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September 5, 2005

Folksongs Are Your Friends
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 12:50 PM * 507 comments

I have four children, two daughters and two sons. Naturally, I worry about their moral upbringing. As everyone knows who’s paying attention, “Just say no” doesn’t work. Instead, I made sure they were constantly exposed to the traditional folksongs and legends of Great Britain. Nothing’s more certain to give you a strong sense of the negative consequences of immoral or imprudent behavior.

Things I’ve learned from British folk ballads


Don’t ignore warnings. If someone tells you to beware of Long Lankin, friggin’ beware of him. If someone tells you not to go by Carterhaugh, stay away. Same goes for your mother asking you not to go out hunting on a particular day. Portents about weather, particularly when delivered by an old sailor who is not currently chatting up a country maid, are always worth heeding.

If someone says that he’s planning to kill you, believe him.

If someone says he’s going to die, believe him.

Avoid navigable waterways. Don’t let yourself be talked into going down by the wild rippling water, the wan water, the salt sea shore, the strand, the lowlands low, the Burning Thames, and any area where the grass grows green on the banks of the great North Sea. Cliffs overlooking navigable waterways aren’t safe either.

Broom, as in the plant, should be given a wide berth.

Stay away from the greenwood side, too.

Avoid situations where the obvious rhyme-word is “maidenhead.”

If you look at the calendar and discover it’s May, stay home.

The flowing bowl is best quaffed at home. Don’t drink with strangers. Don’t drink alone. Don’t toss the cups or pass the jar about in bars where you haven’t arranged to keep a tab. Drinks of unusual or uncertain provenance should be viewed askance, especially if you’re offered them by charming members of the opposite sex. Finally, never get drunk and pass out in a bar called “Cape Horn.”

Members of press gangs seldom tell the truth. Recruiting sergeants will fib to you shamelessly. They are not your friends, even if they’re buying the drinks. Especially when they’re buying the drinks.

If you’re drinking toasts, mention your One True Love early and often.

If you’re a young lady, dressing yourself in men’s array and joining the army or the navy has all sorts of comic possibilities, but you yourself aren’t going to find it too darned humorous at the time.

If you are an unmarried lady and have sex, you will get pregnant. No good will come of it.

If you are physically unable to get pregnant due to being male, the girl you had sex with will get pregnant. No good will come of it. You’ll either kill her, or she’ll kill herself, or her husband/brother/father/uncle/cousin will kill you both. In any case her Doleful Ghost will make sure everyone finds out. You will either get hanged, kill yourself, or be carried off bodily by Satan. Your last words will begin “Come all ye.”

Going to sea to avoid marrying your sweetie is an option, but if she hangs herself after your departure (and it’s even money that she’s going to) her Doleful Ghost will arrive on board your ship and the last three stanzas of your life will purely suck.

If you are a young gentleman who had sex it is possible the girl won’t get pregnant. In those rare instances you will either get Saint Cynthia’s Fire or the Great Pox instead. No good will have come of it.

New York Girls, like Liverpool Judies, like the ladies of Limehouse, Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Gosport, and/or Baltimore, know how to show sailors a good time, if by “good time” you mean losing all your money, your clothes, and your dignity. Note: All of these places are near navigable waterways. In practical terms this means that if you’re a sailor you’re screwed (and so are any young ladies you happen to meet). See also: Great Pox; Doleful Ghost.

If you are a young lady do not allow young men into your garden. Or let them steal your thyme. Or agree to handle their ramrods while they’re hunting the bonny brown hare. Cuckoo’s nests are right out. And never stand sae the back o’ yer dress is up agin the wa’ (for if ye do ye may safely say yer thing-a-ma-jig’s awa’).

Never let a stranger teach you a new game. No good will come of it.

Sharing a boyfriend with your sister is a bad plan.

Having more than one True Love at a time is a non-starter.

If you’re a brunette, give up.

Not that being a blonde will improve the odds much.

If your name is Janet, change it.

If you are a young lady and an amorous soldier, sailor, ploughboy, blacksmith, cavalry officer, or other young man fails to stop the first time you tell him he’s being too bold, knock off the maidenly protests and take more direct measures. If saying “no” the first time didn’t stop him, you’ve no reason to believe that twice will work any better.

Professions to be particularly wary of: clerks, salty sailors, serving maids, blacksmiths, highwaymen, gamblers, rank robbers, stonemasons, soldiers, tinkers, and millers. Anyone described as “jolly,” “bold,” or “saucy.” Supernatural creatures are best avoided. If they can’t be avoided, they should be addressed respectfully. If a supernatural creature sets you a task you’re well and truly screwed.

If you are a young lady and a soldier promises to “marry you in the morn,” it means he’s already married. And has kids. And he’s not going to marry you anyway. Even if you’re pregnant. Which you will be.

If you’re a young unmarried lady with child, and your pregnancy embarrasses or inconveniences someone else, consider yourself a sitting duck. Don’t meet with your young gentleman alone, or at odd hours, or in isolated locations, even if he says he’s taking you to be married. Next thing you know your Doleful Ghost will be telling your mother all about it. While he may say “Come all ye….” in the last stanza or two this will be small comfort.

Young ladies who feel uneasy should always act on their feelings. If in your good opinion you fear some young man (however handsome, rich, and well-spoken) is some rake, depend upon it: He’s a rake. Rakes will protest that you have them all wrong. They’ll be fibbing. Never go anywhere with a rake, particularly to isolated spots. See above: Doleful Ghost.

If you are a young lady and someone arrives to tell you that your boyfriend was slain on a foreign battlefield, take it with a grain of salt. Especially if you’re carrying a broken token.

If a former significant other turns up unexpectedly after a long absence, don’t throw yourself into his/her arms right away.

That goes double if they refuse to eat anything.

Triple if they turn up at night and want you to leave with them immediately.

Have nothing to do with former boyfriends who turn up and say it’s no big deal that you’re now married to someone else and have a child. If their intentions are legit, that’s got to be a problem. If it’s not a problem, their intentions are not legit.

You are justified in cherishing the direst suspicions of a suddenly and unexpectedly returned significant other who mentions a long journey, a far shore, or a narrow bed, or who’s oddly skittish about the imminent arrival of cockcrow.

If you are a young lady and you meet a young man who says his name is “Ramble Away,” don’t be surprised if, by the time you know you’re pregnant, it turns out he’s moved and left no forwarding address.

A fellow who’s a massively accomplished flirt hasn’t been spending his time sitting around waiting for his One True Love to come along. Furthermore, odds are poor that you’ll turn out to be his One True Love who will reform him.

If you arrange an assignation with your new sweetie, a little foot page will be listening in and will carry the news to exactly the last person you’d want to hear the story.

If your girlfriend insists that you go back to sleep after some odd sound woke you, it’s time to dive out the window and run for the hills right then.

If you’re hiding in the hills, don’t inform anyone exactly where you’re sleeping, particularly not an attractive member of the opposite sex.

If your girlfriend serves eels in eel broo, make sure you see her eat some first.

Informing your current significant other that you’re about to be wed to someone else is … risky. Even if you’re doing it as a joke, or to test their love. Especially if you’re doing it as a joke or to test their love. Testing someone’s love in general isn’t too bright.

Not even sending a talking goshawk to tell your significant other that the engagement is off will help you. You’re going to find yourself at the bottom of a well full fifty fathoms deep. A Doleful Ghost may get involved.

If, after you inform your current significant other that you’re to be wed to someone else, he or she suggests that the two of you meet in some lonely spot for one last fling, do not go.

Inviting your old flame to your wedding is a bad idea.

If your old flame invites you to his/her wedding, leave town.

If your old flame shows up uninvited at your wedding, start eyeing the exits. There’s a chance he/she is a Doleful Ghost. Be that as it may, no good will come of it.

If you’re out hunting, make sure of your sight picture before you pull the trigger/loose your bow. Especially so if you’re near a navigable waterway or the greenwoodside.

Do not allow the words “I wish” to pass your lips.

Avoid oaths, particularly when you’re near navigable waterways or the greenwoodside.

If the jailer indicates his willingness to take your gay gold ring to carry a message to your sweetheart, see if he’ll take that same gay gold ring to leave the door open and look the other way for five minutes while you or the sweetheart (as appropriate) escape.

Always use the buddy system. “Bare is brotherless back,” as Grettir the Strong put it; and if Grettir was worried about going places alone, you’d better worry too. So bring a friend with you. Friends keep bad things from happening. If things go badly anyway, you’ll need their help. And if things go well (hey, it could happen), it’ll be nice to have a friend along to share the laughs.

Moving to America for a minute:

Do not, for any reason, mess with a man’s Stetson hat or a man who is wearing a Stetson.

Pop quiz!

You are a beautiful young lady named Janet. On the first of May you meet a man in a patch of broom down by the greenwoodside. He invites you to his home on the far side of the sea, and earnestly entreats you to keep his invitation secret from your parents. The ship is leaving right away, this very night!

What should you do?

A) Woo hoo, sounds like fun! You’ll go, have a great time, and return home happy, healthy, and with some great gossip for your chums.

B) You blow loudly on a police whistle and run home as if jet-propelled. You tell mom and dad what just went down, put on a Stetson, and load your forty-four caliber revolver with silver bullets.

C) You decide that it would save everyone concerned a great deal of trouble if you skipped ahead a bit and hanged yourself right now. Your Doleful Ghost informs mom of the situation.

D) Rather than go with him you disguise yourself as a man and join the Army. Next time you’re marching through the Lowlands Low you seduce a beautiful young lady. She is so amazed to discover that she isn’t pregnant that she hangs herself. Her Doleful Ghost gets confused and drives the young man you met down by the greenwoodside mad. He delivers a long speech that begins “Come all ye wild and roving lads a warning take by me….”


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Comments on Folksongs Are Your Friends:
#1 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 12:58 PM:

Jim, you dog. I already had a migraine, and it's not improved by laughing my head off and holding my sides while tears stream from my eyes.

#2 ::: Justine Larbalestier ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:04 PM:

Too wonderful.

Anyone whose skin is green tinged should also be avoided. Not to mention amorous siblings. Or kingly fathers.

#3 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:11 PM:

Elise desireth me to add that if you are a young lady, your brother is not on the Trusted List either. Especially if his name's Willie.

Also that if you murder somebody, even if you're really careful about it, your mother will find out. Doleful Ghosts may enter into it.

#4 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:20 PM:

Jim, I urge caution. There is an odd class of folksong in which the main character is simply too stupid to die. Your children migh unknowingly follow his lead and quickly find themselves, in trouble with the law or AWOL from the military, roaming the mountains of Kilkenny.

#5 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:36 PM:

If your name is Janet, change it.

But not to Margaret, or any diminutive thereof.

#6 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:36 PM:

New York Girls, like Liverpool Judies, like the ladies of Limehouse, Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Gosport, and/or Baltimore, know how to show sailors a good time, if by “good time” you mean losing all your money, your clothes, and your dignity.

Well, now, it's a good time for the ladies in question.

Hilarious, Jim.

#7 ::: R.J. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:37 PM:

And let's not forget that it is very unwise to kill talking animals, even if their prophecies annoy you.

