Marie Marshall

Author. Poet. Editor.

Tag: Child Ballad

The Two Magicians (Child 44)

12I have returned, once again, to the Child Ballads. This is my reworking of the song we know in Scotland as ‘The Twa Magicians’; it concerns a woman whose virginity is tried by a persistent suitor, the magical lengths to which she will go to preserve it, and the magical lengths to which he will go to take it. It exists in many versions, but in most the woman is a high-born lady and the suitor is a blacksmith. With this one I can ‘hear’ a tune not dissimilar to Ralph Stanley’s version of ‘Matty Groves’, but paced up and with a picked banjo accompaniment. I love the phrasing of folk songs, I love the patterning and balance, I love the peculiar syntax and the way that narrative connections often get lost in the transmission from singer to singer, and this is what I try to capture in my adaptations.

It’s of a lady highly born
and silken soft her skin,
And to her door a blacksmith came
to beg her let him in.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
.
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

It’s she with skin as white as silk,
and he with coal-black hair
Says marry me my darling one
and be my lady fair.

It’s she’s become an old oak tree
all standing in the wood,
And he’s become a woodman bold
to fell her where she stood.

It’s she’s become a salmon grey
all swimming in the book,
And he’s become a fisherman
to catch her with his hook.

It’s she’s become a silver star
all shining in the night,
And he’s become a thundercloud
to hide her out of sight.

It’s she’s become a tiny fly
all buzzing in the air,
And he’s become a spider bug
to catch her to his lair.

It’s she’s become a corpse so grey
all in her coffin bound,
And he’s become the cold, cold clay
to cover her around.

It’s she’s become a hare so swift
all running on the plain,
And he’s become a greyhound tall
to fetch her back again.

It’s she’s become a praying nun
all dressed in grey and white,
And he’s become a canting priest
to preach to her all night.

It’s she’s become a barquentine
all mizzen, main, and fore,
And he’s become a captain bold
to steer her back to shore.

It’s every step that she has took
there’s he took two as well,
And where they both have vanished to
no tongue can ever tell.

You lusty, dusty, coal-black smith,
sing me no lying song.
You’ll never have my maidenhead
that I have kept so long
.
No lusty, dusty, coal-black smith
will share my marriage bed,
I’d rather lose my young life
than lose my maidenhead.

The Elvish Knight. (Child Ballad 4)

Rackham detail

 

A knight came out of the fairy land
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And he’s asked a lady for her hand
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First go and fetch me your father’s chest
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And then put on your Sabbath best
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Go down to the stable and meet me there
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And it’s I on a colt and you on a mare
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was she on the white and he on the bay
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was over the moss and over the mire
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It was over the bush and over the briar
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

It was he as the groom and she as the bride
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And they rode till the came to the cold river’s side
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Dismount, dismount my lady fair
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s six pretty maids I have drowned there
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Take off, take off your silken gown
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For it’s much too fine to sink and drown
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

First draw your brand and crop those thistles
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
For I cannot ’bide their jags and bristles
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then he’s turned around for to crop them all
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And she’s catch’d him around the waist so small
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s thrown him over the water’s brim
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh I’ll surely drown for I cannot swim
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Lie there, lie there in the water deep
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Now close your eyes and go to sleep
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Then she’s up on her horse and she’s rode away
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Three hours before the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now a magic bird in her window high
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
It’s begun to prattle and begun to cry
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Oh do not prattle and do not scold
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And your cage shall be made of the finest gold
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

Now her father on hearing the bird did say
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
Oh why do you sing at the break of day
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

There came an old tomcat my life to take
With the gold and the grey and the green-i-o
And I called to my mistress so she would wake
As the willow grows in the dene-i-o

__________

As you know, I like composing (new) versions of Child Ballads. The poem above – song, rather – is a version of Child 4, often known by such titles as The Outlandish Knight and May Colvin and False Sir John. When I do this sort of thing, is it folklore or fakelore? You decide.

The illustration at the top of the page. is a detail from Arthur Rackham’s May Colvin.

Other stuff for you to see today: My one-off artistic statement, and some guest poems on the site of my friend Mari Sanchez Cayuso – desert poem 17, desert poem 18, and desert poem 19 – definitely not Child Ballads.