il padre di tutti i miserabili.”
Wenceslas really existed and was Duke of Bohemia in the tenth century (between 921 and 929/935), who favored the spread of Christianity in a country still strongly linked to ancient traditions, made to kill by his brother to ascend the throne, he is revered both by the Catholic and Orthodox Church and patron saint of the Czech Republic, according to legend he was a generous and kind man, writes Cosmas of Prague, referring to his hagiographies
But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.”

statua di San Venceslao – Praga

A San Venceslao è pure collegata una leggenda arturiana, quella in cui si sarebbe risvegliato in caso di invasione nemica, e messo a capo dell’esercito di guerrieri dormiente sotto alla montagna di Blaník per portare il popolo alla vittoria.
An Arthurian legend is also connected to St. Wenceslas, the one in which he would have awakened in the event of an enemy invasion, and placed at the head of the army of sleeping warriors under the mountain of Blaník to bring the people to victory.

La musica era in origine un canto primaverile in latino: “Tempus adest floridum” (secolo XIII, di anonimo) e pubblicato per la prima volta nel 1582 in una collezione di canti religiosi svedesi.
The music was originally a spring song in Latin: “Tempus adest floridum” (thirteenth century, anonymous) and published for the first time in 1582 in a collection of Swedish religious songs.

 La storia narra di un piccolo miracolo di Natale, a seguito della nota bontà del Re.
Ma la cosa che mi colpisce di più è che qui, nel giro di pochi versi, c’è tutto l’uomo. La sua sofferenza, la sua debolezza, il suo bisogno di essere salvato. E c’è la tenerezza di Dio che si fa carne, che si rende concreta, incontrabile. C’è una meta, ma c’è anche la compagnia per affrontare la strada che è in mezzo. Il buon Re Venceslao è figura di Gesù, che, pur essendo Re, si fa servo, condivide in tutto e per tutto la sofferenza e la fatica di noi uomini. (Gianluca Zappa tratto da qui)
The story tells about a small Christmas miracle, as following the known goodness of the King.
“But the thing that strikes me most is that here, in a few lines, there is the whole man. His suffering, his weakness, his need to be saved. And there is the tenderness of God who becomes flesh, which becomes concrete, incontrovertible. There is a goal, but there is also the fellowship to face the road that is in the middle. The good King Wenceslas is figure of Jesus, who, despite being King, becomes a servant, shares in all and for all the suffering and hard work of us men”. (Gianluca Zappa translated from here)

 Loreena McKennitt in  “A Winter Garden – Five Songs For the Season.”
Blackmore’s Night in Winter Carols 2006

The Gothard Sisters in Falling Snow 2016

The Irish Rovers interpretati da 4 simpatici mattacchioni che si firmano BrothersCharles sul loro canale You Tube
The Irish Rovers played by 4 nice bricks who sign BrothersCharles on their You Tube channel

Good King Wenceslas (1) looked out,
On the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night,
though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight,
Gathering winter fuel.
“Hither, page, and stand by me,
If though know it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence,
Underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence,
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine (3),
Bring me pine logs hither;
Thou and I will see him dine,
When we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went,
Forth they went together;
Thro’ the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.
“Sire, the night is darker now,
And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page;
Tread thou in them boldly;
Though shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly ”
In his master’s steps he trod,
Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed (4).
Therefore, Christian men, be sure,
Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor,
Shall yourself find blessing.
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Il buon re Venceslao (1) guardò fuori
A Santo Stefano
Mentre la neve si ammucchiava
alta, fresca e uniforme
Splendeva  la luna quella notte
Anche se il gelo era crudele
Quando si parò innanzi un pover’uomo
Che raccoglieva legna da ardere.
“Vieni qua, o paggio e stammi vicino
e dimmi se lo sai
chi è quel contadino la fuori?
Dove vive e come sta?
“Maestà, vive a una buona lega da qui sotto la montagna,
proprio vicino alla siepe (2) accanto alla fonte di Santa Agnese
”Portami della carne e del vino (3)
portami anche dei ceppi di pino
tu ed io lo vedremo cenare
quando li porteremo laggiù”
Il paggio e il re uscirono
in avanti assieme andarono
attraverso le gelide folate di vento
e il maltempo.
“Maestà, la notte si è fatta più scura,
e il vento soffia più forte:
il mio cuore ha paura, e non so come
andare più avanti”
“Segui le mie orme, mio buon paggio e calpestale con decisione, troverai che la rabbia dell’inverno, gelerà il tuo sangue con meno forza”
Nei passi del suo padrone camminò, dove nella neve erano le orme, il caldo era in quelle zolle
che il santo aveva calpestato (4).
Perciò siate certi o cristiani
in possesso di ricchezza o rango,
voi che ora date misericordia (5) al povero troverete voi stessi misericordia