#8 ::: Georgiana ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:44 PM:

If you're an oldest son don't go questing. Let your baby brother go in your stead. It will save pain and anguish.

If you meet a hag sitting by the side of the road you'd better give her some bread.

Don't mock men (especially very short men) who have caught their beards in a tree.

I wrote a poem about these and other rules a couple of months ago.

Skipping to other realms for a moment, Cullen, my middle son, wanted to lend our copy of Sondheim's Assassins to a friend of his. I said we'd better get something in writing saying he wasn't planning to shoot anyone because you know how all violent crime comes from being exposed to the wrong sorts of entertainment and teenagers are particularly susceptible. Cul pointed out that Assassins is practically a primer on why you should never attempt to assassinate anyone.

Brilliant post. Thanks.

#9 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:48 PM:

If you are a young man, and you should happen to jilt a young lady, especially a brunette, she will dance upon your grave.

Bank on it.

If she doesn't die by the waterside first, possibly murdered by the sister you were running around with on the side, whereupon [(a) her Doleful Ghost (b) a harp (flute, violin, slide trombone) made of her bones] will report the news to everyone and you'll be hauled off in irons.

Never stop for anyone whose hair is tied to the ground, or who otherwise appears beset by robbers.

Don't be surprised when your father presents you with your illicit love's heart in a box. You should have seen it coming.

Subparagraph V: Highwaymen and Hangings:
(see also subparagraph W: Robin Hood, Friar uck, Little John, Gamble Gold, et al.)

1) Don't roll about on the bank with mysterious dark-eyed women. They will steal your clothes while you are sleeping..

2) If you should happen to roll about on the bank with a mysterious dark-haired woman who doesn't steal your clothes, she'll expect you to keep her fine and gay, at which point you will have no choice but taking to robbery on the King's Highway.

3) If you do not get shot, you will be hanged.

4) Being hanged is preferable to being shipped off to Botany Bay.

5) Either way, you get a soliloquy.

(Look at me: I'm on deadline! Does it show?)

#10 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:53 PM:

Sitting under trees should be done with great care. Avoid any hint of the greenwood. navigable waterways, etc. Even oak, ash, and thorn should be approached cautiously, as you are certainly not England. If your significant other is named Johnny you should most certainly not sit under the apple tree, as you are sure to be surprised by his arrival, his appearance, or both.

You should take care to avoid ornithological misconceptions, especially in the vicinity of cliffs, navigable waterways, etc.

Do not accept King George's pay.

Privateering is another bad career move.

Gallant airmen are of no use to anyone not involved in the supply of second-hand aviation spares, and the paperwork is a bitch.

#11 ::: Michael J. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:53 PM:

Excellent post. And in case folks are interested in researching this further, Loomis House Press is reprinting the Child Ballads. They're up to Volume 3 with two more to come.

www.loomishousepress.com

#12 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 01:55 PM:

Even if you can turn yourself into a bunch of different stuff, don't bother. It never helps.

#13 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:06 PM:

And (from a different side of the matter), never hit your grandma with a shovel (it makes a bad impression on her mind), and don't put a slug in the slot machine (read 'vending machine').

#14 ::: Kristine Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:07 PM:

I'm surprised at no mention of redheads, who should of course be avoided as they make the most Doleful Ghosts of all.

Innkeepers' daughters should also be avoided at all costs.

#15 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:07 PM:

As for names, Mary is also Right Out.

And elf-knights and ladies dressed in green are to be avoided at all costs. Unless you can harp. And even then, experimentation is not recommended.

#16 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:18 PM:

And totally avoid sleeping under trees, especially hawthorne. There has to be a handy Holiday Inn somewhere, right?

If your sister invites you on a hike, politely decline.

If you run into any knights of ghosts and shadows, invest in frequent flier miles.

#17 ::: Darice ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:21 PM:

Another rule: Never pull the trigger on yourself to warn your beloved. It won't save him, and even if it did, you won't be around to enjoy him anyway.

Even better: don't date highwaymen.

Paul, I'm in trouble, as my daughter's named Margaret and called Meg...

#18 ::: Marna ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:27 PM:

I have a warning or several taken by thee. And also, snickering.

But how do we account for the extremely positive outcomes of young married women who leave their house and lands and child and own wedded lords etc to bugger around in the wilds with unemployed gentlemen named David?

#19 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Note that "docks" rhymes with "pox" and be guided accordingly.

A young lady who "drops her knicks for half-a-crown" is unlikely to be true to you. While a Doleful Ghost is unlikely in this case, the clap is dead certain. (Public safety note: Some STDs are resistant to antibiotics.)

#20 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:37 PM:

If you've already killed six of your girlfriends, it may be time to quit while you're ahead, rather than going for a seventh. Take up a different hobby.

If your girlfriend offers to louse you, don't take her up on it. You're better of with the lice.

If you take up a career in order to finance your whiskey and beer habit, be prepared to stick with it for many a year.

Beware of men with harps.

Supernatural creatures will seldom lie to you, but it's best to consider all the possible interpretations of their words. When you think of one that's particularly nasty, that's probably what they meant.

If you are a young cowboy, stay away from establishments called Rose's. You will end up shot in the breast, one way or another.

#21 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:38 PM:

Actually, the Carterhaugh thing more or less worked out okay. In the end. The girl wound up pregnant, but as far as we know Tam hung around to help raise the kid and no one killed themselves.

#22 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:47 PM:

So I've read most of the Child ballads, but can anyone recommend a solid recording of them (or of similarly authentic ballads)? Perhaps one relatively easily obtainable? Much obliged.

#23 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:48 PM:

For the young gentleman: fair haired ladies on pony's of indeterminate origin offering you to join them in a ride through the aforementioned Woodside should be politely declined. Especially if they're gowns are several hundred years out of fashion.

And on the subject of rings: in general, they are bad news, especially if they be made of gold (bad X2 if said ring is attached to the finger of the above fair-haired lady). Rings made of toadstools? Right out.

#24 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 02:58 PM:

Marna said:
But how do we account for the extremely positive outcomes of young married women who leave their house and lands and child and own wedded lords etc to bugger around in the wilds with unemployed gentlemen named David?

Actually, those often end badly, too, or at least they did before they were cleaned up by minstrels who thought it might be a good idea for pretty young unhappy married women to run off with people like them. At least, so says Doc Watson.

Avoid minstrels.

#25 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:01 PM:

Authentic ballad recordings? Caedmon's Folksongs of Britain (ten volumes), 1961. Some have been reissued on CD by Rounder Records as part of the Alan Lomax collection.

#26 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:07 PM:

If your sister invites you on a hike, politely decline.

I would appreciate a citation for this particular ballad. Anyone...?

#27 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:14 PM:

I would appreciate a citation for this particular ballad. Anyone...?

O sister, sister come walk with me
Lay the bent to the bonnie broom
To see the ships sail on the sea
Fa la la la la la la la la la.

-- The Cruel Sister

This one includes navigable waterways, broom, being brunette, and sharing a boyfriend with your sister.

That young lady would have been better off dressing in man's array, changing her name to Bob and going to London.

#28 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:38 PM:

If your husband asks whether you prefer your paramour to him, say no.

You can go poaching if you have a good dog in your keeping, but under no circumstances shoot a gamekeeper.

That "nosebleed" story isn't fooling anyone.

#29 ::: Mark D. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:50 PM:

Thank you. My sister did in fact invite me on a hike just last night. I'm gonna have to think it over....

#30 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 03:56 PM:

Your grey mare's blood was never so red. Just saying.

#31 ::: Helen Wright ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:04 PM:

I may not recover.... Still ROFL here.

#32 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Never compliment anyone on his featherbed or sheets.

If she says her parents won't mind, they will. If she says her husband won't find out, he definitely will.

#33 ::: Jim Flannery ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:10 PM:

Mark D., you've no worries on that score unless you and your sister share One True Love.

#34 ::: ers ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:18 PM:

If the Doleful Ghost of your True Love offers you one last kiss from his or her Cold Clay Lips, turn it down. Kissing a corpse is a surefire way to turn into one yourself.

#35 ::: CaseyL ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:30 PM:

Avoid handsome lads in brave tatterdemalion, carrying ancient swords all carved with legendary runes, who claim to the Lost Prince of Whatever, come to reclaim their rightful place.

Especially avoid them if they're telling the truth.

For, unless the current Highnesses have been beating the bushes seeking their lost lad, it's a good bet Their Highnesses won't be particularly pleased to see this one. Nor will they be pleased with his companions.

#36 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:36 PM:

This one includes navigable waterways, broom, being brunette, and sharing a boyfriend with your sister.

That young lady would have been better off dressing in man's array, changing her name to Bob and going to London.

At which location you get the Doleful Ghost, I assume.

#37 ::: Dave Weingart ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 04:58 PM:

Oh.
My.

This is just TOO priceless.

#38 ::: Jim Millen ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:01 PM:

Not sure about in a folksong, but certainly folklore...

If you are a young man a' wandering in the woods, and you come upon a beautiful young maiden smiling at you beguilingly from her cottage doorway, carefully check the following:

  • Her hair is lustrous and shiny. Is there running water in this cottage? Is there evidence of shampoo, hairspray and conditioner?
  • Her lips are glistening red, and her cheeks like rosy apples. Look out for cosmetics.
  • Her gown is low cut and of shimmering silk. Is there an invitation to a ball on the mantelpiece?
  • She smiles as if you are her One True Love. Be honest now, are you an amalgam of Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and George Clooney?

If any of the above seem suspicious, she's a witch, and you should run like hell. In fact, a gorgeous girl on her own in the woods is probably grounds for suspicion right off, but you never know...

#39 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:13 PM:

The Old Door Well is always fifty fathoms deep.

If your boyfriend is a sailor, and his name is Henry (like almost all sailors), assume he'll be untrue to you. If his name is William, he's your One True Love, and you should be loyal and keep your half of the ring next to your heart.

Never ride a gray horse, especially if you're pursuing or being pursued. Brown horses are always faster.

#40 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:16 PM:

Marna --

"...We all were wondrous bonnie oh

and this very night we all shall be hanged

for the stealing of the earl's lady-o"

Not that the Earl of Cassillis really hanged seven bonnie brothers and imprisoned his wife in a tower with the likeness of the their faces cut into the steps, you understand, but it makes a great folksong.

#41 ::: OtherDeb ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:17 PM:

Oh, and if the lady is a remarkably attractive Jewess, run straight for the hills. It will turn out remarkably badly, with your line cursed until the tenth generation (if you are lucky).

#42 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:20 PM:

Xopher, not at all. After all, it's well established that--

"Saddle for me my good grey mare: the brown horse is not speedy, oh!"

A good grey mare is always best. Unless it's so pale it can be described as a milk-white steed.

In which case, abort! abort! abort!

#43 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:22 PM:

If your family name is Gordon or Graham you, personally, may well get hanged but the guy who ordered it will be wishing he hadn't by the last stanza.

#44 ::: Pandora ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:27 PM:

I just found this while browsing. I think it's fantastic, but I must add one:

If your mother asks you to have dinner with her, DO IT, no matter how much you miss your girlfriend, and no matter how much you trust the swift feet of your coal black steed. Especially if your name is William.

