“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”.

Standing Stones by Loreena McKennitt

Una murder ballad composta da Loreena McKennitt seguendo i canoni della ballata tradizionale, per narrare una tragica storia d’amore finita nel sangue a causa della gelosia.
[A murder ballad composed by Loreena McKennitt following the canons of the traditional ballad, to tell a tragic love story ended in blood because of jealousy.]
Il geloso questa volta non è all’interno della coppia, ma è un promesso sposo respinto dalla ragazza, ci troviamo forse davanti ad un matrimonio combinato dalle famiglie mentre i due veri amanti si sposano in segreto con il rito dell’handfasting, scambiandosi le promesse in un luogo sacro, il cerchio di pietre degli Antenati.
[The jealous one this time is not within the couple, but he is a pretendent rejected by the girl; we are perhaps in front of a marriage combined by families while the two true lovers get married in secret with the handfasting, exchanging their votes in a sacred place, the circle of stones of the Ancestors.]

La storia è ambientata nelle isole Orcadi (Scozia) che custodiscono un grande santuario megalitico risalente al Neolitico, uno dei siti più antichi delle Isole Britanniche.
[The story is set in the Orkney Islands (Scotland) which house a large megalithic sanctuary dating back to the Neolithic, one of the oldest sites in the British Isles.]

Jim Richardson: Stones of Stenness (foto tratta da qui)

Loreena McKennitt in “Parallel Dreams”

In one of these lonely Orkney Isles
There dwelled a maiden fair.
Her cheeks were red, her eyes were blue/She had yellow, curling hair.
Which caught the eye and then the heart
Of one who could never be
A lover of so true a mind
Or fair a form as she.
Across the lake in Sandwick(1)
Dwelled a youth she held most true,
And ever since her infancy
He had watched these eyes so blue.
The land runs out to the sea
It’s a narrow neck of land
Where weird and grim the Standing Stones/ In a circle where they stand (2).
One bonny moonlight Christmas Eve
They met at that sad place.
With her heart in glee and the beams of love
Were shining on her face
When her lover came and he grasped her hand
And what loving words they said
They talked of future’s happy days,
As through the stones they strayed.
They walked toward the lovers’ stone
And through it passed their hands.
They plighted there a constant troth
Sealed by love’s steadfast bands
He kissed his maid and then he watched her
That lonely bridge go o’er.
For little, little did he think
He wouldn’t see his darling more.
Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Gazing out to sea
Standing Stones of the Orkney Isles
Bring my love to me.
He turned his face toward his home
That home he did never see
And you shall have the story
As it was told to me.
When a form upon him sprang
With a dagger gleaming bright
It pierced his heart and his dying screams
Disturbed the silent night.
This maid had nearly reached her home
When she was startled by a cry.
And she turned to look around her
And her love was standing by
His hand was pointing to the stars
And his eyes gazed at the light.
And with a smiling countenance
He vanished from her sight.
She quickly turned and home she ran
Not a word of this was said,
For well she knew at seeing his form
That her faithful love was dead.
And from that day she pined away,
Not a smile seen on her face,
And with outstretched arms she went to meet him
In a brighter place.
Traduzione italiana Cattia Salto
In una delle solitarie isole Orcadi
viveva una dama bella-
aveva guance di rosa e occhi azzurri,
aveva capelli biondi e fluenti
che catturarono prima lo sguardo e poi il cuore
di uno che non sarebbe mai stato degno di un’anima così sincera o leale come la sua.
Oltre il lago a Sandwick viveva un giovane a cui lei teneva davvero e fin dalla sua infanzia, lui aveva ammirato quegli occhi così azzurri.
La terra si esaurisce nel mare,
in uno stretto lembo di terra
dove strani e  sinistri i Menhir
stanno in cerchio.
In una bella vigilia di Natale al chiaro di luna s’incontrarono in quel posto triste
lei con il cuore contento
e i tremiti d’amore
che le brillavano sul viso;
poi il suo innamorato giunse e la prese per mano,
tante  parole d’amore si dissero,
parlarono dei loro futuri giorni felici
mentre tra le pietre passeggiavano.
Camminarono fino  alla pietra degli amanti
e attraverso ad essa passarono le mani e stipularono là un patto di fedeltà sigillato dal laccio d’amore.
Lui baciò la sposa e poi la guardò
andare oltre quel ponte solitario,
per un solo istante pensò che non avrebbe più rivisto il suo amore!
Menhir delle isole Orcadi
che contemplate il mare
Menhir delle isole Orcadi
riportate il mio amore da me
Lui diresse lo sguardo verso casa
quella casa che non aveva mai visto
e voi dovreste conoscere la storia
come mi fu narrata.
Ecco una sagoma su di lui si gettò
con uno stiletto scintillante
gli trafisse il cuore e i suoi gemiti da moribondo
turbarono la notte silenziosa.
La fanciulla aveva quasi raggiunto casa
quando fu scossa da un grido
e si guardò intorno
e il suo amore stava dritto in piedi
con la mano puntava alle stelle
e gli occhi fissavano la luce,
poi con una espressione sorridente
svanì alla sua vista.
Veloce si voltò e corse verso casa
non disse una parola di ciò,
perchè bene sapeva da quello che aveva visto che il suo amore fedele era morto.
E da quel giorno lei languiva,
non un sorriso si vedeva sul suo viso,
e a braccia aperte andò a incontrarlo in un posto più luminoso

1) Sandwick (dal norreno con significato Sandy Bay) è un villaggio sulla costa ovest della Mainland l’isola principale delle Orcadi
[Sandwick (from Old Norse with meaning Sandy Bay) is a village on the west coast of Mainland, the main island of Orkney]
2) si tratta delle Pietre erette di Stenness (Stones of Stenness) accanto al lago omonimo. Una pietra, conosciuta come la “Pietra di Odino”, aveva un buco circolare che veniva usato dalle coppie locali per scambiarsi le promesse. Si svolgevano attorno alla pietra anche altre cerimonie curative. La pietra fu distrutta da un contadino del luogo nel 1814 stanco dei turisti e dei rituali che si svolgevano intorno ai menhir  vicini ai suoi campi. Della pietra con il foro ci restano solo dei disegni. Il sito di Stennes presenta delle pietro molto alte (5 metri) ma il cerchio più grande anche se meno imponente si trova poco distante detto Cerchio di Brodgar (Ring of Brodgar)
[it is the Standing Stones of Stenness next to the lake of the same name. A stone, known as the “Odin Stone”, had a circular hole that was used by local couples to exchange promises. Other healing ceremonies took place around the stone. The stone was destroyed by a local peasant in 1814 tired of tourists and rituals that took place around the menhirs near his fields. Only the drawings remain of the stone with the hole. The site of Stennes has very high stones (5 meters) but the largest circle, although less impressive, is located not far from the Ring of Brodgar]


John Barleycorn must die!

Leggi in italiano

John Barleycorn (in Italian Giovanni Chicco d’Orzo) is a traditional song spread in England and Scotland, focused on this popular character, embodiment of the spirit of beer and whiskey. (see)
There are several text versions collected at different times; the oldest known is from 1460.
As often happens with the most popular ballads we talk about family in reference to a set of texts and melodies connected to each other or related.

The plot traced by Pete Wood is well documented and we refer you to his John Barleycorn revisited for the deepening: the first ballad that identifies a man as the spirit of barley is Allan-a-Maut (Allan del Malto) and it comes from Scotland .
The first ballad that bears the name John Barleycorn is instead of 1624, printed in London “A Pleasant new Ballad.To be sung evening and morn, of the bloody murder of Sir John Barleycorn” shortened in The Pleasant Ballad: as Pete Wood points out, all the elements that characterize the current version of the ballad are already present, the oath of the knights to kill John, the rain that quenches him, and the sun that warms him to give him energy, the miller who grinds him between two stones.

Originale screenprint by Paul Bommer (da qui)


spirito-granoIt is narrated the death of the King of Barley according to myths and beliefs that date back to the beginning of the peasant culture, customs that were followed in England in these forms until the early decades of the ‘900.
According to James George Frazier in “The Golden Bough“, anciently “John” was chosen among the youth of the tribe and treated like a king for a year; at the appointed time, however, he was killed, following a macabre ritual: his body was dragged across the fields so that the blood soaked the earth and fed the barley.

More recently in the Celtic peasant tradition the spirit of the wheat entered the reaper who cut the last sheaf (who symbolically killed the god) and he had to be sacrificed just as described in the song (or at least figuratively and symbolically). see more

However, the spirit of the Wheat-Barley never dies because it is reborn the following year with the new crop, its strength and its ardor are contained in the whiskey that is obtained from the distillation of barley malt!


“The Pleasant ballad” was set to the tune “Shall I Lie Beyond Thee?” on the broadside.63  This tune is quoted by a number of sources by a variety of very similar titles, including “Lie Lulling Beyond Thee” .  It is this writer’s belief from a variety of considerations, including Simpson 64 that these are one and the same tune.  There has been some confusion regarding the use of the tune “Stingo” for various members of the family.  Several publications say that John Barleycorn should be sung to this tune, (including Dixon), and some people have assumed this was the tune for “The Pleasant Ballad.”  These impressions seem to have originated from Chappell 65, who meant that “Stingo” was the tune for another member of the family “The Little Barleycorne”, a view which accords with his own comments on the version in the Roxburghe Ballads 66, with Simpson, and Baring-Gould who says ‘[Stingo] is not the air used in the broadsides nor in the west of England’ 67.  Two further tunes, “The Friar & the Nun” and “Twas when the seas were roaring”, are mentioned by Simpson.  Mas Mault has been suggested to be set to the tune “Triumph and Joy”, the original title of “Greensleeves”. 68 (Pete Wood)

In fact, as many as 45 different melodies have been used for centuries for this ballad, and Pete Wood analyzes the four most common melodies.


The 1906 version of John Stafford published by Sharp in English Folk Songs is probably the melody that comes closest to the time of James I
The Young Tradition


The Shepherd Haden version became “standard” for being included in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.T

Traffic (Learned by Mike Waterson)

Traffic lyrics
There was three men come out of the West
Their fortunes for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn(1) must die.
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Throwing clods all on his head
And these three men made a solemn vow
John barleycorn was Dead.
They’ve left him in the ground for a very long time
Till the rains from heaven did fall
Then little Sir John’s sprung up his head
And so amazed them all
They’ve left him in the ground till the Midsummer
Till he’s grown both pale and wan
Then little Sir John’s grown a long, long beard
And so become a man.
They hire’d men with their scythes so sharp
To cut him off at the knee.
They’ve bound him and tied him around the waist
Serving him most barb’rously
They hire’d men with their sharp pitch-forks
To prick him to the heart
But the drover he served him worse than that
For he’s bound him to the cart.
They’ve rolled him around and around the field
Till they came unto a barn
And there they made a solemn mow
Of Little Sir John Barleycorn
They’ve hire’d men with their crab-tree sticks
To strip him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.
Here’s Little sir John in the nut-brown bowl(2)
And brandy in the glass
But Little Sir John in the nut-brown bowl’s
Proved the stronger man at last
For the hunts man he can’t hunt the fox
Nor so loudly blow his horn
And the tinker, he can’t mend Kettles or pots
Without a little of Sir John Barleycorn.
1)  the spirit of beer and whiskey
2) The cask of walnut or oak used today to age the whiskey

Jetro Tull live

Damh The Bard from The Hills They Are Hollow


The version of Robert Pope taken by Vaughan Williams in his Folk Song Suite
version for choir and orchestra


from Shropshire
Fred Jordan live

Jean-François Millet - Buckwheat Harvest Summer 1868
Jean-François Millet – Buckwheat Harvest Summer 1868


The version published by Robert Burns in 1782, reworks the ancient folk song and becomes the basis of subsequent versions

The first 3 stanzas are similar to the standard version, apart from the three kings coming from the east to make the solemn oath to kill John Barleycorn, in fact in the English version the three men arrive from the West: to me personally the hypothesis that Burnes he wanted to point out the 3 Magi Kings … it does not seem pertinent to the deep pagan substratum of history: Christianity (or the cult of the God of Light) doesnt want to kill the King of the Wheat, unless you identify the king of the Grain with the Christ (a “blasphemous” comparison that was immediately removed from subsequent versions).