1) il Duca Venceslao venne dichiarato re “post mortem” quando Carlo IV  fece forgiare a suo nome la nuova corona reale boema. Sebbene nelle illustrazioni del Carol sia per lo raffigurato come un vecchio dalla lunga barba bianca egli morì in giovane età (a 28 anni o 22 anni), dopo aver regnato sulla Boemia medievale per poco più di una decina d’anni. Re Venceslao I è invece figlio di Ottocaro I il primo re di Boemia dal 1198 al 1230.
the Duke Wenceslas was declared king “post mortem” when Charles IV had the new Bohemian royal crown forged in his name. Although in the illustrations by Carol  he is portrayed as an old man with a long white beard, he died at a young age (aged 28 or 22), having reigned over medieval Bohemia for just over a decade. King Wenceslas I is instead the son of Ottocaro I, the first king of Bohemia from 1198 to 1230
2) letteralmente steccato, recinzione boschiva
3) carne e vino sono il cibo simbolico del sacrificio di Cristo
meat and wine are the symbolic food of the sacrifice of Christ
4) Nel momento in cui il paggio perde la speranza, è preso dallo sconforto, ma decide nonostante tutto di proseguire, avviene un piccolo miracolo: le orme del buon re emanano calore tale da scongelare la neve e riscaldare le zolle. La narrazione segue la leggenda secondo cui il buon re era solito andare di notte a piedi scalzi a fare elemosina ai poveri: il calore interno emanato dal suo amore verso Dio si trasmette attraverso le orme lasciate sul terreno.
When the page loses his hope, he is taken by despair, but still decides to continue, so a small miracle takes place: the footsteps of the good king give off such heat as to thaw the snow and heat the clods. The narrative follows the legend that the good king used to go barefoot at night to give alms to the poor: the internal heat emanating from his love for God is transmitted through the footsteps left on the ground.
5) anche se misericordia si traduce con mercy, è usata qui per blessing (benedizione) nel senso di elargizione ai poveri

In “Canti di Natale di tutto il mondo”  (1992) a cura di Egidio Corbetta , Ilio Manfredotti ha “tradotto” “Good King Wenceslas” in italiano, in realtà il brano è un testo completamente diverso dal titolo “Stella d’Oriente”
In “Canti di Natale di tutto il mondo” (1992) by Egidio Corbetta, Ilio Manfredotti has “translated” “Good King Wenceslas” in Italian, in reality the song is a completely different text entitled “Stella d’Oriente”


Let Us the Infant Greet

Loreena McKennitt sceglie per il suo primo album natalizio un paio di inni antichi o poco conosciuti. “Let us the Infant greet” è uno di questi, assente negli album confezionati per Natale e che corrisponde al “suo” concept-album natalizio.
Loreena McKennitt chooses for her first Christmas album a couple of ancient or little known hymns. “Let us the Infant greet” is one of these, absent in the albums registred for Christmas and that corresponds to “her” Christmas concept-album.
Da bambina la mia impressione più vivida della musica invernale è nata dalle canzoni e dagli inni registrati nelle chiese o nelle grandi sale, ricche della propria unica atmosfera e tradizione. In quello spirito, mi sono recata in vari simili luoghi che ho imparato ad apprezzare nei miei viaggi”
“As a child my most vivid impression of music for the winter season came from songs and carols recorded in churches or great halls, rich with their own unique ambience and tradition. In that spirit, I have ventured into several similar locations that I have come to cherish in my travels.”