#45 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:31 PM:

Am laughing fit to burst.

Bragging about previous sexual exploits to current partners or likely prospects is almost never a good idea.

If he's not turned up, he's either dead or he doesn't love you any more. Probably both. Forget about him. If he turns up later, take his temperature before taking him to bed.

For goodness sake, if you're in love with the servant boy, do not tell your father. Just run off together.

If someone suggests that this would be a good time for a shag because their husband/wife/father/mother etc. is well clear, they are certainly going to turn up before the last verse. You'd better hope it's a long song.

Your parents are unlikely to be pleased.

It's not all bad though. For some reason, if your love is sent to the far ends of the earth as a punishment, if you follow him or her, you'll meet up again, despite the fact that the country is several thousand miles across. And this before mobile phones.

If you're a small child, consider very carefully whether you actually *want* your ball back.

More seriously, on reading the report of a rather gruesome murder a year or so ago, I was struck by how *exactly* like a Child ballad it seemed. (summary: young pregnant girl is walking home on Boxing Day when she falls in with a stranger, who tells her he won't do her any harm if she just walks with him for a while, takes her to a churchyard, rapes her and strangles her with the laces from her shoes 'because of the shame of what he's done').

#46 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:48 PM:

"Saddle for me my good grey mare: the brown horse is not speedy, oh!"

Um, I heard "Saddle to me the bonnie brown steed/The grey was never so speedy!"

Blackjack Davy.

#47 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:50 PM:

Before having sex with a young lady, be careful to ask her parents' names and place of residence, particularly if you haven't been home or seen your sister in a while.

#48 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Xopher--

Depends on who you listen to. ;-)

You also get "Saddle for me the good grey steed / the big horse is not speedy" and a bunch of other variants.

One thing about ballads. If the variant you're looking for doesn't exist when you started, it will when you're done.

Bluid-red steeds are also a lookout.

#49 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:09 PM:

You know, all of these precepts will be made law if Bush has his way and puts John Roberts and Tony Barrand on the Supreme Court.

What?

Oh.

Never mind.

#50 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:14 PM:

So, is this where the damn "Just Say No" thing gets its start?

Doesn't work any better now.

On the other cold white hand, the previously observed habit of harpers, pipers, and the Sackbut & Psaltery Five Minus Two to put a bit of wishful hinting in their lyrics should always be kept in mind-a-derry-down-oh.

#51 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:16 PM:

If a marriage is arranged for you with a younger man (especially a delicate-looking school boy, however good looking), consider carefully whether you want to be a single mother within the year...

And if the bonny maid you meet on the heath has a sort of unearthly beauty, well, there's a reason for that. Bow politely and back away from the Queen of Faery and nobody will get hurt. You hope.

#52 ::: Atalanta Pendragonne ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:19 PM:

If you're returning home after a long absence, do not tumble the first pretty lass you meet. Trust me.


If your daughter tells you she'll die if she can't marry her true love, she's probably telling the truth, but chances are she's a spoiled brat anyway.

#53 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:47 PM:

This is utterly brilliant.

My sister and I have contemplated a similar list, though a lot of the entries have been covered. A few more suggestions:

If a female monster or otherwise supernatural wants to sleep with you, you should probably let her. Unless she's beautiful. Then run away.

On the subject of names, being named Sweet William is probably a bad idea, too.

If you and your brothers are in dire financial straits, casting lots to determine who's going to take up piracy, while romantic, is ultimately impractical.

If a strange knight starts asking you about your family's livestock, remember to be as rude to him as possible.

If someone asks you to lower your topsail and brail up your mizzen, you should probably do so.

Never go into battle without donning the appropriate headgear. Especially if you've been dreaming about your own death.

When making toasts, do not under any circumstances omit Barbara Allen.

Officers in the Army are invariably cads. With the Navy, it's a tossup (as Xopher points out).

Watkin's Ale is not nearly as good as advertised. Stick with Newcastle.

If your fiancee confesses to having disguised as a highwayman to see if you'd hand over the ring she gave you, with the intention of shooting you if you'd done it, it might be a good idea to reconsider the entire relationship.

#54 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:49 PM:

I'm reading the Oct/Nov Asimov's and Nisi Shawl has a story, "Cruel Sistah," which plays well on the old tune.

#55 ::: T.W ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 06:50 PM:

Do not leave your working tradesman husband and child for a prince with many ships. Especially if you can't swim.(Yes I can sing House Carpenter all 13 verses but I keep slipping into Gilligan's Island theme for the melody.)

#56 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:13 PM:

"Polly" isn't good either, particularly if you wrap your apron about you and trudge through areas freqented by swans (or just trigger-happy swan-hunting lovers).

What's Polly short for? Hippolyta - could be, but there's at least one "real" name that's more mainstream.

#57 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:21 PM:

Oddly enough, Polly is a nickname for Mary.

(I just looked it up. Mary=Molly=Polly)

#58 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:35 PM:

If the knight with whom you happen to be having an affair with dies and you are close to term, mourn him well but don't carry him down to the lake and bury him. You'll die. Esp if he has a faithful hound and hawk guarding him in the green field when you find him.

#59 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 07:56 PM:

If a strange knight starts asking you about your family's livestock, remember to be as rude to him as possible.

...now I'm curious. What's the story behind that one?

#60 ::: Azalais Malfoy ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:09 PM:

If you do have to kill someone, by all means don't bury them. Burn them. If you bury them, a tree will grow there, and it's quite likely that a bird or a Doleful Ghost or both will take up residence there and tell everyone what you did.

#61 ::: Beth T. ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:11 PM:

Ow. I think I sprained something laughing.

(One is tempted, just for the exercise, to fit as many of these as possible into a single ballad-form poem....)

And then I'm reminded of the New St. George song about the fact that sailors can't be trusted so girls should love one another.... Where does that fit in the scheme? (Besides navigable waterways....)

#62 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:45 PM:

Melissa, as soon as I saw your post, I knew it was what was eluding me. Yup, Mary, or occasionally Margaret. I have a distant relation whose name was Margaret who was always called Molly. She did not die by apron misaprehension, though.

#63 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:49 PM:

Fade, I'm taking that one to be False Knight on the Road.
"...

Who owns them sheep o'er there,
said the false knight on the road
They're mine and me father's
said the wee boy as he stood

How many will be mine
said the false knight on the road
those who live without a tail
said the wee boy as he stood

I wish you in yonder tree
said the false knight on the road
a ladder under me
said the wee boy as he stood

the ladder it will break
said the false knight on the road
and you will surely fall
said the wee boy as he stood.

...."

#64 ::: J. C. Runolfson ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 08:51 PM:

You should also change your name if you're a young lady named Jean or Darcy.

If it's a stormy night, stay home, no matter how worried you are about your love not surviving to dawn. If they do, you'll die. If they don't, you'll arrive too late to save them and then die on the way home.

If your fiance is a sailor named Jack, don't expect to see him again if he ever puts out to sea.

If you meet a woman on the road wearing a black veil, do not ask to see what's under it.

Resist the urge to follow strange lights off the road. No good will come of it.

Avoid crossroads if at all possible.

If your True Love gives you a token, guard it with your life. Especially from attractive members of the opposite sex.

If a beautiful stranger offers you apples, grapes, or berries of any kind, politely decline, no matter how famished you are nor how good the fruit looks.

If you are a young handsome sailor aboard a ship or walking down by the seaside, earplugs are a good idea.

If you are a young lady, do not give your hair ribbon to anyone except your own True Love, and make sure you're his own True Love before you do.

If you encounter a stranger crying on the side of the road, do not stop to ask what's wrong unless you're really, really bored and have a lot of frequent flier miles to use up.

If someone says they've had a portent of your death, best make sure your will is in order.

If your True Love is taken away to be hanged and shows up the next night looking unusually pale, bolt the door and call for a priest.

Sleeping on the grave of your True Love might indeed bring them back, but not in any condition you'll find appealing.

If a stranger challenges you to a fiddle contest, only say yes if you're in a mountainous region of the United States. Otherwise, politely decline and flatter the hell out of the stranger until you can run away.

Never toss away herbs or twigs given to you by any woman over forty.

#65 ::: Alexis Duncan ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 09:14 PM:

If you are a young handsome sailor aboard a ship or walking down by the seaside, earplugs are a good idea.

Better yet, an iPod-- loaded with British folk ballads.

#66 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 09:21 PM:

If she invites you to court her in the kitchen, what with the Captain being out fishing, countersuggest that she let you take her out for a beer instead.

And, as a rule, your mother is always right.

#67 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 09:49 PM:

While from over here, we learn that stealing sheep, riding bulls through the streets, and trying to beat cunning old men at shearing contests is bound to end in tears. Also that landladies, no matter what their demeanour, do not have hearts of gold.

A wonderful post, Mr Macdonald.

#68 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:01 PM:

Fade, I'm taking that one to be False Knight on the Road.

Got it in one. :)

#69 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:04 PM:

Another rule: Never pull the trigger on yourself to warn your beloved. It won't save him, and even if it did, you won't be around to enjoy him anyway.

Ah, I knew someone would beat me to it. That one has been bugging me for a long time. What a git he was.

#70 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:07 PM:

If your name is Janet, change it.

However, if your name happens to be Jack or Kate, have no fear. Stay good-natured and it will all work out all right in the end.

#71 ::: jkr ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:20 PM:

Sarah: Not complete Child Ballads collections, by any means, but you might want to try the "Carthy Chronicles" set (one volume, "Child: Carthy", is all Child Ballads) and, as somebody above suggested, anything by John Roberts & Tony Barrand (I think "Dark Ships in the Forest" is all Child; if not, it's all similar and done traditional-style).

#72 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:24 PM:

If a stranger challenges you to a fiddle contest, only say yes if you're in a mountainous region of the United States. Otherwise, politely decline and flatter the hell out of the stranger until you can run away.

Actually, the Canadian Idol, Kalen Porter, pulled it off damn well too.

And then I'm reminded of the New St. George song about the fact that sailors can't be trusted so girls should love one another.... Where does that fit in the scheme? (Besides navigable waterways....)

Which one is that?

#73 ::: Matt ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:24 PM:

Same goes for your mother asking you not to go out hunting on a particular day. Portents about weather, particularly when delivered by an old sailor who is not currently chatting up a country maid, are always worth heeding.

Does this mean "Bad Moon Rising" by CCR is actually an English folk ballad?

Do not, for any reason, mess with a man’s Stetson hat or a man who is wearing a Stetson.

Is tugging on Superman's cape or spitting into the wind OK?

#74 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:31 PM:

New York Girls, like Liverpool Judies, like the ladies of Limehouse, Yarmouth, Portsmouth, Gosport, and/or Baltimore, know how to show sailors a good time, if by “good time” you mean losing all your money, your clothes, and your dignity.

but you'll never find the good restaurants without us.

#75 ::: Sara ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:36 PM:

US folk songs:

Definitely don't change your name to Polly.

Don't be the child, girlfriend, friend, acquaintance, drinking buddy, or in any relationship whatsoever to a gambler. If you *are* a gambler, you might live, but I wouldn't count on it.