History is the detailed transformation of the grain spirit, grown strong and healthy during the summer, reaped and threshed as soon as autumn arrives, and turned into alcohol; and the much more detailed description (always compared to the standard version) of the pleasures that it provides to men, so that they can draw from the drink, intoxication and inspiration. Burns was notoriously a great connoisseur of whiskey and the last verse is right in his style!

The indicated melody is Lull [e] Me Beyond Thee; other melodies that fit the lyrics are “Stingo” (John Playford, 1650) and “Up in the Morning Early”
The version of the Tickawinda takes up part of the text by singing the stanzas I, II, III, V, VII, XV

Robert Burns
There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a  plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead
But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all
The sultry suns  of Summer came,
And he grew  thick and strong,
His head weel   arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one  should him wrong.
The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.
His coulour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then ty’d him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie(1).
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turn’d him o’er and o’er.
They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim,
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe,
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.
They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a Miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two stones.
And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise,
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.
‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy:
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
1) the condemned to death were transported to the place of the gallows on a cart for the public mockery

Steeleye Span from Below the Salt 1972

I (Spoken)
There were three men
Came from the west
Their fortunes for to tell,
And the life of John Barleycorn as well.
They laid him in three furrows deep,
Laid clods upon his head,
Then these three man made a solemn vow
John Barleycorn was dead.
The let him die for a very long time
Till the rain from heaven did fall,
Then little Sir John sprang up his head
And he did amaze them all.
They let him stand till the midsummer day,
Till he looked both pale and wan.
The little Sir John he grew a long beard
And so became a man.
Fa la la la, it’s a lovely day
Fa la la la lay o
Fa la la la, it’s a lovely day
Sing fa la la la lay
They have hired men with the scythes so sharp,
To cut him off at the knee,
The rolled him and they tied him around the waist,
They served him barbarously.
They have hired men with the crab-tree sticks,
To cut him skin from bone,
And the miller has served him worse than that,
For he’s ground him between two stones.
They’ve wheeled him here,
they’ve wheeled him there,
They’ve wheeled him to a barn,
And thy have served him worse than that,
They’ve bunged him in a vat.
They have worked their will on John Barleycorn
But he lived to tell the tale,
For they pour him out of an old brown jug
And they call him home brewed ale(1).
1) The oldest drink in the world obtained from the fermentation of various cereals. The beer originally was classified out as “beer” (with hops) and “ale” (without hops) . Its processing processes start with a spontaneous fermentation of the starch (ie the sugar) that is the main component in cereals, when they come into contact with water, due to wild yeasts contained in the air. And just as in bread, female food, EARTH, WATER, AIR and FIRE combine magically to give life to a divine food that strengthens and inebriates.
The English term of homebrewing or the art of home-made beer translates into Italian with an abstruse word: domozimurgia and domozimurgo is the producer of homemade beer in which domo, is the Latin root for “home”; zimurgo is the one who practices “zimurgy”, or the science of fermentation processes. The domozimurgo is therefore the one who, within his own home, studies, applies and experiments the alchemy of fermentation. Making beer for your own consumption (including that of the inevitable friends and relatives) is absolutely legal as well as fun and relatively simple although you never stop learning through the exchange of experiences and experimentati
see more

And finally the COLLAGE of the versions of Tickawinda, Avalon Rising, John Renbourn, Lanterna Lucis Viriditatis, Xenis Emputae, Travelling Band, Louis Killen, Traffic


Donna Lombarda: a murder ballad from Italy

Leggi in italiano

“Donna Lombarda” (“Dame Lombarde” means “Lady from Lombardy,”) or “Dona Bianca”  (Dame White) is perhaps the most famous of the Italian ballads, also widespread in France and French Canada (Quebec). The ballad handed down to the present day through an infinity of regional variations, tells the story of a young wife instigated by her lover to poison her husband and of a newborn baby who miraculously begins to speak to reveal the intrigue. A typical murder ballad of Celtic area with a supernatural event!

Costantino Nigra considers “Donna Lombarda” originally from Piedmont and, according to the belief of the time that the ancient folk ballads reported the historical events dating back to the Middle Ages, identifies the woman in the Queen of the Lombards, Rosmunda; here is the legend, as the chronicle reported by Paul Deacon in the Historia Longobardorum: in 572 the daughter of the kings of the Gepids (ancient Pannonia) taken in marriage by the kings of the Lombards Alboin as “war trophy” organized the plot for killing her husband in favor of his lover Elmichi. However, the attempt to usurpation was unsuccessful and Rosmunda and Elmichi fled to Ravenna (together with part of the Longobard treasure). In Ravenna the two got married but Rosmunda had not lost the vice of infidelity, so soon after she tried to kill her second husband with the classic system so much advertised in the folk ballads: the poisoned food. Elmichi noticed the poison as he drank from the cup and forced Rosmunda to drink with him, thus they died killed by the same potion!

Queen Eleanor - Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys 1858
Queen Eleanor – Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys 1858


Probably the ballad “Dame Lombard” is not so ancient but it is spread in a large area from the North to the South of Italy. The textual and melodic versions change and the lyrics are adapted to the various dialects or rendered in an Italian so to speak “popular”, collected and classified here only in a small part.


The ballad with the title of “Dona Bianca”  is based on dialogues between the protagonists: the unfaithful wife, the lover, the husband and the child prodigy (because he speaks from the cradle while being newborn) . Yet an ancient noble context emerges in a few words : the husband returns from the hunt, preferred pastime by the medieval aristocracy, the garden where to find the snake is of a nobleman, the same name “Madonna” is a medieval term that is wife of a “dominus”.

La Lionetta (this song appears in several recordings, the first is in the album “Dances and Ballads of the Italian Celtic Area” Shirak, 1978) The version comes from Asti where it was collected by R. Leydi and F. Coggiola

O vòstu v’tti o dona Bianca
o vòstu v’nial ballo cun mi?
O si si si che mi a v ‘niria
ma j’o paura del me mari
Va n ‘tei giardino del mio galante(1)
la ié la testa dal serpentin
E ti t lu pie t lo piste in póer
e poi t’iu bute hit’un bicier ad vin
E so mari veti cà d’la cassa
o dona Bianca jo tanta sei
Ma va di là ‘nt’ la botejera
la jé un bicier dal vin pi bum
El cit enfant l’era ant’la cuna
papa papa beiv pò lulì
che la mamina vói fete muri
O beivlu ti o dona Bianca
se no t’lu fas beive a fil da spà
O si si si che mi lo bevria
ma jó paura d’ie mie masnà(2)
English translation  Cattia Salto
Do you want to come, Dame White ,
Do you want to come to the dance with me? “/”I’d like to come,
but I’m afraid of my husband.”
“Go to the garden of my gallant
there is the head of a serpent
and you take it and reduce it to dust
and then put it in a glass of wine ”
And the husband comes home from hunting/”O Dame White I am so thirsty”
“Go over to the cellar
there is a glass of the best wine ”
The little baby who was in the cradle/ “Daddy, daddy do not drink it
because mom wants to make you die ”
“Drink it yourself Dame White
otherwise I force you to drink with my sword “/ “Or yes, I would drink it,
but I fear for my children ”

1) “galante” stands for a gentleman, a noble courtier; in other versions the garden is of the mother or the father of the woman
2) the woman tries to escape death by invoking her role as a mother. But the ballad is not complete, we can only imagine that the woman, forced by the sword to drink from the glass, dies poisoned!

In this other version coming from the land of “Quattro Province” the context is more direct and popular, instead of the invitation to the court ball, the man asks to have sex and the husband is back from work in the fields; but the ending is more complete both in the description of the woman’s death by poisoning that in the moralizing closing sentence.

Barabàn from Baraban 1994, text version collected in the field by the voice of Angelina Papa (1908), rice-worker of Sannazzaro de ‘Burgondi (Pavia)

Dona lombarda dona lombarda
fuma a l’amur fuma a l’amur
Mi no mi no o sciur cavaliere
che mi ‘l marito gh’i l’ò giamò
Là int’al giardino del mio bèl padre
si gh’è la testa dal serpentìn
la ciaparemo la pistaremo
fum ‘na butiglia dal noster bon vin
A vegn a cà ‘l sò marì d’in campagna
dona lombarda g’ò tanta set
O guarda lì int’la cardensola
gh’è una butiglia dal noster bon vin
L’è salta sù ‘l fantulìn de la cüna
bevalo nein bevalo nein
Cosa vuol dire dona lombarda
al noster bon vin l’è un po’ tulberì
Sarà la pulvara d’la cardensola
cà la fà ‘gnì un po’ tulberì
Dona lombarda dona lombarda
al noster bon vin t’la bévare ti
La prima guta che lu ‘l g’a dato
le la cumìncia a cambià i culur
secunda guta che la beviva
in tèra morta sì l’è cascà
Dona lombarda dona lombarda
arrivederci in paradìs
tà s’ta scardiva de fag’la ai alter
e ta t’le fada di ‘m bèla per tì
English translation  Cattia Salto
“Dame Lombarde, Dame Lombarde
let’s make love, let’s make love. ”
“Not me, not me, sir knight
that I have a husband already. ”
“There in the garden of my good father
there is the head of a pretty snake.
We’ll take it, we’ll crush it
in a bottle of our good wine. ”
Her husband comes house from fields
“Lombard woman, I am so thirsty”
“Oh, look there in the cupboard
there is a bottle of our good wine ”
the baby jumped on from the cradle:
“Do not drink it, do not drink it!”
“What does it mean, Dame Lombarde,
that our good wine is a little cloudy? ”
“It will be the dust of the cupboard
which makes it a little cloudy ”
Dame Lombarde, Dame Lombarde
our good wine, drink it! ”
After the first sip,
she begins to turn pale,.
after the second
she falled to the ground, dead.
“Dame Lombarde, Dame Lombarde
see you in Heaven!
You thought you were betraying others and you did it yourself. ”

Davide Bortolai from Ballate Lombarde 2007 (a remake very similar to the French version of the Malicorne)

The version from Venice has become a sort of “standard” supra-regional version

Giovanna Iris Daffini called “Callas of the Poor” in the text re-elaboration of Gualtiero Bertelli (founder of the Canzoniere Popolare Veneto)

 Francesco De Gregori & Giovanna Marini  from “Il fischio del vapore” – 2002 (Rome)