Il canto nasce nell’ Ottocento e probabilmente la melodia è un tradizionale natalizio dell’Herefordshire; è l’esortazione ai Cristiani di riunirsi in chiesa in occasione della nascita di Gesù Bambino per cantare lodi al Signore e confidare nella meritata ricompensa per una vita virtuosa e devota (dopo la morte).
The song was born in the nineteenth century and probably the melody is a traditional Christmas carol of Herefordshire; it is the exhortation to Christians to gather in church on the occasion of the birth of the Child Jesus to sing praises to the Lord and trust in the deserved reward for a virtuous and devoted life (after death).

Loreena McKennitt in “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” 1987

Let us the Infant greet,
In worship before Him fall,
And let us pay Him homage meet,
On this His Festival.
Let us to the Infant sing,
And bring Him of gifts rich store,
Let us honour our Infant King!
With praise forevermore.
Let us to the Infant kneel,
And love Him with faithful love,
And let our joyous anthems peal,
For Him who reigns above.
Glad hymns in the Infant’s laud,
Sing we to Him while we may,
In heaven, where He is throned as God,
Our service He will pay.
Be we to the Infant true,
While we are dwelling on mould,
And He will give us our wages due,
A crown of purest gold (4)
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Dobbiamo salutare il Bambinello,
cadere in adorazione davanti a Lui,
e dobbiamo rendergli omaggio riuniti,
in questa sua festività.
Dobbiamo cantare al Bambinello,
e portargli doni in abbondanza,
dobbiamo onorare il nostro Re Bambino e lodarlo in eterno.
Dobbiamo inginocchiarci davanti al Bambinello, e amarlo con amore devoto, e dobbiamo innalzare(1) i nostri gioiosi inni, per Colui che regna in cielo
Lieti inni che lodano il Bambinello,
cantiamo a Lui finchè possiamo,
in Paradiso, dove Lui è in trono come Dio, il nostro servizio(2) Lui ci ricompenserà
(Dobbiamo) stare con il vero Bambinello,
mentre dimoriamo sulla terra (3),
e Lui ci darà la nostra giusta ricompensa,
una corona di oro zecchino (4)

1) to peal si usa per il rintocco delle campane, o per descrivere un rimbombo, con una sola parola si visualizza il canto dei fedeli rinforzato dall’eco di una chiesa
2) il termine service (che traduce sia servizio che messa, funzione) rinforza l’immagine dei fedeli riuniti in chiesa per la Messa di Natale
3) la frase si ricollega alla Genesi quando l’uomo è stato modellato da Dio con il fango, si potrebbe anche tradurre (in senso più letterale): “mentre viviamo in questo calco” (mentre abitiamo in queste spoglie mortali)
4) in genere in questi canti natalizi è sempre evocata la morte di Gesù così la corona dei giusti richiama la corona di spine portata da Gesù  in Croce
usually in these Christmas songs the death of Jesus is always evoked, so the crown of the just recalls the crown of thorns brought by Jesus on the Cross


“The two sisters” ballad: Binnorie

Leggi in italiano

The murder ballad “The two sisters” originates from Sweden or more generally from the Scandinavian countries (see “De två systrarna), but has spread widely also in some Eastern countries and in the British Isles

The variants in which it is present are many as well as the titles: The Twa Sisters, The Cruel Sister, The Bonnie Milldams of Binnorie, The Bonny Bows o’ London, Binnorie and Sister, Binnorie, Minnorie, Dear Sister, The Jealous Sister (Minorie), Bonnie Broom, Swan Swims Sae Bonny O, The Bonny Swans, Bow Your Bend to Me.


It tells the story of a love triangle with two sisters who contend for the attentions of a handsome young man, once his choice falls on the blonde one, the other (by chance with black hair) to have him all for herself, she kills her sister, pushing her down a cliff (or from the bank of a river).

John Faed: Cruel Sister

A dear theme to many pre-Raphaelite painters and more generally a recurring theme in 19th century painters (thanks to Sir Walter Scott’s good offices); in the painting of the Scot John Faed (1851) entitled “Cruel Sister” it is summarized the whole drama of jealousy at the center of history (read motive); a prince with an exotic charm (what a feathered hat!) holds a blond girl dressed in white satin by the hand, not only does the prince look at her and tenderly shakes her hand, but also points to a little dog in the foreground, to say, “here I am faithful”. What a grace and sweetness is suffused in the girl who, with modesty, turns her gaze to the ground, but her cheeks are colorated, a sign of a profound emotion that disturbs her. The other girl is slightly backward compared to the two lovers and , afflicted by dark thoughts, she looks at the prince; even if she grasps to his arm she is clearly the third wheel. (note that while the two lovers move with the same step the black lady moves in forward the left foot).