Do what your Mama tells you. If you don't, you'll be sorry. Also dead.

If you're in an American folk song, you're going to die anyway...by murder, mishap, for love, or because you tried to out-hammer a machine. Even if you're a gambler, chances are someone will shoot you because you cheated or your girlfriend will bust in and shoot you because you done her wrong. Remember how your Mama told you not to be a gambler? You should have listened.

Go tell your baby sister (brother, son, daughter) not to do what you have done.

#76 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:40 PM:

If you do have to kill someone, by all means don't bury them. Burn them. If you bury them, a tree will grow there, and it's quite likely that a bird or a Doleful Ghost or both will take up residence there and tell everyone what you did.

And if you don't have any tinder, dig a deep hole; don't just leave the corpse lying around, because some pervert will turn pieces of the skeleton into an instrument that will peach on you.

#77 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:42 PM:

And then I'm reminded of the New St. George song about the fact that sailors can't be trusted so girls should love one another....

Which one is that?

Some versions of "The Blacksmith" (aka "A Blacksmith Courted Me") have that line.

There is no trust in men
Not my own brother
So girls if you would love,
Love one another.

I don't know if that's the one NSG do (although I do know that there are two folk bands called The New Saint George, one in the D.C. area and one in the U.K.).

#78 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:45 PM:

Other American lessons: never marry a railroad man ("will kill you if he can and drink of your blood like wine") or a schoolteacher ("blows her nose in old cornbread and calls it pumpkin pie").

#79 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:54 PM:

Avoid situations where the obvious rhyme-word is “maidenhead.”

I never liked Rogers anyway.

Boom-boom!


(Explanation for them as needs it.)

#80 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:58 PM:

Other American lessons: never marry a railroad man

But if you must marry a railroad man, never speak harsh words to your true lovin' husband, as he may leave you and never return. Probably in a firey crash.

#81 ::: Merav ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 10:59 PM:

Further caveats:

If you meet the devil or a knight on the road, make sure you have a small child with you to do the talking.

If someone offers you the better sword, run, don't stay and fight. After all, you've already slept with the fair lady, and she's married.

If your daughter's true love dies and she takes to her bed, arrange to have them both buried in your garden. If you like roses and briars.

Do not date nearsighted men who like guns.

Joe Bethencourt wrote a wonderful primer on this sort of thing that's recorded on his album Naked Banjos. The song is called Silver Dagger and it's an object lesson in why you should just run off with your sweetie.

Two instances of what happens when you combine ballads.

Condensed ballads. (See the index or do a search for Child Ballads on the page.)

#82 ::: Dawn O ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:01 PM:

Do, with your dying breath, make sure your wife will name your son Sue.

#83 ::: Dawn O ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:04 PM:

OK, I remembered too late that the father didn't actually die, he just ran off, the lout.

#84 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:04 PM:

I do think it's a bit unfair to say that all well-conducted men who want to be your friends are rakes; quite often they're the devil carrying you off to hell for disobeying your mother.

#85 ::: Kay Shapero ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:12 PM:

And if you're anywhere in the Appalachians, never let anybody give you a silver dagger. If anybody in your vicinity owns a silver dagger, run away immediately and don't stop before you've reached Kansas.

#86 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 05, 2005, 11:13 PM:

If you want to keep your shoes clean, it's a better idea to get a pair of galoshes than to stand on a loaf of bread.

#89 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:25 AM:

ROFL.

And if you're Lord Randall in Laredo, don't sit with your back to a door, especially if you have a one-eyed jack in your hand.

#90 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:25 AM:

The bathetic fallacy isn't.

#91 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:27 AM:

Does this mean "Bad Moon Rising" by CCR is actually an English folk ballad?

The Battlefield Band does it as a bagpipe reel. It works amazingly well, assuming that you belong to that segment of the population that enjoys bagpipe music. (If you aren't part of that segment, no piping in the world is going to please you, so don't bother.)

#92 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:41 AM:

Speaking of Joe Bethancourt, and getting back to fantasy and science fiction, he's done an album of songs from Who Fears the Devil by Manly Wade Wellman.


Silver John is a character who had learned and lived by Lessons We Can Learn from Ballads.

Y'know what I'd like to see? Silver John vs. the Blair Witch in a steel-cage grudge match.

#93 ::: karimonster ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:04 AM:

If you leave your sweetheart back at port to marry a mermaid, remember that she's a fish from the waist down.

At least you won't get her pregnant or get the pox.

#94 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:05 AM:

James Macdonald:

Bless you. I *so* needed something light and frivolous after catching up on a weekend's worth of New Orleans news and blogging, and my deep fondness for traditional ballads - I managed the feat of singing one where nobody dies or chooses the wrong sexual partner just yesterday - made this *the* antidote.

(I was at first tempted to ask if I might kiss you for posting this, but doing so to a married man would seem rather out of keeping with the tenor of the very advice proferred. Also with the soprano, alto and bass.)

#95 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:06 AM:

In short,

"My thing is my own, and I'll keep it so still,
Though other young maidens may do what they will;
yes, my thing is my own and I'll keep it so still,
Until I am married; let men say what they will."

#96 ::: Brenda ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:16 AM:

More American cautions:

Make sure no one is watching when you throw something off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

If the civilization on the other mountain is willing to give you something for free, for the love of Mike, don't raise an army over it.

If you must frame someone for a murder, be sure his sister isn't a crack shot.

#97 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:35 AM:

And another American one (bursting out from between fits of giggles):

Never walk into a swell affair and order one fish ball. Not only will you not get bread, but the waiter will humiliate you very loudly, and the only fix for that will be going outside and shooting yourself.

#98 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:56 AM:

In Italian restaurants, do not sneeze or allow another to do so.

#99 ::: Angela ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:25 AM:

If you're out for a walk or at a party and start to feel unusually tired go home before taking a nap. Do not stop even if your true love offers the use of his or her house. One will lead to your death and the other to your sleeping for 100 years. Your own bed is worth the wait.

#100 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:39 AM:

If you're building an ark, it's worth paying three 'a'pence a foot for timber.

If your son is called Albert, don't take him to the zoo.

#101 ::: Paul Bristow ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:59 AM:

So, based on above discussion and taking into account all relevant submissions received before the deadline:

Assessing the speed of a horse by colour is unreliable. Always verify the creature's performance using an industry standard benchmark.

#102 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 05:37 AM:

If the captain offers you gold and silver to sink the enemy ship then it might be worth going for it, but if he offers you the hand of his daughter then tell him to sink it himself.

#103 ::: Suw ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:27 AM:

Not from a ballad, but pertinent nonetheless.

If anyone prophesies your demise thrice, each time describing a different modus operandi, don't assume they've got it wrong. Expect a very long, complicated death.

Spending even the smallest modicum of time in a valley/city/cottage that you could have sworn wasn't there before will result in you finally emerging to discover that a century has passed and your One True Love not only married your brother but is also now dead anyway. You'll end up fighting your nephew for the throne. Doleful Ghosts will be involved.

#104 ::: Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:06 AM:

If you are a croppy boy, and you decide to go to confession, first check under the priest's cassock carefully for signs of a scarlet uniform.

#105 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:14 AM:

If you leave your sweetheart back at port to marry a mermaid, remember that she's a fish from the waist down.

I went down to the Norfolk harbor
That's where my baby lay,
She was stretched out on some ice and lemons
And her gills were turning gray.

Throw her back, throw her back, god bless her
She won't come back to me
In a better world than this my baby's swimmin' around
Ceramic castles in the deep blue sea

Now when I die, throw me in the ocean
Tuck a lure in my Stetson crown,
Put some solid gold sinkers on my watch and chain
So the water will ease me down

Now some men's loves turn fickle
And some men's loves lie bleedin'
But it wasn't hate nor jealousy that left me alone
It was another case of overfeedin'.

#106 ::: Mary Ellen Wessels ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:44 AM:

Thank you for the sage advice. I shall take it to heed and more importantly make sure my two young lads do. (especially the bits about docks and pox et al.)

(Thanks for the laugh - I thought it was brilliant. I had to cut and paste it into a word doc, with your attribution of course, so that I could show it off at random moments. These days a laugh is even more appreciated!)

#107 ::: Carrie ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 08:43 AM:

Make sure you've got all the details about what conditions will allow or require your bride to return to her family of origin. Be especially careful about time limits; it's going to suck if you only had to wait 72 more hours.

#108 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:37 AM:

If your daughter's true love dies and she takes to her bed, arrange to have them both buried in your garden. If you like roses and briars.

"So at last their souls entwine
As one forever climbing
Ten out of ten for true, true love
Nought out of ten for timing."

"Maybe Then I'll Be A Rose" by Les Barker and Savourna Stevenson, a ballad about learning from ballads. The same album (Singing the Storm) contains another important less: don't almost kill the most powerful wizard in Scotland.

#109 ::: Tim ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:50 AM:

As well as avoiding broom, it's best to stay out of all pricklie bushes.

If engaged in a robbery, never leave your getaway vehicle unattended.

#110 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:12 AM:

In America: If he's your man, he's doin' you wrong.

#111 ::: Kirsty ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Do not fall in love with tinker lads, gyspy lads, roving journeymen, ploughmen or soldier laddies, however for some reason collier laddies are OK.

The grass it being cut down is not a good enough reason to roll in it - your mother WILL chance to notice how you've thickened around the waist.

If you meet young lassies on the road to Dundee and they ask you to show them the way, just say no - you will end up forty years later singing songs about it to bored young men in bars. If you must insist on showing them the way at least have the gumption to ask their bloody name.

Young women coming downstairs with long yellow hair will break your heart - you will die and your fellow soliders will get drunk and sing songs about you in bars.

Do not sell your fiddle, no matter how desperate you are for a pint.

Drinking will not make you forget your lost love (or your fiddle), it will just cause you to sing songs about her in bars.

Avoid bars.

If intending to marry your love it is imperative to ask her brother's permission first unless you want a lot of blood and tears on the wedding day.

Do not insist on betrothing a beautiful woman to the young laird if she is in love with someone else, she will either elope on the wedding day or drop dead in the bridal chamber - neither is a good start to married life.

Just keep a bloody good hold on her - whatever you do, don't let her start moving through the fair.

Don't go leaving your baby lying around - no amount of blaeberries are worth the trouble of explaining to your husband that the fairies appear to have stolen your child.

If the women are weeping it's probably not a good sign.

If you go off to war to fight for bonnie princes you will come back to find your wife, children and goods in the snow and your houses burning.

In fact, just say no to Bonnie Prince Charlie - it'll all end in tears and men wearing women's clothing.

#112 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:54 AM:

Tim:

Addenda: be kind to cabin boys. Especially when they have drills.

Mr. Ford: That's beautiful. Just beautiful. It brought a tear to my eye...

#113 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:59 AM:

Good manners are better than gold.

Secrets don't stay secret.

Never dance with strangers.

If someone offers you a deal you don't understand, say no.

Never let yourself get caught in the other guy's metaphor.

Talking animals, aged sailors, and wee lads are always right.

Don't entangle yourself in the affairs of supernatural creatures unless you're prepared to accept a random life-altering outcome.