Fabrizio Poggi & Turututela fromCanzoni popolari 2002 (Pavia)

Le tre versioni testuali sono abbastanza simili, si riporta quella di Gualtiero Bertelli:

“Amami me che sono re”
“non posso amarti tengo marì”
“Tuo marito fallo morire, t’insegnerò come devi far:
Vai nell’orto del tuo buon padre taglia la testa di un serpentin
Prima la tagli e poi la schiacci
e poi la metti dentro nel vin”
Ritorna a casa il marì dai camp
” Donna Lombarda oh che gran sé”
“Bevilo bianco bevilo nero
bevilo pure come vuoi tu”
“Cos’è sto vino così giallino?”
“Sarà l’avanzo di ieri ser”
Ma un bambino di pochi mesi sta nella culla e vuole parlar
“O caro padre non ber quel vino
Donna Lombarda l’avvelenò”
“Bevilo tu o Donna Lombarda
tu lo berrai e poi morirai”
“E per amore del Re di Spagna
io lo berrò e poi morirò”
La prima goccia che lei beveva
lei malediva il suo bambin
Seconda goccia che lei beveva
lei malediva il suo marì
English translation  Cattia Salto
“Love me I’m a king”
“I can not love you I have a husband”
“Your husband will die, I will teach you how you must do:
Go to the garden of your good father cut the head of a snake
First cut it and then crush it and then put it in the wine ”
The husband returns from the fields
“Dame Lombarde I am so thirsty”
“Drink a withe wine, drink a red wine, drink it as you want”
“What is this wine so yellow?”
“it will be last night’s surplus”
But a child of a few months is in the cradle and wants to talk
“O dear father do not drink that wine
for Lombard Woman poisoned it”
“Drink it you Dame Lombarde
you will drink it and then you will die”
“And for love of the King of Spain
I will drink it and then I will die”
The first  sip she drank
was cursing her baby
after the second
she cursed her husband


Angelo Branduardi & Scintille di musica (Mantuan area) the version of Branduardi is shorter compared to the recording of Bruno Pianta collected by Andreina Fortunati of Villa Garibaldi (MN), 1975 (for the extended version here) The song is accompanied by the hurdy-gurdy, a typical popular instrument from the Middle Ages.

Donna lombarda, donna lombarda,
Ameme mì.
Cos volt che t’ama che ci ho il marito
Che lu ‘l mi vuol ben.
Vuoi vhe t’insegna a farlo morire
T’insegnerò mi.
Va co’ dell’orto del tuo buon padre
Là c’è un serpentin.
Vien cà il marito tutto assetato
Và a trar quel vin(1).
Ed un bambino di pochi anni
Lu l’ha palesà.
O caro padre non bere quel vino
Che l’è avvelenà.
Donna lombarda, bevi quel vino,
che l’è avvelenà. (2)
English translation  Cattia Salto
“Dame Lombarde, Dame Lombarde
love me ”
“How can I love you? I have a husband
who loves me”
“Do you want to teach you for killing him?/ I’ll teach you .
Go to the bottom of your good father’s garden,/ there is a little snake. ”
A thirsty husband comes home,
goes to get some wine.
But a child of a few years
he revealed it.
“O dear father, do not drink that wine
that is poisoned. ”
“Lombard woman, drink that wine,
that is poisoned. ”

1) Branduardi skips the part where the woman crushes the head of the snake and puts it in the bottle of the best wine, as well as the fact that the husband knows how the wine is more turbid.
2) the ending

“Sol per amore del re di Francia,
sol per amore, del re di Francia io lo beverò
e poi morirò.”
Ogni goccino che lei beveva,
ogni goccino,che lei beveva: ”addio marì,
ciao marì”.
La s’intendeva da farla agli altri
la s’intendeva, da farla agli altri
la s’ l’è fata a le’
la s’ l’è fata a le’.
English translation  Cattia Salto
“I will drink it only for the love of the king of France,
I will drink it only for the love of the king of France,/and then I will die. ”
Every little drop that she drank
every little drop she drank: “farewell my husband.
Hi husband. ”
She really believed she was doing it to others
she really believed she was doing it to others
but she did it to herself
but she did it to herself

Caterina Bueno (Pistoia and Maremma area)
Franco Pacini

Riccardo Tesi & Maurizio Geri

The version was collected in 1979 by Franco Pacini (from Regina Innocenti of Pistoia) and was proposed by Caterina Bueno, who at the time continued to discover and cultivate young musicians of both popular and classical training.

– Donna lombarda, perché non m’ami?
Donna lombarda, perché non m’ami? –
– Perché ho marì.
Perché ho marì. –
– Se ciài il marito, fallo morire,
se ciài il marito, fallo morire,
Laggiù nell’orto del signor padre,
Laggiù nell’orto del signor padre
che c’è un serpèn
che c’è un serpèn
Piglia la testa di quel serpente,
piglia la testa di quel serpente,
pestàla ben,
pestàla ben.
Quando l’avrai bell’e pestata,
quando l’avrai bell’e pestata,
dagliela a be’,
dagliela a be’
Torna il marito tutto assetato,
torna il marito tutto assetato:
chiede da be’,
chiede da be’.
– Marito mio, di quale vuoi?
Marito mio, di quale vuoi?
Del bianco o il ne’?
Del bianco o il ne’? –
– Donna lombarda, darmelo bianco.
Donna lombarda, darmelo bianco:
ché leva la se’
ché leva la se’.
Donna lombarda, che ha questo vino?
Donna lombarda, che ha questo vino
Che l’è intorbé,
Che l’è intorbé?
– Saranno i troni dell’altra notte,
saranno i troni dell’altra notte,
che l’ha intorbé
che l’ha intorbé
S’alza un bambino di pochi mesi,
s’alza un bambino di pochi mesi:
– Babbo non lo be’
che c’è il velen
– Donna lombarda, se c’è il veleno,
Donna lombarda, se c’è il veleno,
lo devi be’ te,
lo devi ber te’.
English translation Cattia Salto
“Dame Lombarde why you dont’ love me?
“Because I have an husband.
Because I have an husband.”
“If you have an husband, we’ll make him die!
I’ll show you
I’ll show you
At the end of your father garden,
At the end of your father garden
you’ll find a snake
you’ll find a snake
cut the snake’s head,
cut the snake’s head
and crush it well
crush it well
When you’ll crush it well
When you’ll crush it well
you’ll offer (the poison) to your husband as a drink,
you’ll offer (the poison) to your husband as a drink.”
Her thirsty husband comes home,
Her thirsty husband comes home,
asking for some wine
asking for some wine.
“dear husband which you want?
dear husband which you want?
White or red?
White or red?”
“Dame Lombarde give me some white wine,
that removes my thirst
Dame Lombarde what has this wine?
It’s all torbid
It’s all torbid!”
The little baby speaks
The little baby speaks:
“Daddy don’t drink it,
that it is poisoned”
“Dame Lombarde if there is some poison
Dame Lombarden if there is some poison
you must drink it first
you must drink it first”

second part (french version)

http://www.antiwarsongs.org/canzone.php?lang=en&id=42932 http://goccedinote.blogspot.it/2012/05/donna-lombarda-testo-commento-e-video.html http://www.aess.regione.lombardia.it/percorsi/ canto_narrativo/canti/donna_lombarda/home.htm http://www.canzonierescout.it/g34.pdf http://www.umbc.edu/eol/magrini/mag-mus2.html http://www.webalice.it/macchiavelli/da_xoom/ donna_lombarda_malcapi_TTBB.pdf http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/739356?uid=3738296&uid=2129&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21103845500141 http://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/liner_notes/folkways/FW04482.pdf

Concealed death: Clerk Colvill & Georges Collins

Leggi in Italiano

Concealed death


In The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, in Child ballad # 42 Clerck Colven (other titles Clerck Colvill or Earl Colvin) we find the same medieval ballad focused on the meeting between a knight about to marry and a fairy creature (or a jealous lover)


The ballad begins with a quarrel between boyfriends: the future bride beseeches him not to visit his lover, a washerwoman, just on the eve of their wedding!
The knight denies any sexual involvement (normal administration!) but he is anxious to meet his lover again.
For a comparison between the versions A, B, C see the analysis by Christian Souchon (here)

Clerk-Colvill-ArthurRackhamThey have an obvious sexual relationship (in the coded language of the time), but then the man complains about his headache, she gives him a strip of fabric (poisoned) and announces his imminent death (or poisoning him by giving him one last kiss). The woman is clearly a water nymph and in fact as soon as the young man draws his sword to take revenge, she turns into a fish and dives into the water.

Frankie Armstrong from Till the Grass o’ergrew the corn 2006, ♪
The melody is an arrangement by Frankie from the one heard by Mrs. Brown from Falkirk, Stirling County.
Kate Fletcher & Corwen Broch from  Fishe or Fowle 2017, ♪
“One of many ballads from across Europe in which a man is doomed to death by his Other-Worldly lover.
We have used the words of Child 42 version B and the only existing melody for them from Mrs Brown (Anna Gordon) of Falkland. The transcribed melody has given rise to endless debate about how the words should fit to the refrain line of the music. We have chosen to sidestep the argument and sing the verses as given omitting the problematic line of melody.”

Clerk Colven (1) and his gay (2) lady
Were walking in yon garden green,
A belt (3) around her middle so small
Which cost Clerk Colven crowns fifteen.
“O harken to me, my lord,” she says
“O, harken well to what I do say:
If you go to the walls of Stream (4),
Be sure you touch no well fair’d maid.”
“O, hold your tongue,” Clerk Colven said,
“And do not vex me with your din.
I never saw a fair woman
But with her body I could sin.” (5)
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed
And merrily merrily rode he on,
Until he came to the walls of Stream,
And there he spied the mermaiden (6).
“You wash, you wash you mermaiden”,
“O, I will wash your sark of the silk (7).
It’s all for you, my gentle knight,
My skin is whiter than the milk(8).”
He’s taken her by the milk white hand
And likewise by the grass-green sleeve,
he’s laid her down all on the grass,
Nor of his lady need he ask leave (9).
“Alas! Alas!” says Clerk Colven,
“For oh so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“Aye, even on, till you be dead.”
“But you pull out your little pen-knife,
And from my sark you shear a gore,
And bind it round your lovely head,
And you shall feel the pain no more.”
So he’s took out his little pen-knife,
And from her sark he sheared a gore,
He’s bound it round his lovely head;
But the pain it grew ten-times more.
“Alas! Alas!” cries Clerk Colven,
“For now so sore is grown my head.”
Merrily laughed the mermaiden,
“’twill I be away and you’ll be dead.”
So he’s pulled out his trusty sword,
And thought with it to spill her blood;
But she’s turned to a fish again
And merrily sprang into the flood.
He’s mounted on his berry-brown steed,
And drear and dowie rode he home,
Until he’s come to his lady’s bower
And heavily he’s lighted down.
“O, mother, mother, make my bed,
O, gentle lady, lay me down(10);
O brother, brother, unbend my bow(11),
It’ll ne’er be bent by me again.”
His mother she has made his bed,
His gentle lady laid him down,
His brother he unbent his bow,
It ne’er was bent by him again.