To understand the whole story, here is a Scottish fairy tale called “The Singing Breastbone” (from Fair is Fair: World Folktales of Justice of Sharon Creeden see) that already in the title announces a “gothic” story.


 The Singing Breastbone (Binnorie)

ONCE upon a time there were two king’s daughters who lived in a bower near the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie. And Sir William came wooing the elder and won her love, and plighted troth with glove and with ring. But after a time he looked upon the younger sister, with her cherry cheeks and golden hair, and his love went out to her till he cared no longer for the elder one. So she hated her sister for taking away Sir William’s love, and day by day her hate grew and grew and she plotted add she planned how to get rid of her.

Katharine Cameron (scot, 1874–1965): She has taken her by the lily white hand binnorie o binnorie

So one fine morning, fair and clear, she said to her sister, ‘Let us go and see our father’s boats come in at the bonny mill-stream of Binnorie.’ So they went there hand in hand. And when they came to the river’s bank, the younger one got upon a stone to watch for the beaching of the boats. And her sister, coming behind her, caught her round the waist and dashed her into the rushing mill-stream of Binnorie.
‘O sister, sister, reach me your hand !’ she cried, as she floated away, ‘and you shall have half of all I’ve got or shall get.’
‘No, sister, I’ll reach you no hand of mine, for I am the heir to all your land. Shame on me if I touch her hand that has come ‘twixt me and my own heart’s love.’
‘O sister, O sister, then reach me your glove !’ she cried, as she floated further away, ‘and you shall have your William again.’
Sink on,’ cried the cruel princess, ‘no hand or glove of mine you’ll touch. Sweet William will be all mine when you are sunk beneath the bonny mill-stream of Binnorie.’ And she turned and went home to the king’s castle.
And the princess floated down the mill-stream, sometimes swimming and sometimes sinking, till she came near the mill. Now, the miller’s daughter was cooking that day, and needed water for her cooking. And as she went to draw it from the stream, she saw something floating towards the mill-dam, and she called out, ‘Father ! father ! draw your dam. There’s something white–a merrymaid or a milk-white swan–coming down the stream.’ So the miller hastened to the dam and stopped the heavy, cruel mill-wheels. And then they took out the princess and laid her on the bank.
Fair and beautiful she looked as she lay there. In her golden hair were pearls and precious stones; you could not see her waist for her golden girdle, and the golden fringe of her white dress came down over her lily feet. But she was drowned, drowned !

And as she lay there in her beauty a famous harper passed by the mill-dam of Binnorie, and saw her sweet pale face. And though he travelled on far away, he never forgot that face, and after many days he came back to the bonny mill-stream of Binnorie. But then all he could find of her where they had put her to rest were her bones and her golden hair. So he made a harp out of her breast-bone and her hair, and travelled on up the hill from the mill-dam of Binnorie till he came to the castle of the king her father.

That night they were all gathered in the castle hall to hear the great harper–king and queen, their daughter and son, Sir William, and all their Court. And first the harper sang to his old harp, making them joy and be glad, or sorrow and weep, just as he liked. But while he sang, he put the harp he had made that day on a stone in the hall. And presently it began to sing by itself, low and clear, and the harper stopped and all were hushed.
And this is what the harp sung:
‘O yonder sits my father, the king,
Binnorie, O Binnorie;
And yonder sits my mother, the queen;
By the bonny mill-dams o’ Binnorie.

‘And yonder stands my brother Hugh,
Binnorie, O Binnone;
And by him my William, false and true;
By the bonny mill-dams o’ Binnorie.’

Then they all wondered, and the harper told them how he had seen the princess lying drowned on the bank near the bonny mill-dams o’ Binnorie, and how he had afterwards made his harp out of her hair and breast-bone. Just then the harp began singing again, and this is what it sang out loud and clear:
‘And there sits my sister who drowned me
By the bonny mill-dams o’ Binnorie.’