It's better to be embarrassed than dead. For example, if you're a lousy sea captain, you should turn down the king's offer of command of his new ship.

It's better to arrive late than not arrive at all. If the storm rages, the night's dark, or the river's in flood, turn back and try again tomorrow.

Never vow to perform some deed in spite of danger, death, the devil, the cost, however long it takes, or any other impediment.

Arguably, the only safe wish is, "I wish to be a good and virtuous person, and go to heaven when I die."

Further:

If you are a comely young lady, consider preparing some small fragrant sachets labeled all, thing-a-ma-jig, virtue, and other related terms. Carry these in your pocket. Name your horse "Ring Dang Doo." Cultivate the ability to tell outrageous and entertaining fibs at length. By these means, if some villain compels you to surrender your all, your virtue, or your thing-a-ma-jig, or to let him ride on your Ring Dang Doo, or to lie with him all night, you may be able to make it home unscathed. A loaded derringer helps, too.

And:

If you're in bed, and are threatened by an armed and angry man who says he can't kill you while you're naked, do not get up and get dressed.

#114 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:08 PM:

Kirsty: I feel the need to confess here that I have met a bonnie young lassie on the road (okay, train) to Dundee, given her directions and travelled there with her. And I never asked her name. I have no desire to sing about it to bored young men in bars, but on the other hand I didn't get a kiss or exchange any valuables. I guess it's about fair.

No arguments wrt following returning princes, though. Always ends in tears, and you never get a pension out of it.

#115 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:17 PM:

American: Oranges are deadly.

#116 ::: Joe D'Andrea ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:27 PM:

I'm laughing so hard I'm crying. Very well done!

But wait a sec. What about Lovely Nancy? There has to be something in there about Lovely Nancy, no? What's the word on Lovely Nancy?! (My wife's name is Nancy so perhaps I must have something, um, sorta kinda riding on this one. Heh.)

#117 ::: Ghost Horse ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:30 PM:

If your honey dies, you get 365 days to mope about it. Period. After that, move on. Lots of fish in the sea, et cetera. You do not want to mess with day 366.

JM, this was so damned funny that I got depressed remembering that not everyone I know likes the English and Scottish Popular Ballads and so won't get it if I send 'em the link. Your kids are in good hands.

#118 ::: Keith Kisser ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:33 PM:

I'm surprised this lesson has been left off the list of American Appendecies:

Don't take your guns to town. You'll end up either shooting a man just to watch him die or get yourself shot by a whisky soaked cowboy who is much faster than you ever thought possible.

Perhaps it's a sort of adendum to the always-listen-t-mama rule but it bears it's own special nod.

#119 ::: Zena ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:34 PM:

ROFLMAO
beyond the talking birds/animals, etc, anything that acts out of character is probably not on your side.Gold from strange pale young women will turn to dust. And who'd be a midwife?

#120 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:39 PM:

If Lovely Nancy is only known as "Lovely," that's all right, though you might find the Irish tenors hanging about to be a bit tedious.

If, however, she's known as "[Name of Seaport] Nancy," well...be prepared for an unexpected trip to Shanghai under skysails.

#121 ::: elizabeth bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Oh, and perhaps the most important tip of all.

Sleep late.

Nothing good every comes of any encounter that takes place all in the morning, early.

#122 ::: Sylvia Sotomayor ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:06 PM:

More advice to parents:
Don't ever say that you'd rather see your son die than be married to the serving maid. He will.

Also, on running off with people, it seems to be okay to run off with the gaberlunzie man, as long as he's actually a noble lord in disguise.

#123 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:13 PM:

Come to think of it, I've profited by the lessons learned in ballads. Twice, when I've been in difficult situations, I've gotten advice from supernatural personages -- once from a raggedy man who was green from head to toe, and once from three women who would have been identical except that one was young, one middle-aged, and one old. I thanked them courteously, followed their advice to the letter, and had excellent good luck as a result. Oh, and I once had some wee lads give me advice about book packaging and cover copy, and that was good too.

I have yet to run into talking animals. The most Arthur does is mime.

#124 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:19 PM:

Can anyone here supply the lyrics for "Maybe Then I'll Be a Rose"?

#125 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 01:54 PM:

Arguably, the only safe wish is, "I wish to be a good and virtuous person, and go to heaven when I die."

Except that it tempts fate to enact it immediately.

Addenda: be kind to cabin boys. Especially when they have drills.

Be especially good to ones with broken glass available. Also, beware ship's cats.

More American (and Canadian):
When we warn about navigable bodies of water, the Great Lakes are not known as such because they are Good Lakes.

Regardless of what other areas experience Springtime to be like, if you are in a state adjoining Canada, or in Canada itself probably, it is not safe to travel alone between towns and houses when the temperature is the same in Celcius and Farenheit.

If you attempt to avoid a life of crime by joining the RCMP, it is possible that you will lose your job and be driven into the same band of waterborne criminals you once persued.

Don't tell your children to Cut it Out if they tend to take your instructions literally.

Should you intend to kill your husband (or anyone) by making him blind and then pushing him into a body of water, be very sure they haven't caught on.

Grenadiers are just as likely, if not more so, than other soldiers to be already married and so unable to marry you.

When you have two pistols and the officers of the law are three, the odds are against you, and you'll likely end up with the traditional bullet in the breast and possible Doleful Ghost.

If you discover yourself penniless, unshod, lacking furniture, and with a headache, you may have been a victim of the Demon Rum. Or Demon cut with water, which isn't much better.

Prospecting for Gold is a highly risky endeavor, whether in New Zealand, California, Alaska or wherever, and you are likely to see your (daughter/partner Jimmy) swept away by raging torrents and drowned, and left to sing about it. Probably without every seeing any gold.

Whenever the Captain promises you'll be on a (private) warship, but the guns will never be fired and the tears never shed, you'll probably end up the sole and crippled survivor before you can legally drink in the US.

People who say "How de do" are not to be trusted. Even if they cause no harm, you're in a folk song anyway, and something else probably will.

Any job where the work you're expected to do is defined in tons ought to include lots of power equipment for you to operate, not a pick and shovel and likelihood of collapse.

If you're involved with fishing, you'll probably work yourself to death and go broke. Same for farming. In fact, all occupations starting with F may be suspect.

#126 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:11 PM:

If you're a cowboy, avoid Laredo. You'll either end up shot and wrapped in white linen (for several verses) or you'll end up listening to another cowboy who's been shot and wrapped up in white linen. Both are experiences to be avoided.

#127 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:27 PM:

The most important thing I've learned from Les Barker is:

Dachsunds with erections can't climb stairs.

#128 ::: Don ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 02:36 PM:

Brilliant post and followups, everyone.

::American::

If your girl wears size nine herring boxes for sandals and herds ducks, forget it. She's toast.

Fortunately, though, she has a younger sister.

#129 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:07 PM:

the Great Lakes are not known as such because they are Good Lakes.

Except in November when hauling iron ore.

For that matter, if an old salt tells you something about the Lakes more than once, bloody well pay atention. Your girl in Wiarton will apreciate it.

#130 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:19 PM:

If you are a croppy boy, and you decide to go to confession, first check under the priest's cassock carefully for signs of a scarlet uniform.

I think I'd like to learn this song!

A few more:

Don't count on your family to pay a significant enough fine to spare you from capital punishment. An obliging sweetheart will almost certainly help you out, but it's probably a good idea to have a sizeable nest egg in the bank anyway.

If your father has left you a gallows with which to hang yourself in case of bankruptcy, it's actually a good idea to try it out. This sounds counterintuitive, but trust us on this one, anyway.

If you're a city boy, don't flirt with women from the country. They tend to have burly ploughman boyfriends who invariably disapprove.

Anent professions that should be avoided, add fishermen to the list. They probably won't skip out on you, but they'll be constantly busy, and you'll lead a miserable life full of worry and unpleasant fish odors.

Do not, under any circumstances, become a non-union replacement worker in the mining industry. In particular, divvn't gang near the Seghill mine.

#131 ::: Filksinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 03:38 PM:

I'm surprised nobody mentioned this:

If you got the girl pregnant, marry her immediately. Do not go anywhere alone, or alone with her, until this has been accomplished. Be true to her, treat her well, and don't ever think about "might have beens" ever again, even if your One True Love turns up alive the next day. This applies no matter what solution the One True Love offers. Infallible plans so that you can run away together safely are neither infallible nor safe.

Also:

Old people are dangerous. Be very careful with them. Especially dangerous are old women who are rumored to be witches, old swordsmen, and old gunslingers.

Actually, anything old is dangerous. This includes old people, old trees, old forests, old castles, old ruins, old houses, old ships, old books, old standing stones, old treasures, and just about anything old you'd care to name.

If a stranger challenges you to a fiddle contest, only say yes if you're in a mountainous region of the United States. Otherwise, politely decline and flatter the hell out of the stranger until you can run away.

Actually, the Canadian Idol, Kalen Porter, pulled it off damn well too.

If you are a woman, you can try it. However it is best if you try this only if you must fiddle to get your One True Love back from an enchantment.

Actually, contests with anything supernatural should only be attempted if the item in question is undeniably yours, unfairly taken away, and you truly want it back really badly. Even then, the risks are great. Make absolutely certain that both sides of the bet, and the conditions for winning, are clearly stated without ambiguity before you begin.

I'd take this even further. When making any agreement with any supernatural creature, have the agreement checked over by a lawyer, some folklorists, and a few role-playing gamers before accepting. Even then, be sure you really want what is being offered.

#132 ::: Paul Hoffman ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:06 PM:

Do not drink with a man who is missing fingers. If a man loses fingers while you are drinking with him, stop immediately...offer to pay the tab...then run flat out.
Note: These rules can also be applied to other appendages.

#133 ::: John ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:14 PM:

Carrying a good selection of broken tokens materially increases your chances of getting some

Never date a seal

#134 ::: Wendy Z ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:19 PM:

I particularly love the classic old stories of sailor-meets-girl, sailor-takes-girl-upstairs, sailor-wakes-up-naked-and-broke-and-with-an-embaressing-itch.

#135 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:25 PM:

"The sailor was gone at first light. And there . . . on the dresser . . . was a hook."

Whoops, crossing threads again.

#136 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:26 PM:

Your silken cloak is not enough even if it is lined throughout.

#137 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:47 PM:

Your neighbor/sibling received a handsome gift from the fairies, and you think the Good Folk would find you equally deserving?

Think again.

#138 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 04:57 PM:

If we're into American folksongs, you should just avoid Georgia or anywhere else the devil might visit.

And you should probably bring your fiddle with you, just in case.

#139 ::: Adrian Ogden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:28 PM:

If you have to go to sea and you have any intention of returning, set sail from a port no-one's ever heard of. Avoid Dublin and Liverpool like the plague.

#140 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:40 PM:

Maybe then I'll be a rose - Les Barker

This song was a theme for our wedding; our daughter had a tshirt to go over her dress for when she ate (she was 18 months old at the time) with the picture from the wedding invitation (which had a cartoon by Sue of Marianne standing over us with a shotgun) and the slogan "10 out of 10 for true true love, 0 out of 10 for timing".