1) according to the Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig the name Colven is a corruption of Olafur in “Olvill” from the Faroese language (the Norse has long been spoken in the islands of Scotland). Also Clerck is a mispronunciation of Herr for Lord, in the stanza V the siren calls him “gentle knight”
2) as Giordano Dall’Armellina observes, the lady in other versions is defined lusty, that is greedy and ultimately possessive.
3) the belt is clearly a love token, it was customary, in fact, to exchange the promise of engagement, giving a “trinket” to the lady, not necessarily a diamond ring as we use today, but a hair clip or belt (obviously not less expensive)
4) in version B it is “Wells of Slane” misunderstood as “Wall of Stream” in version A; it could refer to the “Loch o ‘Strom” on the Mainland the largest of the Shetland Islands. The sacred well is generally a cleft in the earth in which the magical and healing water flows from the mother goddess’s womb, but if the spirit of the place is not placated it becomes deadly water. But here it represents the erotic energy that attracts the knight
5) translated into simple words: “do you think I’m the kind of man who goes to bed with every woman he meets?”
6) mermaiden is the siren, but he could be a nymph or an undine, the term with which the magical creatures of the inner waters are classified (see more). In Scotland and especially in the islands it is identified with a selkie
7) the beautiful girl is depicted as a washerwoman washing clothes by beating them on a marble stone (variant C and D). The image recalls the girl of the ford of the Irish tradition that is a harbinger of imminent death (banshee)
8) it is known that a snow skin was a fundamental requirement for the sexual excitement of the medieval knight
9) the whole stanza is a coded language to say that they have had a sexual intercourse
10) death in this case is not concealed and even the girlfriend immediately learns the news
11) in other versions says “O brother, take my sword and spear” to indicate that he will be buried with the warrior’s set as it was the custom in burials for people of rank in ancient European civilizations.


Published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs it is the D version collected by George Gardiner in 1906 from the voice of Henry Stansbridge of Lyndhurst, Hampshire. The version, however, is very corrupt and diversified compared to the ballad of Norse origins.
It is the version on which American variants are modeled, almost transformed into a murder ballad.

Sam Lee The Ballad of George Collins from ‘Ground of its own’ 2012 (winner of the Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012 see more) : amazing video clip

Shirley Collins from The Sweet Primroses 1967Alan Moores in a folk-country arrangement by Spud Gravely  version (in Ballads and Song of the Blue Ridge Mountains) also known as George Allen

 Sam Lee Version ( da qui)
George Collins walked out one may
morning, when may was all in bloom
and who  should he see but a fair pretty maid, washing her white marble stone (1)
She whooped she hollered she called so loud,
she waved her lilly white hand
“Come hither to me George Collins -cried she- for your life it won’t last you long”
He put his foot on the broad water side,
across the river sprung he,
he gripped his hands round her middle (2) so small and he kissed her red ruby lips (3)
Then he road home to his father’s old house, loudly knocked with the ring
“arise, arise my father- he cried-
rise and please let me in”
“Oh arise, arise dear mother -he cried-
rise and make up my bed”
“arise, arise dear sister -he cried-
get a napkin (4) to tie round my head.
For if I should die tonight
As I suppose I shall
Please bury me under that marble stone
That lies in fair Ellender’s hall(5)”
Fair Ellender sat in her hall
weaving her silk so fine
who should she see but the finest corpse(6) that ever her eyes shone on
Fair Ellender called unto her head maid
‘Whose corpse is this so fine?’
she made her reply “George Collins is corpse an old true lover of mine”
“Oh put him down my brave little boys
and open his coffin so wide
but I may kiss his red ruby lips
ten thousand times he has kissed mine”
This news been carried to fair London town
And wrote on London gate(7),
“six pretty maids died all in one night
‘twas all for George Collins’ sake”

1) It is the stone on which the washerwoman beats and rubs her clothes. Another “marble stone” returns cited in the VI stanza, the marble slab in the hall or hill of Ellender
2) in the modest language of ballads it indicates a sexual relationship. Despite the jealous lover threatened him with death, George kisses her and embraces her: he probably does not consider her a danger
3) it is the deadly kiss of the nymph, (or the kiss of the plague) the woman is never described as a supernatural creature
4) the poisoned cloth that we saw in version A and B of Clerck Colven still comes back to wrap the sufferer’s head, but this time it’s a normal bandage
5) elsewhere written as hill. George is in his father’s house announcing his imminent death and asking to be buried in Ellender’s property. Shirley Collins sings
Bury me by the marble stone
That’s against Lady Eleanor’s hall.”
6) 6) the coffin was brought into the house of the lady who asked to remove the lid so that she could still kiss the lips of her lover. The sentence is a bit to be interpreted, it is the lady-in-waiting (or the housekeeper) to ask who is the corpse in the coffin. And it is Ellender who answers that he was her lover.
7) The final stanza seems to be a nineteenth-century addition in an ironic key, the six women died because of the venereal disease of George

french and breton versions 




Child Ballad #68
TITOLI: Young Hunting, Henry Lee, Love Henry, Earl Richard, The Proud Girl.

Una murder ballad medievale sul classico triangolo amoroso, ha come vittima però il “predatore sessuale” (il Conte Richard) pugnalato dall’amante gelosa, che nasconde il corpo gettandolo in un pozzo. Nel finale compare anche la figura di un uccellino (o piccolo pappagallo) nel ruolo di ficcanaso. (prima parte qui)


La ballata si è diffusa in America con il titolo di “Love Henry” ed è riportata in decine e decine di raccolte, e documentata con una decina di registrazioni sul campo conservate presso la Biblioteca del Congresso risalenti agli anni 1940. Testi e melodie sono tante.
In Britain, the song seems to have been largely confined to Scotland, but in America it has been found in most areas east of the Mississippi (there are also several versions from Texas). Bertrand Bronson’s Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads lists forty-three melodies, mostly American but also from Ireland and Canada’s Maritime provinces. Versions with strong connections to modern old-time music can be found in Belden and Randolph. The most recent publications are in Warner and in Cazden/Haufrect/Studer.” (tratto da qui)

ASCOLTA Dick Justice in “Anthology of american folk music“, 1952
Dick Justice performed the song with his guitar in regular tuning, in the key of G. His playing style, on this song is the straightforward “hit bass, strum chord”, played in 3/4 time (waltz time). He sings it in the upper register, so characteristic of these early country artists. The melody is similar to the well-known Carter Family’s “Storms are on the ocean”. Singing ballads with guitar accompaniment was becoming more and more common in the early 20’s and 30’s and there are very few examples of solo ballad singing during the 78rpm records area. One has to go to field recordings made by folklorists all along the 20th century  to hear the unaccompanied singing of ballad singers. Due to the restricting nature of a chordal instruments like the guitar and the three minutes performance allowed but the 78rpm formats, these old ballads were often changed a lot for the new medium. The singer had to adapt his timing to the instrument and the story was shortened and cut down to only a few verses. (tratto da qui)

Get down, get down, little Henry Lee,
and stay all night with me.
The very best lodging I can afford
will be fare better’n thee.
I can’t get down, and I won’t get down,/ and stay all night with thee,
For the girl I have in that merry green land,
I love far better’n thee.
She leaned herself against a fence,/ just for a kiss or two;
With a little pen-knife (1) held in her hand, /she plugged him through and through.
Come all you ladies in the town,
a secret for me keep,
With a diamond ring held on my hand
I’ll never will forsake.
Some take him by his lily-white hand,
some take him by his feet.
We’ll throw him in this deep, deep well,
more than one hundred feet.
Lie there, lie there, loving Henry Lee,/ till the flesh drops from your bones.
The girl you have in that merry green land/ still waits for your return.
Fly down, fly down, you little bird,
and alight on my right knee.
Your cage will be of purest gold,
in deed of property (3).”
I can’t fly down, or I won’t fly down,
and alight on your right knee.
A girl would murder her own true love
would kill a little bird like me.”
If I had my bend and bow (4),
my arrow and my string,
I’d pierce a dart so nigh your heart
your wobble(5) would be in vain.”
If you had your bend and bow,
your arrow and your string,
I’d fly away to the merry green land
and tell what I have seen.
Tradotto da Cattia Salto
“Scendi, scendi giù, mio piccolo Henry Lee
e resta con me tutta la notte.
la stanza migliore che posso permettermi sarà molto meglio con te

No, non posso scendere e non voglio scendere giù
nè resterò con te tutta la notte 
perché ho una ragazza  in quel
bel paese 

e la amo molto più di te
Si sporse dallo steccato
disse che era solo per un bacio
e con il pugnale che teneva
nella mano
lo trapassò più e più volte
Venite tutte voi signore della città
tenete un segreto per me 
all’anello di diamante che porto sulla mano,
mai rinuncerò!
Una lo prenda per per le mani bianche come gigli
l’altra per i piedi
lo butteremo in quel pozzo
profondo, profondo, profondo
più di cento piedi.
Giaci lì, giaci lì, amato Herny Lee
finchè la carne si staccherà dalle tue ossa, la ragazza che hai in quel bel paese, aspetterà in eterno il tuo ritorno
Vola giù, tu uccellino (2)
e posati sulle mie ginocchia
la tua gabbia sarà d’oro purissimo
di tua completa proprietà
Non volerò, non volerò giù
per posarmi sulle tue ginocchia,
una ragazza che uccide il suo proprio vero amore
ucciderebbe un uccellino come me
Se avessi il mio arco armato
con corda e freccia
tirerei un dardo al tuo cuore
e il tuo trillo sarebbe inutile”
Se tu avessi arco armato
con corda e freccia
volerei via verso il bel paese
per raccontare quello che ho visto

1) originariamente un ben più minaccioso “weapon knife”. La donna nelle murder ballads classiche uccide per lo più con uno stiletto, quasi sempre per gelosia, la rivale o l’amante infedele o entrambi.
2) nelle fiabe gli animali del bosco e specialmente gli uccelli, possiedono il dono della parola e interagiscono con i personaggi della storia, il nostro uccellino è un testimone oculare
3) indeed, a property; la figura del pappagallo è come innestata da un’altra ballata dal titolo “False Sir John” o “May Colvin”, la giovane gli promette una gabbietta d’oro, in cambio del silenzio. Scrive Barre Toelken “What the Parrots Tell Us That Child Did Not: Further Considerations of Ballad Metaphor”, in The Folklore Historian, Volume 14: “the parrot is in a cage (and has the promise of an even better one).  Both are single, potentially vulnerable actors protected from predatory intrusion by the proverbial idea…  that “safety is better than freedom.”  Clearly the cage (its gold and ivory of much greater value to humans than to parrots) is far more than a convenient bribe:  it is a metaphor for a human condition within a culturally constructed set of values.”
4) “bended bow”
5) warble

Bob Dylan ne ha fatto un arrangiamento con il titolo di Love Henry
ASCOLTA Bob Dylan in Love gone wrong 1993 (su Spotify)