And the harp snapped and broke, and never sang more.

Giordano Dall’Armellina writes in his essay: “Summing up the English and the Scandinavian versions a hundred texts have been calculated: it is as if every singer had fun inventing something different to distinguish himself from the others. In some Norwegian variants the harp crash into many pieces and the blond princess returns to life while her black-haired sister is either burned alive or buried alive as a punishment for the crime committed.
In another, always Norwegian, the bones of the girl are used to make a flute that is brought to her family to make it play by everyone. When the cruel sister plays it, the blood gushes from it, thus denouncing her guilt. It follows a punishment: the sister is condemned to be tied to four horses that leave in four distinct directions and that will cut her to pieces. In a Swedish version the miller saves the girl and brings her back to her family. In the end the blond princess will forgive her sister for the attempted murder” (translated from Giordano  Dell’Armellina: “Ballate Europee da Boccaccio a Bob Dylan”.)

As usual, the fairy tale lends itself to multiple readings outside the text, symbolism focuses on the meaning of the bones, the swan and the water element (see) and yet in the American version the ballad becomes a more typical murder ballad


In Scotland the ballad was printed in 1656 under the title “The Miller and the King’s Daughter” (see) and then ended in the Child Ballads, (# 10), in his “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads”: the versions in Child are about twenty to underline the wide popularity and diffusion of the story (and also for the melodies there are many versions).

The version analyzed, however is that of Sir Walter Scott (in “Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border” 1802 see ) who with his books helped to reawaken the interest of contemporaries towards Medievalism.
The text is rich in Scottish terms, the plot is very similar to the fairy tale “The Singing Breastbone” of which the ballad seems to be the sung version, the tragic epilogue is tinged with magic with the bones of the girl become musical instrument to unmask the killer.

Custer LaRue&Baltimore Consort in The Daemon Lover, 1993 a medieval version

There were twa sisters sat in a bow’r(1)
Binnorie, O Binnorie (2)
There cam a knight to be their wooer.

By the bonnie mill-dams of Binnorie .
He courted the eldest wi’ glove and ring (3)/But he lo’ed the youngest aboon a’thing.
The eldest she was vexed sair
And sore envied her sister fair.
The eldest said to the youngest ane:
“Will you go and see our father’s ships come in”
She’s ta’en her by the lily hand
And led her down to the river strand.
The youngest stude upon a stane
The eldest cam’ and pushed her in.
“Oh sister, sister reach your hand
And ye shall be heir of half my land”
“Oh sister, I’ll not reach my hand
And I’ll be heir of all your land.”
“Oh sister, reach me but your glove
And sweet William shall be your love.”
“Sink on, nor hope for hand or glove
And sweet William shall better be my love.”
Sometimes she sunk, sometimes she swam
Until she cam to the miller’s dam.
The miller’s daughter was baking bread
And gaed for water as she had need.
“O father, father, draw your dam!
There’s either a mermaid or a milk-white swan (4).”
The miller hasted and drew his dam
And there he found a drown’d woman.
Ye couldna see her yellow hair
For gowd and pearls that were sae rare.
Ye coldna see her middle sma’
Her gowden girdle was sae braw.
Ye couldna see her lily feet
Her gowden fringes were sae deep.
A famous harper passing by
The sweet pale face he chanced to spy.
And when he looked that lady on
He sighed, and made a heavy moan.
He made a harp (5) o’ her breast bone
Whose sounds would melt a heart of stone.
The strings he framed of her yellow hair,/Their notes made sad the listening ear.
He brought it to her father’s ha’
There was the court assembled there.
He layed the harp upon a stane (6)
And straight it began to play alane.
“O yonder sits my father the King
And yonder sits my mother, the queen.”
“And yonder stands my brother Hugh
And by him, my William, sweet and true.”
But the last tune that the harp played then
Was: “Woe to my sister, false Helen”
1) in the Middle Ages, bower indicated the private room of the lady of the castle, not exactly the bedroom when the room in which she stayed with her maidservants.
2) Scott replaces the refrain “Edinburgh, Edinburgh” inspired by the battle of Binnorie (to commemorate the Scottish wars of independence)
3) Giving the ring and the glove in medieval times was a promise of marriage. To be courted was the older sister, it was a matter of a arranged marriage. in which however the young falls in love with the younger sister
4)  The comparison emphasizes the purity and innocence of the girl who is presumed not to have encouraged the advances of the suitor.
5)  a magical harp, in fact, as soon as it is placed on a stone, it begins to sing alone. Here we refer to the Viking belief that the soul resides in the bones (the bones of the dead accuse their murderers). The killer sister who was about to marry, is unmasked by her sister’s ghost and will surely be punished as she deserves.
It is reasonable to assume that in the Scandinavian versions the instrument was in reality an arched crwth or lyra: also called “Germanic crwth” – to underline its northern origin – the instrument can also be equipped with a central keyboard and you play with the bow being probably the ancestor of the violin. In Wales it is called crwth (while in Ireland it is called cruith) and the central keyboard bears six strings, two of which the drone strings (“loafer string”). This instrument, which scholars are uncertain if they consider it to be completely indigenous and attributed to the Scandinavian area, (see)
6) referring to the ability of the harp to soften a heart of stone (black heart) so its magic song begins only when they placed it on a stone