I've heard of all those sad sad songs
where he and she are parted,
and she dies for the love of him,
and he dies broken-hearted

He lies in St Mary's Kirk
and she lies in the choir
and out of her grave grows a rose
and out of his, a briar

So at last their souls entwine
And now as one are climbing
Ten out of ten for true true love
Nought out of ten for timing

I don't want that kind of love
that grows so high on sorrow
I want you today, my love,
and I want you tomorrow.

Here and now let's drink the wine
of life while love is ours
Here and now my love entwine
It's not just for the flowers

And when time takes all away
and death snuffs out this fire
Maybe then I'll be a rose
and you, my love, a briar.

H

#141 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:49 PM:

How came ye this, by sea or land? is not a question to answer flippantly.

#142 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Addenda: be kind to cabin boys. Especially when they have drills.

Be especially good to ones with broken glass available.

but if they are very handsome in a delicate way, don't be too kind to them. see pregnant, doleful ghost, etc.

#143 ::: Trisha ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:09 PM:

Anyone named King Henry will get all the beautiful women, even if they don't seem so at first.

If you are seeking shelter from a storm, never accept your hostess' offer to warm you up.

If your name is Rosamond, watch out for your brother, or he will pimp you to the nearest King
Henry [see above].

Thanks for such a wonderful thread. It is hilarious.

#144 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:30 PM:

This list cracked me up completely, especially with the pop quiz and the demonstration of application to 'Cruel Sister'.

I sent the URL off to my daughter at college, who has more than a grounding in folk ballads already. She has had several chats with me as to how goth death rock doesn't hold a patch to folk ballads for pure morbid. As she observed once, apparently a few hundred years back you couldn't take one stroll through the woods without meeting some woman murdering her babies.

(And come to think of it, all that good advice would seem to have had the desired effects so far...)

#145 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:32 PM:

P.S. As her above example should note, you can add to the advice:

Infanticide is not a good solution.

or more generally,

Murder will out.

#146 ::: Ian Sturrock ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:48 PM:

If you should ever find yourself armed with nobbut a pocket knife while shagging the wife of the local lord, do not assume you can defeat the lord himself in single combat, even if he does claim to be loaning you his best sword. He'll kill you, if he can.

#147 ::: Cavalorn ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 07:56 PM:

If you tell your parents that you will not do a thing 'though they should burn you at the stake', they will inevitably burn you at the stake.

Don't drop fish down wells. Especially queer fish.

There is no such thing as a hedge-dwelling eel. Ensure that your spouse is aware of this.

#148 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 08:06 PM:

A holiday, a holiday, and the first one of the night
The producer's wife came to the Blue City Bar, and blinked hard in the light
And when the raving it was done, and everything got dim
The lady she saw little Matty Groves, and Instant Messaged him
"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, why not come home with me,
"Come home with me, little Matty Groves, and know me casually."
"Oh, I can't come home, I won't come home and be stereotypical,
"By the ringtones on your Razer I can tell you're a big shot's pal."
"But if my guy has bought a share, he's not my CEO,
"He's somewhere up in Aspen, nose- and tail-deep in the snow."

And a flunky crouched beneath the couch pulled out his camera phone
He swore he'd find advantage, whether truth be hid or shown
And in his hurry to carry the news, he bent his tricked-out ride
But the airbag fired, and all inspired, he logged on from inside . . .

Ballads from the Blue City
Coming this fall to HBO.

#149 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 08:42 PM:

More general folk & myth:

Attempts to escape an ill-boding prophecy will backfire in spectacularly counter-productive ways. Don't even try.

Attempts to capitalize on seemingly well-boding prophecies will backfire in spectacularly counter-productive ways. They probably do not mean what you think they mean. Really, don't even try.

Actually, just stay away from Delphi, witches, soothsayers, etc. You'd rather not know.

#150 ::: Cabell ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:17 PM:

Don't think I've seen it referenced in comments here yet--The Child Ballads Project provides a nice list of known recordings of Child ballads.

And this was great. :D

#151 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:41 PM:

If you are a comely young lady, get it through your head -- and if necessary, write it on your hand in indelible ink -- that many men will, under certain circumstances, promise you anything you ask. They may even mean it at the time. Trouble is, they're in an altered state of consciousness. Tomorrow, they won't be.

Thus the rule: protestations of true love, and promises of marriage, should only be believed if delivered in daylight, in front of competent witnesses, when all parties to the transaction are fully clothed and sober.

If you're out in a haystack at night, half-drunk, half-dressed, and entirely unchaperoned, interrupting proceedings to ask him whether he loves you, and/or will marry you, will establish only one thing: you're an idiot.

Even if you aren't a comely young lady, it's a bad idea to depend on promises made in the absence of witnesses. If the person making the promise is your social superior, and is offering an extravagant reward for performing some suicidally dangerous feat, either have them repeat it in front of witnesses, or politely decline the offer.

#152 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 09:58 PM:

Also stay away from the banks of the Ohio.

#153 ::: The Elder Sister ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 10:56 PM:

Reply for James MacDonald, who asked for a citation to the The Cruel Sister:

O sister, sister come walk with me
Lay the bent to the bonnie broom
To see the ships sail on the sea
Fa la la la la la la la la la.

Jim: The ballad is Child No. 10, and usually goes by either "The Two Sisters" or "The Twa Sisters." I believe that the version you quoted is Pentangle's recording, "Cruel Sister."

For additional recordings, try to find--- Richard Dyer-Bennet: "The Two Sisters of Binnorie," Ed McCurdy: "The Two Sisters;" Kevin Roth: "Rollin' A Rollin' ," Ewen MacColl: "Minnorie," Ewen MacColl: "The Swan Swims Sae Bonnie," Peggy Seeger: "There was an Old Lord," Peggy Seeger: "Peter and I," Jean Ritchie: "The Two Sisters," Frankie Armstrong: "The Two Sisters," and Clannad: "The Two Sisters."

For text and tunes, Bronson (Bronson, Bertrand Harris. The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959) contains nearly 200 versions or fragments of Child 10.

#154 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:06 PM:

Jim: The ballad is Child No. 10, and usually goes by either "The Two Sisters" or "The Twa Sisters." I believe that the version you quoted is Pentangle's recording, "Cruel Sister."

I seem to remeber running into this one, years ago, where it involved the mill-stream of Binnorie, rather than the sea. It's still water, and you shouldn't go near it, especially without additional witnesses.

#155 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:43 PM:

The ballad is Child No. 10, and usually goes by either "The Two Sisters" or "The Twa Sisters."

Or "The TWA Sisters" as a helpful typesetter once corrected one of Off Centaur's cassette inserts.

#156 ::: Alyna MacGregor ::: (view all by) ::: September 06, 2005, 11:46 PM:

If your sister wants your glove/dress/shoes/boyfriend, just give it to her. You'll avoid the harp made of bones part.

#157 ::: Cabell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:23 AM:

Another popular variant of Child #10 (my favorite of all the Child ballads, to the consternation of my younger sisters) is "The Wind and Rain." There's a version by Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, and David Steele on the Songcatcher album.

#158 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:25 AM:

Also, women wearing black velvet hair ribbons are suspect; they lead to crime and prison.

Another American (more specifically, Bostonian) one:

Make sure they haven't increased the fares on the subway when you weren't paying attention.

#159 ::: The Elder Sister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:32 AM:

Nancy -

You'll be pleased to know that Charlie can now get off the M(B)TA. He's old enough for reduced fare as a senior citizen.

#160 ::: Linda Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:02 AM:

If any of your near relations have the nickname "cruel" and you should chance to survive infancy, consider entering a convent at the earliest opportunity.

#161 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:15 AM:

Going into something that's maybe a bit distant from any ballads...

Shiould you be on a windswept coast at dusk, and meet with a beautiful, black-clad, young woman with a Scots accent, who claims to be a widow, consider very carefully the implications of her having received a substantial payout on her late husband's insurance.

#162 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:05 AM:

"If you've already killed six of your girlfriends, it may be time to quit while you're ahead, rather than going for a seventh. Take up a different hobby."

I think that's actually a modern song, Cat Faber's She Is Gone.

#163 ::: Chatelaine ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:23 AM:

If you're a young man, and for some reason you find yourself in an Irish ballad, say your last prayers. You'll either die in a fruitless uprising/battle to rid your country of the oppressor (where your side will be hopelessly outmatched, needless to mention), or of love for a beautiful young woman you met in mysterious circumstances while singing about the tribulations of your country. She'll either turn into an old hag because you've spurned her, or will persuade you to take up arms on her behalf, at which point you'll die in a fruitless battle. . .

If, however, you are a sailor putting ashore at the port of Cobh (Queenstown), do be sure to drop by the Holy Ground and say hello to all the girls there, it'll ensure you have lots of lovely memories to cling to when the sea is rising.

#164 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:25 AM:

I know we all have Other Things to Do, and there would be rightsy issueses and sundry, but if the hour came to write the lyrics for

Wolves and Lyons:
Fairy-Tale Songs after Angela Carter
The Flash Girls

. . . well, everybody involved knows where I am.

#165 ::: f4f3 ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:51 AM:

As far as I know this is untested under field conditions, but if you sing the ballad backwards you may go to sleep in a darkling wood and wake to find a maid most comely (depite a certain greenish cast to her features) smiling down on you.

You may also get back any tokens, maidenheads or other articles you've inardventently mislaid, and any Doleful Ghosts will be laid. Pun intended.

#166 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:39 AM:

If your own True Love marries you on condition that you don't enquire into her secret past, honour that promise. It's all fun and games until you untie the black velvet ribbon around her neck, and her head rolls off.

Also, if a girl has flashing black eyes and urges you to take up a life of crime, consider whether you really want to be sent to the colonies as a convict. She probably won't come with, not unless they manage to catch her too and her flashing black eyes don't get her out of it again.

#167 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:41 AM:

Oh, and: "I thought her the queen of the land" doesn't mean she's a good person. Even if she is the queen.

#168 ::: Chris C ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:47 AM:

If you go away on a long trip and leave your beautiful young wife locked in a chastity belt, remember three things:

A "gentle errant" will still try to remove the belt, so fit a Yale lock.
Take care of the key and don't drop it over the side of the ship!
If you do lose it, the pageboy has probably got a duplicate...

#169 ::: Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:14 AM:

I think I'd like to learn this song!

Lea, the lyrics to "The Croppy Boy" can be found here. I haven't found any pointer to the air, and there are other songs with the same name, like this one, which looks like it's sung to a different air. The one I've referred to is set during the 1798 rising, but actually written in 1845. It appears in Ulysses. (And I didn't know some of those things until 10 minutes ago - isn't Google wonderful?)

#170 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:19 AM:

There's a version of Child #10 in Danish, too: the rendition I have is titled "2 Søstre" (2 Sisters) and is preformed by Sorten Muld.

#171 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:32 AM:

Loreena McKennitt does a version of Child 10 called "The Bonny Swans". (On The Mask and the Mirror CD.)

These daughters they walked by the river's brim
a hey ho bonny o
The eldest pushed the youngest in
The swans swim so bonny o

Jean Redpath does a version of "Riddles Wisely Expounded" that's worth hunting down, too.