“Get down, get down, Love Henry,” she cried.
“And stay all night with me.
I have gold chains, and the finest I have
I’ll apply them all to thee.”
“I can’t get down and I shan’t get down,/ Or stay all night with thee.
Some pretty little girl in Cornersville (1)
I love far better than thee.”
He layed his head on a pillow of down.
Kisses she gave him three.
With a penny knife that she held in her hand
She murdered mortal he.
“Get well, get well, Love Henry, ” She cried,
“Get well, get well,” said she.
“Oh don’t you see my own heart’s blood
Come flowin’ down so free?”
She took him by his long yellow hair,
And also by his feet.
She plunged him into well water, where
It runs both cold and deep.
“Lie there, lie there, Love Henry,” she cried,
“Til the flesh rots off your bones.
Some pretty little girl in Cornersville
Will mourn for your return.”
“Hush up, hush up, my parrot,” she cried,
“And light on my right knee.
The doors to your cage shall be decked with gold
And hung on a willow tree.”
“I won’t fly down, I can’t fly down
And light on your right knee.
A girl who would murder her own true love
Would kill a little birdlike me.”
Tradotto da Michele Murino (qui)
“Vieni qui, vieni qui, amato Henry”, disse lei
“E resta con me tutta la notte.
Ho catene d’oro, e le più belle
che ho
le metterò tutte a te”
“Non posso venire e non verrò
nè resterò tutta la notte con te
C’è una bella ragazzina a
che amo molto più di te”
Lui chinò la testa sul guanciale di piume
Lei gli diede tre baci
e con un coltello che teneva nella mano lo colpì a morte
“Guarisci, guarisci, amato Henry” gridò lei
“Guarisci, guarisci” disse
“Oh, non vedi
il sangue
che sgorga copioso dal mio cuore?”
Lo prese per i suoi lunghi capelli biondi
e per i piedi
lo immerse nella fredda acqua del pozzo
dove precipitò
“Giaci lì, giaci lì, amato Herny”, disse piangendo
“Finchè la carne si staccherà dalle tue ossa imputridendosi, una graziosa ragazzina a Cornersville piangerà per il tuo ritorno”
“Taci, pappagallo mio, taci”
“E posati sulle mie ginocchia
Le porte della tua gabbia saranno ornate con oro
su di un salice piangente”
“Non volerò, non volerò
per posarmi sulle tue ginocchia
Una ragazza che uccide il suo
ucciderebbe un uccellino come me”

1) Cornersville è un comune degli Stati Uniti d’America, situato nello Stato del Tennessee, nella Contea di Marshall


ASCOLTA Nick Cave & PJ Harvey & Bad Seeds in Murder Ballads 1996. La versione è riscritta ed arrangiata con lo stile personale di Nick Cave, la clip musicale è diretta da Rocky Schenck un languido
duetto, una sorta di romantica danza macabra

Get down, get down,
little Henry Lee
And stay all night with me
You won’t find a girl in this damn world
That will compare with me
And the wind did howl
and the wind did blow

La la la la la
La la la la lee
A little bird lit down on Henry Lee
I can’t get down and I won’t get down
And stay all night with thee
For the girl I have in that merry green land
I love far better than thee
And the wind did howl
and the wind did blow

La la la la la
La la la la lee
A little bird lit down on Henry Lee
She leaned herself against a fence
Just for a kiss or two
And with a little pen-knife
held in her hand
She plugged him through and through
And the wind did roar and the wind did moan
La la la la la
La la la la lee
A little bird lit down on Henry Lee
Come take him by his lily-white hands
Come take him by his feet
And throw him in this deep deep well
That’s more than one hundred feet
And the wind did howl
and the wind did blow

La la la la la
La la la la lee
A little bird lit down on Henry Lee
Lie there, lie there, little Henry Lee
Till the flesh drops from your bones
For the girl you have in that merry green land
Can wait forever for you to come home
And the wind did howl
and the wind did moan

La la la la la
La la la la lee
A little bird lit down on Henry Lee
“Scendi, scendi giù,
piccolo Henry Lee,
e resta tutta la notte con me
non troverai una ragazza in questo dannato mondo,
che sia pari a me”
e il vento urlava
e il vento soffiava

un uccellino si posò su Henry Lee
“No, non posso scendere e non voglio scendere giù
per restare la notte con te
perché la ragazza che ho in quelle belle terre verdi
la amo molto più di te”
e il vento urlava
e il vento soffiava

un uccellino si posò su Henry Lee
Si appoggiò contro lo
solo per qualche bacio
e con il piccolo stiletto
stretto nella mano
lo colpì più e più
e il vento ruggiva
e il vento gemeva

un uccellino si posò su Henry Lee
“Venite e afferratelo per le mani bianco-giglio
venite e afferratelo per i piedi
e buttatelo in quel pozzo
profondo più di cento piedi”
e il vento urlava
e il vento soffiava

un uccellino si posò su Henry Lee
“Resta là, resta là piccolo Henry Lee,
finchè la carne si staccherà dalle ossa
perchè la ragazza che hai in quelle terre verdi
aspetterà in eterno il tuo ritorno a casa”
e il vento urlava
e il vento gemeva

un uccellino si posò su Henry Lee

(* rielaborata da  qui)


Se le murder ballad più antiche narrano di situazioni stereotipate, in quelle ottocentesche è più facile ritrovare il fatto di cronaca realmente accaduto che le ha precedute. Vedasi la murder ballad appalachiana dal titolo Omie Wise in cui nel 1808 a Randolph County, North Carolina l’amante massacra di botte e uccide la donna che ha messo incinta.


Così raccontò Braxton Craven (con lo pseudonimo di Charlie Vernon) in “Naomi Wise, or The wrongs of a beautiful girl (A true story)” 1851: il bel Jonathan Lewis si era invaghito della bella e giovane Naomi, un’orfanella accolta dagli Adams nella loro bella fattoria, e per un certo periodo i due si frequentarono e forse si scambiarono delle promesse matrimoniali; ma la famiglia di lui avrebbe voluto vederlo accasato con un migliore partito, tale Hattie Elliot, figlia del ricco commerciante per cui Jonathan lavorava in qualità di commesso. Ora Jonathan aveva occhi solo per Hattie, ma Naomi era in attesa di un figlio e si aspettava di essere sposata. Un giorno di primavera Naomi andò al fiume a prendere l’acqua e non ritornò più.

Il cadavere di Naomi venne ritrovato tempo dopo sulla riva del fiume con evidenti segni di strangolamento, il medico legale diagnosticò la causa della morte come “annegamento a seguito di violenza” e la trovò incinta.
Lo sceriffo andò subito ad arrestare Jonathan Lewis che finì in prigione in attesa del processo; riuscì a fuggire di prigione e venne ripreso qualche anno più tardi, processato e riconosciuto colpevole di evasione. Ma venne assolto per l’omicidio in quanto le prove erano solo circostanziali; in punto di morte però Jonathan confessò di aver annegato l’amante.


Tutt’altra storia emerge nella ricostruzione di Eleanor R. Long-Wilgus nel suo libro “Naomi Wise, Creation, Re-Creation and Continuity in an American Ballad Tradition”  (2003) – “A True Account of Nayomy Wise.”
The poem was handwritten by Mary Woody not long after the murder but was unknown until the 1980s. Mary Woody’s very detailed account of the murder is quite different than Braxton Craven’s. Not a beautiful orphan girl, Naomi Wise was quite a bit older than Jonathan Lewis, and already had two illegitimate children when she met him. She was not seeking marriage from Lewis but a payment so she would not name him as father of her child, which, by the laws of North Carolina, would have required him to pay a sizeable basdardy bond to support the child.” (tratto da qui)

Per non sobbarcarsi la spesa del mantenimento dei figli illegittimi la Corona adottò nelle Colonie Americane un procedimento giudiziario ingegnoso.
Quando una donna non sposata era incinta veniva denunciata e processata: doveva dichiarare sotto giuramento il nome del padre del nascituro (il quale a sua volta doveva comparire in tribunale per discolparsi). Se l’uomo riconosceva il bambino veniva stipulato un bastardy bond che le rendeva responsabile del mantenimento del bambino. Se la donna si rifiutava di fare il nome dell’amante, allora era lei o la sua famiglia a dover provvedere a firmare la dichiarazione.
The North Carolina colony, starting in 1736, used a tool called the bastardy bond to protect the Crown from being responsible for the support of children born out of wedlock. Bastardy bonds placed the ultimate burden of support for a bastard child upon the father should the mother become unable to provide proper support. Otherwise, the child would become a ward of the local poor house and be an expense to the government. This English bond system was carried forward when North Carolina became a state in 1789. (tratto da qui)

In questa seconda ricostruzione Naomi era una donna “emancipata” madre già di due figli illegittimi con tanto di bastardy bond intestati a due uomini diversi e incinta di un terzo bambino; forse voleva ricattare Jonathan e farsi pagare una bella sommetta per il suo silenzio…

La versione standard del testo è quella riportata da Braxton Craven che romanzò la storia e dipinse Naomi come una dolce diciottenne assassinata da un predatore sessuale

ASCOLTA Doc Watson

ASCOLTA Pentangle

Oh, listen to my story, I’ll tell you no lies
How John Lewis did murder poor little Omie Wise
He told her to meet him at Adams’s Springs
He promised her money and other fine things
And a fool like she met him at Adams’s Springs
But no money did he bring her nor other fine things
“Go with me, little Omie and away we will go
We’ll go and get married and no one will know”
She jumped (climbed) up behind him and away they did go
But down to the river where deep waters flow
“John Lewis, John Lewis, won’t you tell to me your mind?
Do you intend to marry me or leave me behind?”
“Little Omie, little Omie, I’ll tell to you my mind
My mind is to drown you and leave you behind”
“Have mercy on my baby and spare me my life
I’ll go home as a beggar and never be your wife”
He hugged her and kissed her and turned her around
Then pushed her in deep waters where he knew that she would drown
Then he got upon his pony and away he did ride
As the screams of little Omie went down by his side
T’was on a Thursday morning and the rain was pouring down
When the people searched for Omie but she could not be found
Then two boys went a fishin’ one fine summer day
And saw little Omie’s body go floating away
They threw their nets around her and drew her to the bank
Her clothes all wet and muddy, they laid her on a plank
And they called for John Lewis to come to that place
And settled little Omie before him, that he might see her face
He made no confession but they carried him to jail
But no friends nor relations will come and go to his bail.
Traduzione di Cattia Salto*
Ascoltate la mia storia, non vi mentirò
di come John Lewis assassinò la povera piccola Naomi Wise.
Le disse d’incontrarlo ad Adams’s Spring
le promise di pagarla e altre belle
scema lei che lo incontrò ad Adams’s Spring
che non le portò soldi e nemmeno cose belle
“Vieni con me, piccola Omie e ce ne andremo via
andremo a sposarci e nessuno lo saprà”
Lei saltò dietro a lui
e via andarono,
ma andarono dove scorrono le acque profonde.
“John Lewis, John Lewis, non mi vuoi dire cosa ti passa per la testa?
Intendi sposarmi o mi abbandonerai?”
“Piccola Omie, piccola Omie, ti dirò cosa ho in mente
La mia idea è di farti annegare e abbandonarti”
“Pietà del mio bambino e risparmiami la vita
ritornerò a casa mendica e non sarò più tua moglie”
Lui l’abbracciò e la baciò ma per prenderla in giro
e la gettò nelle acque profonde dove sapeva che sarebbe
Poi montò in sella al suo pony e via cavalcò
mentre le grida della piccola Omie si affievolivano.
Era martedì mattina e pioveva a catinelle
quando si misero a cercare Omnie e non riuscivano a trovarla;
poi due ragazzi andarono a pescare in un bel giorno d’estate
e videro il corpo della piccola Omie che galleggiava
Gettarono le loro reti per avvolgerne il corpo e lo trascinarono a riva
gli abiti tutti bagnati e infangati, la distesero su un’asse
e chiamarono John Lewis perchè andasse sul posto
e lo misero davanti alla piccola Omie perchè la guardasse in faccia.
Lui non confessò, ma lo portarono in prigione
e nessun amico e nemmeno i parenti andarano a pagare la cauzione