Dorothy Carter with hammer dulcimer

Giordano  Dell’Armellina in “Racconti comuni in ballate italiane, svedesi e  britanniche: un confronto” see
Giordano  Dell’Armellina: “Ballate Europee da Boccaccio a Bob Dylan”.

Le quattro stagioni (The seasons)

The seasons è un brano tradizionale cantato da Loreena McKennitt nell’album “To Drive the Cold Winter Away”  (1987). L’unico riferimento che ho trovato nel WEB classifica il brano come un tradizionale inglese ottocentesco arrangiato da Loreena.
E’ il girotondo delle stagioni e degli onesti piaceri di una vita semplice e laboriosa.
[The seasons is a traditional song sung by Loreena McKennitt on the album “To Drive the Cold Winter Away” (1987).
The only reference I found in the WEB classifies the song as a English traditional from nineteenth-century  arranged by Loreena.

It is the circle of the seasons and the honest pleasures of a simple and hard-working life.]

Come all you lads and lasses, I’d have you give attention
To these few lines I’m about to write here,
Tis of the four seasons of the year that I shall mention,
The beauty of all things doth appear.
And now you are young and all in your prosperity,
Come cheer up your hearts and revive like the spring
Join off in pairs like the birds in February
That St. Valentine’s Day it forth do bring.
Then cometh Spring, which all the land doth nourish;
The fields are beginning to be decked with green,
The trees put forth their buds and the blossoms they do flourish,
And the tender blades of corn on the earth are to be seen.
Don’t you see the little lambs by the dams a-playing?
The cuckoo is singing in the shady grove.
The flowers they are springing, the maids they go a-Maying,
In love all hearts seem now to move.
Next cometh Autumn with the sun so hot and piercing;
The sportsman goes forth with his dog and his gun
To fetch down the woodcock, the partridge and the pheasant,
For health and for profit as well as for fun.
Behold, with loaded apple-trees the farmer is befriended,
They will fill up his casks that have long laid dry.
All nature seems to weary now, her task is nearly ended,
And more of the seasons will come by and by.
When night comes on with song and tale we pass the wintryhours;
By keeping up a cheerful heart we hope for better days.
We tend the cattle, sow the seed, give work unto the ploughers,
With patience wait till winter yields before the sun’s fairrays.
And so the world goes round and round, and every time and season
With pleasure and with profit crowns the passage of the year,
And so through every time of life, to him who acts with reason,
The beauty of all things doth appear.
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
Venite ragazzi e ragazze, vorrei avere la vostra attenzione
Su queste poche righe che mi accingo a scrivere qui
E’ delle quattro stagioni dell’anno che vi parlerò
Per mostrare la bellezza di ogni cosa.
Ed ora siete giovani e floridi
Venite a rallegrare i vostri cuori e a rinascere come la primavera
unitevi a coppie come gli uccelli nel mese di febbraio
Che il giorno di San Valentino
Poi viene la Primavera, che a tutta la terra dà nutrimento
I campi cominceranno ad adornarsi di verde
gli alberi germoglieranno, e i fiori cominceranno a sbocciare
e i teneri steli del grano nel terreno spunteranno.
Non vedete le pecorelle che giocano presso i rivi?
Il cuculo sta cantando nel boschetto ombroso
I fiori fanno capolino, le fanciulle festeggiano il Calendimaggio
Tutti i cuori sembrano ora battere innamorati
Segue l’autunno con il sole così caldo e penetrante
Il cacciatore esce con cane e  fucile
Per catturare la beccaccia, la pernice e il fagiano
Per bisogno, per profitto e anche per divertimento
Osservate, con meli carichi di frutti l’agricoltore è soddisfatto
riempiranno le sue botti che a lungo sono rimaste vuote.
Tutta la natura sembra stanca ora, il suo compito è quasi ultimato
quasi tutte le stagioni sono sfilate una ad una.
Quando scende la notte con canzoni e storie noi trascorriamo le ore invernali
Per mantenere un cuore allegro speriamo in giorni migliori
Accudiamo il bestiame, seminiamo, diamo lavoro agli aratori,
Con pazienza aspettiamo che l’inverno si arrenda ai raggi gentili del sole.
E così il mondo continua a girare ed ogni tempo e stagione
Con piacere e con benefici corona il passaggio dell’anno,
E così in ogni periodo della vita, a colui che si comporta con senno,
appare la bellezza di tutte le cose 