#172 ::: Paul Clarke ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 08:58 AM:

Alison beat me to the lyrics for Maybe Then I'll Be A rose. Lessons to learnt from them include:

Pining to death is not a healthy response to separation from one's own true love.

If you plan to entwine with said true love, do it while you're both still alive. It's a lot more fun that way.

After a long and happy life with your true love, you can still die and do the rose-and-briar bit anyway. Everybody wins.


#173 ::: Cabell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 09:07 AM:

""If you've already killed six of your girlfriends, it may be time to quit while you're ahead, rather than going for a seventh. Take up a different hobby."

I think that's actually a modern song, Cat Faber's She Is Gone."

No, that's Child #4, sometimes called "Lady Isabel and the Elf Knight":

Light off, light on, thy milkwhite steed;
Deliver it up unto me;
For six pretty maidens I have drown'd here,
And thou the seventh shall be.

...

Lie there, lie there, you false-hearted man,
Lie there instead of me,
For six pretty maidens hast thou a-drowned here
The seventh hath drown-ed thee.

(http://www.contemplator.com/child/outland.html)

#174 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 09:14 AM:

I don't think this has been covered yet on the American side:

An alibi is an alibi; even if revealing it means living with the consequences of adultery, it's probably better than the alternative.

#175 ::: Archangel Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 09:29 AM:

When requiring an alibi, have a better one to hand than "the arms of my best friend's wife." Alternatively, hope your best friend will understand.

(Dang, someone got to this one first!)

However, do take care that if your best friend does understand, you will be in the situation of sharing a True Love.


If someone wants to run off with a mermaid, yeah, you're better off without him.

If an odd man shows up and forecast that he's your baby's father, and the man you marry is going to kill both him and the kid, move inland.

#176 ::: Archangel Beth ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 09:46 AM:

And the flipside of checking deals: learn how to weasel and carry a pistol or three, especially if you like wearing gray cocked hats. (Being able to stay up all night while keeping some old lech at gunpoint is also a good survival skill.)

#177 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:02 AM:

If an odd man shows up and forecast that he's your baby's father, and the man you marry is going to kill both him and the kid, move inland.

Simpler: don't fuck with shapechangers.

#178 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:11 AM:

Not by any means an ancient one but....

If you can't play hornpipes, live with it. Don't make deals with any horned record producers unless you want to spend the rest of your existence as a jukebox loaded with "light popular music"

#179 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:18 AM:

A lot of this advice can be summarised as: Things are not what they seem.

#180 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:42 AM:

And if you keep a light, don't have relationships with mermaids (or Martians). The resulting children will not thank you, even if they take after you.

#181 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:59 AM:

Cabell: And that one's around in Swedish - Garmarna recorded it as "Brun" ("Robber Brun"). Although Brun got a bit farther, as he says
"Now hear me, maiden, I'll tell you plain:
Fifteen maids in this place I have slain."

It ends with the maid tells him

"Lie there till the ravens and dogs have their fill,
And my maiden's virtue will be with me still.

"Lie there, lie there on the ground so cold,
- Brun lies all alone -
And still I will keep my maiden's gold."
- The howling wind and rainstorms lash the northern mountains
Three northerners lie dead there -

#182 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:59 AM:

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little:
"And, as a rule, your mother is always right."

So if I do nae kiss the girls, their lips actually will grow all moldy? Good to know.

TNH:
"I've gotten advice from supernatural personages -- once from a raggedy man who was green from head to toe"

Were his pants, in fact, purple?


Other good rules to follow:

Do not sign aboard the scummiest vessel you've ever seen. In fact, don't sign aboard any sort of vessel at all.

Don't have anything to do with Jacobites. Except if you maun blame their doctrines, because hey, you maun do what you maun do.

Just as things involving whisky and beer tend, for some reason, to take many a year, travel around Cape Horn seems, for some reason, to involve wishing to God you'd never been born.

Nobody cares about your damned mule.

Don't enlist, ye Newfoundlanders. No, really, don't.

In fact, if you can possibly avoid it, do not participate in World War I.

If you're going to jilt someone, it's probably not going to work out well. Still, it's a really good idea not to be rude about it.

Whaling isn't fun.

God's Law doth forbid things for a reason.

If you hit someone on the head with a great big lump of lead, consider hiding the corpse, rather than just leaving them there for dead.

If the leader of your fire-fighting team doesn't think you can make it to the rocks, see if he has a better idea, rather than cursing him.

If you ever find yourself supporting an idea with the phrase, "or so I have been told", consider the possibility that you were misinformed. There's a reason why "gold" rhymes with "or so I have been told," rather than "and it's actually true".

Rum, beer, whisky, port, wine, brandy, gin, ale, grog, "the johnny jump-up", punch, moonshine, sweet cherry wine, schnapps, rye, bourbon, blackberry wine, and various other potables have a good deal to recommend them. Still, you want to avoid spending all of your money on them. Most of your money will probably get you sufficiently inebriated.

People sitting at the King's right knee are going to screw you over. Count on it.

The phrase "No more go a-roving" is almost always a lie.

If your wife is giving you advice that's going to get you killed, not only should you not take it, you should consider a trial separation.

Don't hang around with people you think of as "wicked and evil". Particularly if they don't seem to like you.

If it's the worst trip you've ever had, just cut it short, already.

When choosing a career, consider the fact that there aren't many songs bewailing the difficult life and sad fates of computer programmers.

#183 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:03 AM:

Cabell, ah, I didn't know that one.

Beware threes and sevens.

#184 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:03 AM:

People go around in disguise a lot. These disguises are impenetrable, even when they're cross-gendered, and despite the fact that they can be removed between one line and the next.

Sometimes people have a good reason for disguising themselves, such as going off to war, or wishing to be unrecognised, but they also often wear disguise for the hell of it. This means that if your True Love is away, take care of your behavious because absolutely anyone you run into might be them.

#185 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Oh, and one more. If you're trying to find someone who can get a message to your brother in the army, or who kens John Peel the hunter, or, for that matter, who knows the muffin man who lives on Drury Lane, try Jon Singer.

#186 ::: fuz ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:21 AM:

Alter S. Reiss:
When choosing a career, consider the fact that there aren't many songs bewailing the difficult life and sad fates of computer programmers.

There may not be many, but there is at least one, and it seems a very likely fate.

While we're on the subject, what are good careers to choose? Miner, farmer, fisher, those are right out... Innkeepers seem to do okay, as long as they are childless. Any other suggestions?

#187 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:28 AM:

Richard Thompson's great new CD Front Parlour Ballads has a variant on the Shanghaied Sailor song, "Row, Boys, Row". Sample lyrics (all too appropriate these days): "Is it wise to be needy in the land of the free?/Is it wise to be bleeding in a shark-filled sea?" and "Seven years of bad luck/Should have read the small print..." That last warning seems particularly useful, though I guess it's just the latest variant on deal-with-the-devil and Faustian bargain outcomes.

#188 ::: Nancy C ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:25 PM:

Elder Sister, I am glad Charlie is not longer stuck on that train!

Another one:

Leave the bottle full for priming the pump.

#189 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Once the Macdonald bairns have finished and internalised the ballads, he can start them on opera:

A very small mask is an impenetrable disguise. That could be anyone under there. Even your spouse.

Invariably, women (and men) from the following ethnic groups: Spanish, Italian, Wild Romantic Gypsy Pirate Smuggler: carry knives and will use them. If you must give them bad news, be tactful. Otherwise, if you are lucky, they will probably stab themselves (if unlucky, you, then themselves). Ideally, deliver such news by letter. If not practical, stand a safe distance away and shout.

The worst possible answer to the question "Guess who's coming to dinner?" is not "Sidney Poitier". Believe me, Sidney Poitier is good compared to some of the possible alternatives. DO NOT ACCEPT RETURN INVITATIONS.

Hunchbacks: bad news. Invariably they will have a bitter grudge against you. Avoid them, and certainly don't employ them. It seems harsh, but it will save you a lot of trouble.

While on the subject: your servants, however craven, smelly, and generally lower-class they may be, are more intelligent than you. Take their advice (and for heaven's sake don't annoy them) and you stand a decent chance of not being a) humiliated b) killed or c) dragged down to hell by hordes of demons.

Do not become an artist. Or a singer. Or a dancer. Or, for that matter, a courtesan. Such persons rarely live long.

#190 ::: Stephen ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:41 PM:

And don't wear green unless it's St Patrick's day.

#191 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 12:48 PM:

American: Oranges are deadly.

Hmroo? What song goes with this one?

I'm also intrigued by:

If your father has left you a gallows with which to hang yourself in case of bankruptcy, it's actually a good idea to try it out. This sounds counterintuitive, but trust us on this one, anyway.

#192 ::: Branwyn ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Don't forget...never trust a Johnny...whether he's yours or someone else's. He's sleeping around. Believe me.
Willie's the same way.
John and William are probably perfectly nice guys, but they've been missing for awhile and are probably either Doleful Ghosts or Long Lost One True Loves.

#193 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:15 PM:

"There's a good chance your servants are smarter than you are" is a rule in ballads as well as operas.

If you find yourself in an opera, whatever you do, don't sing soprano. Demote yourself to a spear-carrier if necessary, but don't sing soprano. Altos aren't guaranteed to survive, but they have a much better chance of making it through the end of the final act.

Kayjay, the song about the bankrupt son who fritters away his inheritance, realizes his folly, and tries to hang himself on his father's gallows, ends with the rigged gallows splitting open and the rest of the son's inheritance pouring out of it. The father had set it up that way so his son wouldn't spend the entire inheritance before learning some prudence.

Alter, you have a real knack for this.

#194 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:18 PM:

If you find yourself in an opera, whatever you do, don't sing soprano. Demote yourself to a spear-carrier if necessary, but don't sing soprano. Altos aren't guaranteed to survive, but they have a much better chance of making it through the end of the final act.

Don't sing baritone: baritones are almost always the villains. Tenor and bass are better ranges for survival.

#195 ::: wjr ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:26 PM:

We also used "Maybe Then I'll Be a Rose" at our wedding. It's available on at least two discs: June Tabor's "Rosamundi" and Savourna Stevenson, June Tabor and Danny Thompson's "Singing the Storm".

Les Barker has written a number of other parodies or commentaries on traditional folk songs, such as "Nancy and Willie" (off The Mrs Ackroyd Band's "Oranges and Lemmings"):

Farewell my dearest Roger
You're not the one for me
For my name it is Nancy
And our love can never be
No Henry, George or Julian
Complete must be the ban
For if your name is Nancy
Then Willie is your man

...

Stay a while, dear Roger
Wait for me in the shed
He's driving to High Germany
The day that we get wed
Well this is a turn-up
And it dissipates me fears
He'll leave me half me wedding ring
Then he'll bugger off for years

He'll be off to fight the Prussians
He'll ask me to be true
You must be joking, Willie
I've got better things to do
You expect me to be faithful
What reward does virtue bring?
A Willie with no arms and legs
And only half a ring

Another song by Les Barker, whose name I don't know (heard at a June Tabor concert) is a broken token ballad... except that the sweetheart decides that she really doesn't want her soldier love back, so instead of sending him off with half a ring, she sends him off with half... a wardrobe. That'll slow him down, she thinks. He does make it back, and there's a bit of a twist involving Ikea, but my memory of the end has faded.