* traduzione riveduta da Alberto Musica &Memoria qui

Più cruda e cinica la versione riportata da Bob Dylan
ASCOLTA Bob Dylan live 1961

Well she met him as she promised
up at Adam’s spring
expecting some money
or some other fine thing
“No money, no money
to flatter the case
We’ll have to get married
so there’ll be no disgrace.”
“So jump you up Omie
and away we will ride
to yonder fair country
where the cool waters glide.”
She jumped up behind him
and away they did ride
to yonder fair country
where the deep waters glide
“Now jump you down Omie
and I’ll tell you my mind
my mind is to drown you
and to leave you behind.”
She begged and she pleaded
“Oh, don’t take my life
and I will deny you
and I’ll never be your wife.”
She kicked and he cuffed her
to the worst understand
and he threw her in deep water
that flows through the land
They found her poor body
the following day
the preacher and the reverend
Lord, they all begun to pray
And up spoke her mother
with a voice so a-sting
“Nobody but John Lewis
could’ve done such a thing.”
They traced him up the waters
to Dutch Charlie’s Bend
For they found him in jail
for killin’ a man
“Go hang him, go hang him.”
was that mother’s command
“And throw him in deep waters
that flows through the land.”
Traduzione riveduta da qui e qui
Lei lo incontrò come promesso
su ad Adams’s Spring
si aspettava un po’ di soldi
o qualche altra bella cosa.
“Niente soldi, niente soldi,
per sgonfiare la pancia (1)
dovremo sposarci
e non ci sarà disonore”
“Salta su, Omie,
e cavalcheremo via
verso un bel paese lontano
dove scorrono le fresche acque”
Lei saltò dietro a lui
e via cavalcarono
verso un bel paese lontano
dove scorrono le acque profonde.
“Ora salta giù, Omie
e ti dirò cosa ho in mente.
La mia idea è di farti annegare
e abbandonarti”
Lei supplicò e pregò
“Oh non prendere la mia vita
oh, io rinnegherò di averti sposato
e non sarò più tua moglie”
L’ha presa a calci e a schiaffi
con le peggiori intenzioni
e l’ha gettata al fondo del fiume
che scorre per il paese
Hanno trovato il suo povero corpo
il giorno seguente
il pastore e il reverendo
Dio, tutti cominciarono a pregare
E sua madre parlava
con voce rabbiosa
“Nessun se non John Lewis
può aver fatto una cosa simile”
Lo inseguirono lungo il fiume
fino alla Dutch Charlie’s Bend
dove lo trovarono in carcere
per aver ucciso un uomo
“Impiccatelo, impiccatelo”
fu la richiesta della madre
“Gettatelo nelle acque profonde
che scorrono per il paese”



“Little Sir Hugh”, “Fatal Flower Garden”, “Sir Hugh, or the Jew’s Daughter”  è una antica ballata registrata al numero 155 dal professor Francis James Child, una murder ballad incentrata  apparentemente su un “omicidio rituale“; siamo alle radici delle leggende metropolitane sui rapimenti dei bambini a sfondo religioso, così in Inghilterra la morte di Hugh di Lincoln nel 1255 riportata ne “The Annals of Waverly” scatena l’odio razziale contro gli Ebrei: il corpo del bambino viene ritrovato un mese dopo la sua scomparsa in un pozzo e la “vox populi” addita gli Ebrei; uno di loro sotto tortura confessa l’assassinio e per buona misura una ventina di ebrei sono impiccati con l’accusa di omicidio rituale (e ovviamente i loro beni sono incamerati dalla Corona).
Così scrive il cronista “This year [1255] about the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul [27 July], the Jews of Lincoln stole a boy called Hugh, who was about eight years old. After shutting him up in a secret chamber, where they fed him on milk and other childish food, they sent to almost all The cities of England in which there were Jews, and summoned some of their sect from each city to be present at a sacrifice to take place at Lincoln, in contumely and insult of Jesus Christ. For, as they said, they had a boy concealed for the purpose of being crucified; so a great number of them assembled at Lincoln, and then they appointed a Jew of Lincoln judge, to take the place of Pilate, by whose sentence, and with the concurrence of all, the boy was subjected to various tortures. They scourged him till the blood flowed, they crowned him with thorns, mocked him, and spat upon him; each of them also pierced him with a knife, and they made him drink gall, and scoffed at him with blasphemous insults, and kept gnashing their teeth and calling him Jesus, the false prophet. And after tormenting him in diverse ways they crucified him, and pierced him to the heart with a spear. When the boy was dead, they took the body down from the cross, and for some reason disemboweled it; it is said for the purpose of their magic arts
Manco a dirlo il bambino viene venerato e chiamato” il piccolo Ugo di Lincoln” (non proprio un santo ma nella Cattedrale viene approntato un piccolo santuario subito meta di pellegrinaggi)


L’accusa del sangue così di moda nel mondo cristiano dell’Europa Medievale è basata sulla “dimenticanza” cristiana di un fondamento biblico condiviso dai primi Cristiani, dagli Ebrei e dai Musulmani e più in generale nel pensiero antico: il sangue è vita (anima della carne).
Anticamente per rinnovare la propria forza vitale si beveva sangue o si mangiava la carne delle vittime sacrificate agli dei; ma il Dio del credo monoteista orientale vietava ai suoi seguaci di cibarsi del sangue degli animali offerti in sacrificio; il sangue si appropria allora di un nuovo distintivo significato quello dell’alleanza tra Dio e l’uomo (o meglio il suo popolo): il sangue degli agnelli e la fuga degli Ebrei schiavi dall’Egitto.
Senonchè il sangue di Gesù sulla croce è il simbolo del “nuovo” patto (nel Vangelo è detto “il sangue del patto” ) cioè è il sangue che purifica il cristiano da ogni peccato, da cui il nuovo binomio Cristo = Agnello di Dio che “toglie i peccati dal mondo”

Nella Creazione Dio è decisamente vegetariano e vieta all’uomo e agli animali di nutrirsi di altri esseri viventi diversi dalle piante. Solo dopo il diluvio universale concede a Noè e alla sua famiglia di cibarsi di altri esseri viventi con il divieto di strappare la carne da un animale ancora vivo (Dio non consente di far soffrire inutilmente un animale senza averlo prima ucciso).
La Toràh vieta espressamente “di mangiare sangue” e le carni  kosher vengono macellate e trattate in modo da togliere loro tutto il sangue, la Chiesa invece liberalizza l’uso delle carni contenenti il sangue grosso modo nel 1400, con il Il Concilio di Basilea – Ferrara – Firenze – Roma   in cui si dichiarano definitivamente superate le pratiche giudaiche della circoncisione e del sabato, nonché il decreto di Gerusalemme sulle cose immolate, sul sangue e sulle carni sacrificate.
“La sacrosanta chiesa cattolica, quindi, dichiara apertamente che, da quel tempo, tutti quelli che osservano la circoncisione, il sabato e le altre prescrizioni legali, sono fuori della fede di Cristo, e non possono partecipare della salvezza eterna, a meno che non si ricredano finalmente dei loro errori. Ancora, comanda assolutamente a tutti quelli che si gloriano del nome di cristiani, che si deve cessare dal praticare la circoncisione sia prima che dopo il battesimo perché, che vi si confidi o meno, non si può in nessun modo praticarla senza perdere la salvezza eterna……..Crede fermamente, confessa e predica che ogni creatura Dio è buona e niente dev’essere respinto quando è accettato con rendimento di grazie (1 Timoteo 4,4); poiché, secondo l’espressione del Signore non ciò che entra nella bocca contamina l’uomo (Matteo 15,11). E afferma che la differenza tra cibi puri e impuri della legge mosaica deve considerarsi cerimoniale e che col sopravvenire del Vangelo è passata e ha perso efficacia. Anche la proibizione degli apostoli delle cose immolate ai simulacri, del sangue e delle carni soffocate (Atti 15,29) era adatta al tempo in cui dai giudei e gentili, che prima vivevano praticando diversi riti e secondo diversi costumi, sorgeva una sola chiesa. In tal modo giudei e gentili avevano osservanze in comune e l’occasione di trovarsi d’accordo in un solo culto e in una sola fede in Dio, e veniva tolta materia di dissenso. Infatti ai Giudei per la loro lunga tradizione potevano sembrare abominevoli il sangue e gli animali soffocati, e poteva sembrare che i gentili tornassero all’idolatria col mangiare cose immolate agli idoli. Ma quando la religione cristiana si fu talmente affermata da non esservi più in essa alcun Giudeo carnale, ma anzi tutti d’accordo erano passati alla chiesa, condividendo gli stessi riti e cerimonie del Vangelo, persuasi che per quelli che sono puri ogni cosa è pura (Tito 1,15), allora venne meno la causa di quella proibizione, e perciò anche l’effetto. Essa dichiara, quindi, che nessun genere di cibo in uso tra gli uomini deve essere condannato, e che nessuno, uomo o donna, deve far differenza di animali, qualunque sia il genere di morte che abbiano incontrato, quantunque per riguardo alla salute del corpo, per l’esercizio della virtù, per la disciplina regolare ed ecclesiastica, molte cose, anche se permesso, possano e debbano non mangiarsi. Secondo l’apostolo, infatti, tutto è lecito, ma non tutto conviene (1 Corinzi 6,12 e 1 Corinzi 10,22)”. [Sessione XI  del 4 febbraio 1442 del Concilio di Basilea – Ferrara – Firenze – Roma]
Da allora con la premessa che il cibo è un dono del Signore, la Chiesa  smette di questionare sui tipi di carne consentita e preferisce stilare le norme sull’astinenza e il digiuno.
Anche nel Corano il consumo della carne è permesso ma alcuni animali sono considerati impuri, l’uccisione dell’animale inoltre deve essere sacralizzata come rispetto della vita.
La giurisprudenza islamica, sulla scorta delle prescrizioni coraniche e della tradizione profetica, ha costruito una teoria generale in base alla quale viene regolamentato il regime alimentare del musulmano. Sono infatti considerati impuri e pertanto proibiti (harām): 1) alcune specie di animali e in particolare il maiale; 2) le carogne di animali; 3) gli animali che non siano stati cacciati o che non siano stati macellati secondo il metodo prescritto; 4) le vittime sacrificali; 5) il sangue; 6) i cibi divenuti impuri per contaminazione; 7) il vino e le bevande alcoliche.” (tratto da qui)


Nonostante il grande rispetto degli ebrei verso il sangue come fonte della vita, i Cristiani (originariamente una delle tante sette ebraiche) diffondevano a piene mani le calunnie verso gli Ebrei e la Pasqua ebraica arrivando ad affermare che gli Ebrei a Pasqua rapivano i loro bambini  uccidendoli nei modi più atroci per utilizzarne il sangue a scopi rituali (cioè ci pucciavano il pane azzimo o ci facevano un energy-drink con il vino).
I miasmi della propaganda  politico-religiosa mi danno il voltastomaco e perciò qui mi fermo.