A blacksmith courted me

Leggi in italianoblacksmiths-forge-1859-grangerIn folk songs the blacksmith is always considered a synonym of virility, a very gifted lover with a portentose force.
“A blacksmith courted me” also simply titled “The Blacksmith”, comes from the English folk tradition and is reported in many collections of the early twentieth century; a piece that is not properly found in Irish tradition but has been interpreted by various Celtic artists. It was Ralph Vaughan Williams who picked it up in the field in 1909 from Mrs. Ellen Powell of Westhope near Weobley, Herefordshire.

The Anvil Priest is a figure particularly widespread in Scotland, he declare the couple husband and wife with a hammer blow on the anvil !


The blacksmith leaves his love in the village (to seek his fortune abroad), writes a love letter (but false) and returns married to another.

Planxty live 1979:  version and arrangement become “standard”, the instrumental part written by Andy Irvine has then further evolved into a jig that has taken on life in dance sessions.

Eddi Reader  from”Mirmama” 1991 (world music)

Loreena McKennitt from Elemental 1985

Lisa Knapp from “Wild and Undaunted” 2007

David Gibb & Elly Lucas from “Old Chairs to Mend” 2012

Sheila Chandra ( I, III, IV, V, I)

FromThe Penguin Book Of English Folk Songs, “Sung by Mrs. Powell, nr. Weobley, Herefordshire. [Collected by] Ralph Vaughan Williams 1909.”

A blacksmith courted me,
nine months and better
he fairly won my heart,
wrote me a letter
with his hammer in his hand (1),
he looked quite clever
and if I was with my love,
I’d live forever
But where is my love gone
with his cheeks like roses?
and his good black billycock on
decked round with primroses?
I’m afraid the shining sun
will shine and burn his beauty
and if I was with my love,
I’d do my duty
Strange news is come to town,
strange news is carried
strange news flies up and down
that my love is married
I wish them both much joy
though they can’t hear me
and may God reward him well
for the slighting of me(2)
“Don’t you remember when
you lay beside me,
and you said you’d marry me
and not deny me”
“If I said I’d marry you,
it was only for to try you
so bring your witness love
and I’ll not deny you”
“No, witness have I none
save God almighty
and may he reward you well
for the slighting of me”
Her lips grew pale and wan,
it made her poor heart tremble
to think she loved a one
and he proved deceitful.

1) in the letter was to be included a photograph of him at work
2) obviously these are curses
3) the blacksmith continues to deny the evidence!


The song is also played in instrumental version as a jig probably developing the version of Planxty.
“Merry Blacksmith”  is instead  a reel

http://www.pteratunes.org.uk/Music/Music/Lyrics/Blacksmith2.html http://thesession.org/tunes/1526
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=10786 http://www.china2galway.com/song%20words%20Blacksmith.htm