La leggenda metropolitana è ripresa un secolo più tardi da Geoffrey Chauces nei sui “Racconti di Cantebury” ( il racconto della Madre Priora) e la ballata “Sir Hugh or The Jew’s Daughter” circolò in forma orale in Gran Bretagna e negli Stati Uniti non necessariamente come  ballata antisemita. Il giardino che compare a volte nei titoli è il luogo del magico e del proibito e il giardino dell’Eden in cui il ragazzo viene tentato (tormentato) dal sesso e la morte è un passaggio metaforico che lo trasforma in uomo.
James Orchard Halliwell in Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales of England (London, 1849) cita “Child Roland and the King of Elfland” come ballata antecedente: là i giovanetti giocano a palla nella città di  Carlisle e con un tiro maldestro la gettano “o’er the kirk he gar’d it flee”; i bambini che la vanno a cercare finiscono uno per volta in una terra incantata; così guardando ancora alle fiabe troviamo “la Principessa e il Ranocchio” in cui la ragazzina giocando con la palla la getta maldestramente nello stagno (o nella fontana o guarda caso un pozzo!) E la palla è tonda e dorata proprio come una mela di Avalon!

‘The Frog Prince’ – Old, Old Fairy Tales, Anne Anderson, 1935.

Ed ecco apparire il secondo elemento sempre tipico delle fiabe che raccontano di amore e di sesso (iniziazione sessuale): l’archetipo del “seduttore” o del “predatore sessuale”, sia esso il Principe Ranocchio o il Cavaliere Elfo o la Sirena/Fata.

Un altro punto fisso o per lo meno ripetuto spesso è quello del cattivo tempo, si descrive una giornata di pioggia o una nevicata o ancora una giornata nebbiosa, non certo il tempo più indicato per stare all’aperto e giocare a pallone, perchè si tratta di un codice letterario che avvisa gli ascoltatori che qualcosa di soprannaturale, funesto o magico sta per accadere.
Un altro punto cardine è quello dell'”oggetto del desidero” cioè una mela o un anello d’oro o una ciliegia; la mela è il classico simbolo della tentazione , l’anello  è al solito la ricompensa del matrimonio d’amore e la ciliegia rosso sangue la minaccia di morte se il ragazzo fallisce la prova.
E’ del tutto evidente che una ballata basata sull’archetipo “femmina fatale che seduce un giovanetto”  si connota in un certo punto storico di un “omicidio rituale” a sfondo antisemitico, ma nelle versioni americane la ragazza diventa “the jeweler’s daughter”, o più genericamente la figlia del Re o del Duca, o ancora la regina o più semplicemente una “lady”. In Scozia e in America diventa una “gipsy”.

In alcune versioni americane la donna è una parente del bambino, una zia a cui è stato affidato e che lo tiene malvolentieri o la stessa madre e il bambino è il figlio illegittimo.

Sam Lee in “Ground Of Its Own” 2012 con il titolo Jews Garden: e lo scacciapensieri ti entra in testa e non se ne va più..

o se preferite la versione live 2013

Steeleye Span in Commoners Crown, 1975 con il titolo di Little Sir Hugh che preferiscono la versione americana della ballata senza riferimento diretto alla figlia dell’ebreo

“Mother, mother, make my bed,
Make for me a winding sheet.
Wrap me up in a cloak of gold,
See if I can sleep.”
Four and twenty bonny, bonny boys playing at the ball.
Along came little Sir Hugh,
he played with them all.
He kicked the ball very high,
he kicked the ball so low,
He kicked it over a castle wall
where no one dared to go.
Out came a lady gay,
she was dressed in green.
“Come in, come in little Sir Hugh,
fetch your ball again.”
“I won’t come in, I can’t come in without my playmates all;
For if I should I know you would cause my blood to fall.”
She took him by the milk white hand, led him to the hall
Till they came to a stone chamber where no one could hear him call.
She sat him on a golden chair,
she gave him sugar sweet,
She lay him on a dressing board and stabbed him like a sheep.
Out came the thick thick blood,
out came the thin.
Out came the bonny heart’s blood
till there was none within.
She took him by the yellow hair and also by the feet
She threw him in the old draw well fifty fathoms deep.
Traduzione di Cattia Salto *
“Madre o madre, fammi il letto
e preparami il sudario
avvolgimi in un manto dorato
che io possa riposare” (1)
24 bei ragazzi
giocavano a pallone (2)
giunse il piccolo sir Ugo
ed era il più bravo di tutti.
Calciava la palla verso l’alto
calciava la palla verso il basso
la calciò oltre il muro del castello
dove nessuno osava andare
Uscì una dama gaia,
vestita di verde (3)
“Entra, entra piccolo sir Ugo
per riprendere la palla”
“Non entro no;
non senza tutti gli altri calciatori
perchè se lo farò son certo che tu mi caverai il sangue”
Lo prese con la bianca mano
e lo portò in casa
fino alla segreta di pietra (4) dove nessuno lo avrebbe sentito gridare
lo mise su una sedia dorata
e gli diede delle gelatine (5)
lo stese su un asse da cucina (6) e lo accoltellò come una pecora
Uscì il sangue, il sangue denso
e uscì quello fluente;
uscì il sangue del suo bel cuore
finchè non ne rimase più.
Lo prese dalla bionda testa e anche dai piedi
e lo gettò nel vecchio pozzo profondo 50 tese.

* dalla traduzione di Riccardo Venturi (tratta da qui)
1) nelle versioni più antiche si aggiunge il particolare della madre del bambino alla ricerca del figlio scomparso e della miracolosa apparizione del suo spettro
2) il gioco della palla è un tipico passatempo dei ragazzi e delle giovinette nelle ballate medievali e veniva praticato nelle vie cittadine o nei parchi dei castelli
3) la dama verde vestita potrebbe benissimo essere una Fata
4) letteralmente una stanza di pietra, che suggerisce l’idea di una cantina
5) essendo nel medioevo vien da pensare a dei canditi o a gelè di frutta: sono i dolcetti che la “fata” ha usato per tentare il ragazzo e convincerlo ad entrare, come non pensare  ai lokum offerti a Edmund dalla strega bianca di Narnia? (la ricetta qui)
6) Riccardo Venturi traduce con “tavolo da cucire”, è piuttosto un grande tagliere che richiama per l’appunto il ceppo di legno su cui si tagliano le carni macellate


La ballata ha una vasta tradizione come filastrocca per bambini ridotta a un paio di strofe, nella storia è la balia a uccidere il bambino, perfetta come ninna-nanna di Halloween

(il post è ancora in elaborazione con approfondimenti prossimamente)


Nick Cave è un musicista australiano (e singolare è dir poco) che ha fatto uno strepitoso lavoro sulle “ballate degli omicidi” rielaborando testi e melodie tradizionali in UK e Irlanda, riscrivendo e componendo di suo pugno  e pubblicando un album nel 1996 con il titolo di “Murder Ballads“.

Prendiamo “Where The Wild Roses Grow” che per molti versi richiama un paio di ballate popolari come la versione scozzese di “The Banks of the Red Roses” ma anche “Willow garden”  declinata nello stile “antologia di Spoon River”; il concetto di fondo è il controllo maschile sulla donna e la sua “giusta” punizione: la donna viene uccisa perchè deve essere punita, a causa della sua sessualità selvaggia.
La formula del duetto botta e risposta, è propria delle love song basate sul contrasto amoroso, innocue schermaglie (ma solo in apparenza) in cui l’uomo cacciatore conquista e seduce la donna con le buone o con le cattive, mentre lei invece difende la sua virtù quasi sempre ad oltranza. Tuttavia la seduzione spesso si configura come uno stupro con la ragazza costretta ad acconsentire e praticamente senza possibilità di scelta.
Nelle murder ballad a sfondo sessuale s’inserisce un ulteriore elemento di violenza: certamente ci sarà una causa scatenante per l’omicidio (il movente), che siano gli interessi economici o la gelosia, ma non è tutto, nel profondo dell’omicida si agitano pulsioni e forze devastanti, i veri soggetti della storia.
In poesia come nelle canzoni (con l’aggiunta della musica) le parole hanno il potere di dire molto di più del loro significato e il video girato dal regista Rocky Shenck è ugualmente rivelatore: la donna è ripresa come una Barbie rotta che galleggia sulle acque basse e torbide del lago e una serpe le striscia accanto (che non a caso finisce  sul pube ), è stata proprio la sua innocenza a tentare l’uomo! Una volta assaporato il piacere e liberata la  sessualità della Rosa Selvatica l’uomo sente l’irrefrenabile impulso di sopprimerla, c’è un che di serial killer nella storia, la ragazza potrebbe essere una delle tante vittime  e l’assassino ne ritualizza la morte con la dolcezza (sulle note di un romantico valzer lento).  Non a caso vengono inquadrati più volte i salici  che suggellano l’inquadratura finale, a parte l’omaggio alla tradizione (“Willow garden”) il salice nelle ballate popolari è un simbolo, quello del rimpianto citato spesso nelle “warning song”.

Leopold Burthe: Ophelia, 1852

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds/Kylie Minogue


They call me The Wild Rose
But my name was Elisa Day
Why they call me it I do not know
For my name was Elisa Day
‎From the first day I saw her
I knew she was the one
As she stared in my eyes and smiled
For her lips were the colour
of the roses
They grew down the river,
all bloody and wild
When he knocked on my door
and entered the room
My trembling subsided
in his sure embrace
He would be my first man,
and with a careful hand
He wiped the tears
that ran down my face
‎On the second day
I brought her a flower
She was more beautiful
than any woman I’d seen
I said, ‘Do you know
where the wild roses grow
So sweet and scarlet and free?’
On the second day
he came with a single rose
Said: ‘Will you give me
your loss and your sorrow?’
I nodded my head,
as I layed on the bed
He said, ‘If I show you the roses
will you follow?’
On the third day
he took me to the river
He showed me the roses
and we kissed
And the last thing I heard
was a muttered word
As he stood smiling above me
with a rock in his fist
‎On the last day I took her
where the wild roses grow
And she lay on the bank,
the wind  light as a thief
As I kissed her goodbye, I said,
‘All beauty must die’
And lent down and planted
a rose between her teeth
Traduzione di Cattia Salto *
Mi chiamano la Rosa Selvatica
ma il mio nome era Elisa Day.
Perché mi chiamino così, non so
perchè il mio nome era Elisa Day
Dal primo giorno che la vidi
seppi che era lei quella per me (1),
appena mi fissò negli occhi e sorrise
con il colore delle rose
sulle labbra
quelle che crescevano lungo il fiume, insanguinate e eccitanti (2)
Quando bussò alla porta
e entrò nella stanza
i miei brividi si smorzarono
nel suo abbraccio deciso.
Sarebbe stato il mio primo uomo,
e con  un gesto protettivo
asciugò le lacrime
che mi scorrevano sul viso
Il secondo giorno
le portai un fiore
era la più bella donna
che avessi mai visto.
Le dissi “Tu sai
dove crescono le rose selvatiche
quelle dolci e scarlatte e libere?”
Il secondo giorno
lui arrivò con una sola rosa rossa
Disse: “Vuoi darmi
la tua resa e il tuo rimpianto (3)?”
Annuii mentre
mi stendevo sul letto
Lui disse: “Se ti mostro le rose
tu mi seguirai?”
Il terzo giorno
mi portò al fiume
mi mostrò le rose
e ci baciammo
e l’ultima cosa che udii
fu una parola sussurrata
mentre lui stava sorridente su di me con una pietra in pugno
L’ultimo giorno la portai
dove crescono le rose selvatiche
e si distese sulla riva,
con il  soffio(4) leggero di un ladro
le diedi il bacio d’addio, dissi,
“Tutte le cose belle devono morire”
la colpii e le ficcai
una rosa tra i denti

1) la frase in inglese è molto più incisiva nella semplicità di quel “the one” la sola, l’unica per me: l’uomo cerca un certo tipo di donna quella “fatta” per lui, casta e pura
2) il paragone al personaggio di Ofelia soccorre inevitabile e la parola “wild” suggerisce la follia, ma qui è solo l’uomo ad essere un  folle vero. I termini “Bloody and wild” gettano subito una luce sinistra sulla storia che apparentemente potrebbe sembrare la banale storia di un “colpo di fulmine”: le labbra della donna sono rosso sangue e scatenano una furia “incontrollata” nell’uomo. La parola “wild” ha una sfumatura di sregolatezza, di condotta morale fuori dal controllo della legge (maschile) mista a intensa eccitazione sessuale.
3) qui l’uomo le sta chiedendo di dargli la sua verginità:
“loss” è la perdita di qualcosa di prezioso e “sorrow” è la sofferenza causata da una perdita
4) ho forzato un po il termine Wind letteralmente il vento leggero come un ladro perchè nel verso precedente in cui lei descrive la stessa scena, è il vento che porta il sussurro delle parole di lui

De två systrarna -The two sisters

La ballata “The two sisters” è originaria dalla Svezia o più in generale dai paesi scandinavi (in epoca pre-cristiana) e si è diffusa largamente fin dal Medioevo in alcuni paesi dell’Est e nelle isole britanniche anche nelle fiabe
The murder ballad “The two sisters” originates from Sweden or more generally from the Scandinavian countries, but has spread widely from the Middle Ages in some Europe countries, in the British Isles and in fairy tales too.

De två systrarna

Le due sorelle sono spiritualmente agli opposti buona la bionda, cattiva la bruna, il colore bruno ha anche una valenza estetica negativa, non che la sorella bruna sia più brutta, ma piace meno per il colore dei suoi capelli. Nella società norrena sono gli stranieri ad essere bruni, e quindi ad essere guardati con sospetto e diffidenza.
The two sisters are spiritually opposite: the good blonde, the bad brown; the black color has a negative aesthetic value, not that the brown sister is uglier, but they like less for the color of her hair. In Norse society foreigners are brown/black haired, and therefore to be looked at with suspicion.

Kalenda Maya


Där bodde en bonde vid sjöastrand
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Och tvenne döttrar hade han
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Den ena var vit som den klara sol
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Den andra var svart som den svartaste kol
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Vi tvättar oss bägge i vattnet nu
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Så blir jag väl som viter som du
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Å tvättar du dig både nätter och dar
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Så aldrig du blir som viter som jag
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Och som de nu stodo på sjöastrand
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Så stötte den fulaste sin syster av sand
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Kära min syster du hjälp mig i land
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Och dig vill jag giva min lille fästeman
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Din fästeman honom får jag ändå
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Men aldrig ska du mer på gröna jorden gå
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön

Där bodde en spelman vid en strand
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Han såg i vattnet var liket det sam
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Spelemannen henne till stranden bar
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Och gjorde av henne en harpa så rar
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Spelemannen tog hennes guldgula hår
Harporsträngar därav han slog
Spelemannen tog hennes fingrar små
Gjorde harpan tapplor på
Spelemannen tog hennes snövita bröst
Harpan hon klinga med ljuvelig röst
Så bar harpan i bröllopsgård
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Där bruden hon dansar med gulleband i hår
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Trenne slag uppå gullharpan rann
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Den bruden har tagit min lille fästeman
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Om söndan så satt hon i brudstol röd
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Om måndan hon brändes i aska och dö
Blåser kallt kallt väder över sjön
Si rimanda la traduzione e il commento alla versione trasposta in scozzese da Steve Byrne

Malinky in Far Better Days 2015
nella traduzione scozzese messa in rima da Steve Byrne: Questa è la versione svedese della ballata popolare che Steve ha tradotto in scozzese. L’abbiamo sentita per la prima volta durante un tour in Svezia nel 2003, quando abbiamo conosciuto la musica del gruppo Folk och Rackare, perchè i Malinky erano stati pubblicizzati come la versione scozzese dei “The Folk & Rackare” – una band che prendeva vecchie ballate tradizionali e le rifaceva. Siamo stati felici di eseguire una versione  svedese / scozzese con il gruppo Ranarim al Celtic Connections festival di Glasgow nel 2007. La metafora dell’arpa è spesso interpretata come un violino nelle versioni scozzesi
in Scottish translation rhymed by Steve Byrne: This is a Swedish version of the weel-kent ballad which Steve translated into Scots. We first heard this during a tour of Sweden in 2003 when we were introduced to the music of the band Folk och Rackare, as Malinky had been advertised as “the Scottish Folk & Rackare” – namely a band which took old traditional ballads and made them anew. We were delighted to perform a duet Swedish/Scots version with the band Ranarim at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow in 2007. The harp metaphor is often found as a fiddle in Scottish versions.

S. Byrne version
A fermer (1) he bade on the white sea strand
Blaws a cald cald weather ower the faim
And twa fine dochters had this man
Blaws a cald cald weather ower the faim
The ane wis bricht as the clearest sun
The ither she wis black as the blackest coal
“We twa maun ging wash in the watter noo
So I micht mak masel sae milkwhite(2) as you”
“Gin ye wash as the nicht and the leelang day
Ye’ll ne’er mak yersel sae milkwhite as me”
Syne they baith stood on the white sea strand
So stotted the black ane her sister aff the sand
“Oh sister, oh sister help me tae land
An ah’ll gie tae you ma bonniest leman”
It’s weel Ah’ll hae yer fair leman
But nae mair upon this green earth ye’ll gang”
There bade a harper on the strand
He spied in the water a deid body swam
The harper he’s brocht her body fair
He’s made fae her breist bane a harp sae rare
The harper he’s taen her gowden hair
Harpin strings he’s made frae her
The harper he’s taen her fingers sma
He made the harp pegs frae them sa
He’s pit them tae her white breist bane
The harp it rang wi a voice tae melt stane(3)
He’s taen the harp tae the merriage fayre (4)
The bride she danced wi a gowd band in her hair
Twa blaws up on the gowd harp rang
This bride she has taen ma fairest leman
On Sunday she sat on the bride stool reid(5)
On Monday she wis burned intae ashes and she deed
Traduzione italiano di Cattia Salto
Viveva un possidente terriero (1) sulla bianca spiaggia del mare
soffia un vento freddo sui flutti
e due belle figlie aveva quest’uomo!
soffia un vento freddo sui flutti
Una era bionda come il sole più chiaro,
l’altra era mora come il carbone più nero.
“Andiamo a bagnarci nelle
acque adesso
così che anch’io possa essere così luminosa come te” (2)
“Anche se ti lavassi per una notte e un intero giorno
non potrai mai essere anche tu così pallida come me”
Mentre insieme stavano sulla bianca spiaggia del mare
quella mora spinse la sorella
“O sorella, sorella, aiutami a toccare il fondo e ti darò il mio bellissimo
“Io mi prenderò il tuo bell’amante in ogni caso, ma tu non camminerai mai più su questa terra”
Poi un arpista passò per la spiaggia
e vide nell’acqua il corpo di un cigno morto.
L’arpista prese il suo bel corpo
e ricavò dalle sue ossa pettorali un’arpa così particolare,
l’arpista prese i suoi biondi capelli
e ne ricavò le corde per suonare
l’arpista prese le ossa delle sue piccole dita per ricavarne i piroli
e li sistemò sulle bianche ossa
l’arpa si mise a suonare con una voce da intenerire le pietre (3).
Egli portò l’arpa alle ricche (4)
la sposa danzava con una corona d’oro tra i capelli
due accordi risuonarono dall’arpa dorata
“Questa sposa ha preso il mio bellissimo fidanzato”
Domenica sedeva sul seggio arrossato (5) della sposa
lunedì venne bruciata sul rogo
e morì

1) farmer in questo contesto non significa un umile contadino quanto piuttosto un possidente terriero, un capo clan: è comunque un contadino-guerriero, ma possiede molte terre e bestiame
farmer in this context is a landowner, a clan leader: he is still a peasant-warrior, but he owns lands and livestock
2) questo riferimento ai bagni nell’acqua per rischiarare la pelle non è insolito nelle ballate più antiche, parrebbe un’incongruenza , caso mai la fanciulla avrebbe potuto schiarirsi i capelli con pigmenti e bagni di sole, trattamenti cosmetici non ignoti nell’antichità; con il termine bianco nelle lingue più antiche si intende una colorazione chiara, ovvero un tipo di carnagione luminosa come la porcellana (bianco latte o bianco perla) ossia pallida ed esangue abbinata al capello di un biondo quasi argenteo anch’esso splendente, da qui l’aura dorata che si sprigiona dalla sorella bionda. La colorazione nera è da intendersi  non tanto per la pelle ma per il colore dei capelli. E’ interessante notare che si usa dire “dilavato” per indicare un aspetto pallido ed esangue, l’acqua erodendo e diluendo ha il potere di sbiadire il colore, da qui probabilmente il significato del bagno.
this reference to baths in the water to brighten the skin is not unusual in the most ancient ballads, it would seem an incongruity, the girl could have lightened her hair with pigments and sunbathing, cosmetic treatments not unknown in antiquity; the term “white” in the older languages ​​means a light color, or a bright complexion like porcelain (milky white or pearl white) or pale and bloodless combined with an almost silvery blond hair, which is also shining, hence the golden aura emanating from the blonde sister. The black color is intended not for the skin but for the color of the hair.
It is interesting to note that it is used to say “washed out” to indicate a pale and bloodless appearance, the water eroding and diluting has the power to fade color, hence the meaning of the bathroom.
3) il suono dell’arpa ha il potere di “fondere la pietra”, da intendersi in senso figurato “un cuore di pietra” nelle versioni scozzesi più tarde viene tradotto in senso spaziale cioè che l’arpa inizia a suonare una volta posata su una pietra. L’espressione intenerire le pietre non è peraltro insolita in italiano
in the later Scottish versions it is translated in the spatial sense that is that the harp begins to play once laid on a stone
4) fayre, faire sta per fair riferito al banchetto di nozze si intende come ricco, sfarzoso
= rich, glitzy
5) rosso non è tanto riferito al colore della sedia quanto alla macchia di sangue che sgorga, si presume dalle mani, della sorella assassina: è il sangue della colpa che rende manifesto il colpevole. E sempre nelle antiche ballate si trova una vasta letteratura in tal senso.
red is not so much referring to the color of the chair as to the blood stain that gushes, presumed by the hands, of the killer sister: it is the blood of guilt that makes the culprit manifest. And always in the ancient ballads there is a vast literature in this sense.