#196 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:27 PM:

And regardless of what you may have heard elsewhere, prowling the city by night dressed in a bat suit will not make you look cool.

#197 ::: S. Dawson ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:29 PM:

Just as things involving whisky and beer tend, for some reason, to take many a year, travel around Cape Horn seems, for some reason, to involve wishing to God you'd never been born.

Similarly, if you happen to see the old moon with the new moon in her arm, consider carefully that "arm" doesn't have a lot of potential rhymes other than "harm."

#198 ::: Paul Stamler ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 01:51 PM:

Barbara Orton and I dreamed up some similar suggestions ten years ago, but this is far more comprehensive. Two that were missed, though:

If you're stealing away a young lady from her father and seven brothers in the dead of night, don't blow a trumpet to announce it.

Never sleep with anyone named Willie.

#199 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:09 PM:

For six long years I've waited,
Let some damned good offers pass--
So take your broken token, love,
And shove it up your ass.

#200 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:43 PM:

Despite the general warning against operatic pirates, should you be presented with a pretty paradox involvin indentures, birthdays, and leap-years-day, you may yet find happiness,

Unless you are a sworn law-enforcement officer, in which case you should put Mr. Keith Wald on a retainer.

#202 ::: Karl Kindred ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 02:48 PM:

Assuming "Cowboy Poetry" to be an American equivalent to the "English Folk Song" the following is true:

DO NOT go to the Yukon, "the land of the midnight sun" or anywhere where people moil for anything. Someone will end up dead, and someone will end up hauling said dead person somewhere else for a variety of reasons. None of them will make much sense.

Frozen lakes are never as frozen as you think they are.

Mining camps are bad, and the women who frequent mining camps are worse, regardless of name. Mining camp saloons are the worst of all, and any women who frequent such will have the pox/et. all.

No gun will ever work when you need it too, and will undoubtedly shoot you by accident when most inconvenient. Or when stolen by claim jumpers. In fact, carrying a gun in the Yukon is a glowing neon sign to all claim jumpers within conceivable walking distance. Not carrying a gun in the Yukon means you will end up shot by claim jumpers or in a card game. See do not go to the Yukon above.

A wolf howling is a bad portent. A wolf howling under the midnight sun is worse.

Foreigners with a secret/lost/abandoned mine are right out. Checking skin color might help, but nothing ever looks right under the Northern Lights anyway.

Ladies who have followed their lost True Love to a mining camp and always wear a scarf are also right out. See hanging and Doleful Ghost. Helping said lady also never works out.

When you grow up in the intermountain west you get some fun stories. Most of them are well served by harmonica accompaniment.

#203 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:41 PM:

The Elder Sister:

Jim Moray also does a Two Sisters version (it might only be called Sisters), which is the tune I use when I'm singing it. It's not the supernatural version (No bones and harps and giveaways), just the one with a greedy miller (Another profession to avoid). And Jim Moray ends with the girl drowning, which is a verse early, as most versions have something bad happen to the miller and the eldest sister both in punishment for their crimes.

However, I once heard a version (And I've NEVER been able to find it again) which ends:

The miller was hanged on the mountain head
(Insert nonsensical line of your choice)

The miller was hanged on the mountain head
(Insert slightly different nonsensical line of your choice)

The miller was hanged on the mountain head
But the eldest sister soon will be wed
I'll be true to my love if my love will be true to me.
(OR in some versions yet another nonsensical line of your choice)


I've been using that ending ever since. It does break the usual tough morality of the ballads, but it creeps people out a lot more.

#204 ::: Filksinger ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 03:48 PM:

While we're on the subject, what are good careers to choose? Miner, farmer, fisher, those are right out... Innkeepers seem to do okay, as long as they are childless. Any other suggestions?

IIRC, tailors do OK, as do seamstresses. If not because they do well in the songs, then because they are seldom mentioned at all.

Duke's eldest son can work, IIRC, so long as you are careful not to offend any woman, and never abandon your bastard children. Duke, king, or prince, however, are not so well off. Of course, you are probably going to be duke, but even then, still better than prince or king.

Avoid being the youngest child. You can't help being oldest, true, but give your parents plenty of snuggling room until you have a younger sibling of the same gender. This rule is void if you are the seventh son of a seventh son.

#205 ::: The Elder Sister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 04:47 PM:

Lenora Rose and any "Sisters" fans -

OK. I can't resist putting in a few more cents' worth.

Millers (who can meet a dire demise) only appear in the American versions. In which case the elder sister usually hangs or burns. Or the sister hangs and the miller burns. It seems that if you drown your sibling or rob the corpse, you are figuratively (and, sometimes literally), toast.

"I'll be true to my love" is strictly American, as is "bow down." (My favorite version of which is "Bow down, bow down/ The boys are bound for me.")

Harps, viols, etc. made of bones and strung with hair are just about guaranteed to spoil a wedding in Scotland, England or Scandinavia. On the upside, the chances that you enjoyed a royal upbringing or had a suitor who was a knight go way, way up in Europe. Small consolation, though, since you're dead.

Birth order is critical on both sides of the Pond. It makes all the difference between an untimely demise and a well-deserved death.

Did I mention that I just forwarded this site to my younger sister? Should I have????

P.S. American broadsides do involve fairly improbable instruments. I didn't count anything intended as a parody.

#206 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:21 PM:

Quoth Teresa "Twice, when I've been in difficult situations, I've gotten advice from supernatural personages -- once from a raggedy man who was green from head to toe, and once from three women who would have been identical except that one was young, one middle-aged, and one old. I thanked them courteously, followed their advice to the letter, and had excellent good luck as a result."

OK, I'd really love to know the story behind this.

#207 ::: David All ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:32 PM:

Thanks, Jim for this and for all those who commented,this is the funnist stuff, I have read in a long time!

#208 ::: Tanya ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 05:39 PM:

This is one of the most brilliant posts I've seen in a long time. Thank you. I'm laughing aloud as I type. To add to the list:

Innkeeper is only a good career if there aren't 3 drunken maidens staying in your inn.

Maids, when you're young, never wed an old man.

More importanly, Old men, don't wed young women as they'll either die pining for their longaway love in protest, or find a young man with whom she'll bear a child and call it yours. :) Can you say cuckold?

If your mother says she'll curse you if you do or don't do something she asks, don't ignore her. She's likely half mad, or a witch and to her way of thinking she brought you into this world, so she can take you out of it too.

Girls, never be alone with your brother as you'll soon find that your belly is full with his child. He will then kill you and tell your mother that the blood on his clothing belongs to his steed, his hound or his hawk. You will likely return as a Doleful Ghost.

Don't talk to the gardener, even if he offers you a pink, a violet, and a red rose.

Sailors, false knights on the road, dragoons, quartermasters, captains and many other gentlemen, remember that a maid on the shore, or one that will cut her long yellow hair and dress in man's array, or one that will sing you to sleep, or one who promises to do whatever you like if you'll just please (eyelashes fluttering) take her to her father's door, WILL outsmart you. And not only will you fail to take their maidenheads, but you will also likely end up with a lighter coinpurse, no sword, a missing horse, and no clothing. Not to mention the resounding laughter of your mates over your humiliation. :)

*grin*

#209 ::: Ktony ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:12 PM:

On the subject of sisters and recordings:
I was first exposed to these in the form of the Child Ballads recorded by Ewan MacColl and A L Lloyd. I still own the first set which my father bought, and I may have the tapes of the rest of the issue which my mother made.
MacColl recorded "The Twa Sisters" with these approximate words:

There lived twa sisters in ain bower
Minorie o minorie
And there come a young man to be their wooer
On the bonnie dam sides a' Minorie.

He coorted the eldest wi a' his land
Minorie o minorie
He coorted the youngest wi his recht hand
On the bonnie dam sides a' Minorie.

He gied the eldest a brooch and ring
Minorie o minorie
But he looed the younger aboon a' thing
On the bonnie dam sides a' Minorie.

He coorted the elder wi' his pen knife
Minorie o minorie
But he looed the youngest aboon his life
On the bonnie dam sides a' Minorie.

Oh sister oh sister you'll gang to the dam
Minorie o minorie
To hear the blackbird change his tune
And we'll maybe see the lads o' Minorie

They went to the dam and they stood on a stain
Minorie o Minorie
And thrice the blackbird changed his tune
But they never saw the lads o' Minorie

Oh sister oh sister ye'll gang to the brim
Minorie o Minorie
To see oor faither's ships be comin' in
To the bonnie dam sides a' Minorie.

They walk'ed up they walk'ed doon
Minorie o Minorie
And the elder danged the youngest in
On the bonnie dam sides of Minorie

Oh she swam up and she swam doon
Minorie o Minorie
Till she swam te whaur her sister did stand
On the bonnie dam sides o' Minorie.

Oh sister oh sister tak me by the hand
Minorie o Minorie
An' ye'll hae the miller and a' his land
He's the bonnie miller lad o' Minorie.

It wasne for that that I danged ye in
Minorie o Minorie
But ye was fair and I was dun
And ye'll droon in the dams o' Minorie.

Oh she swam up and she swam doon
Minorie o Minorie
Till at last in the water and she did droon
In the bonnie mill dams o' Minorie.

The miller's ae daughter's gaed oot to the dam
Minorie o Minorie
For water to wash her faither's hand
On the bonnie mill dams o' Minorie.

Oh Faither, oh Faither ye'll fish the dam
Minorie o Minorie
For there's either a maid or a milk white swan
Has drooned in the dams o' Minorie.

There was nain o' them a' kent a face sae fair
Minorie o Minorie
But weel kent the miller by her bonnie yellow hair
Twas his ain bonnie lass o' Minorie.


Hope this amuses you all. The spellings only approximate Ewan's pronunciations as I have not listened to the original for some time
ktony
BTW: the expression "Gang te the broom" is a euphamism for having sexual relations.

#210 ::: Ktony ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:20 PM:

I should also note that though I put in the word "daughter" near the end of the ballad it is pronounced "dochter" with lots of air on the "ch".

#211 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 07:49 PM:

Harps, viols, etc. made of bones and strung with hair are just about guaranteed to spoil a wedding in Scotland, England or Scandinavia.

Mahler set a German story involving a thigh-bone flute (another source for my remark upthread); is that a cultural difference? Seems like a wind instrument would be much easier to make....

#212 ::: John Isbell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 08:52 PM:

American and Australian:

Never trust a judge who offers you a deal involving sex and a pardon for your husband in the morning.

40-year-old waitresses can have a hell of a story, so listen up and leave your coffee alone.

Waltzing Matilda can sound very different depending on whether you're getting on the ship or getting off it.


#213 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 09:47 PM:

If you should happen to be one of the three drunken maidens over at the inn (or a fourth, should you be showing up later), make sure you still have your maidenhead before you start the week, as you'll need it later when the bill shows up.

#214 ::: Drew Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:44 PM:

Brilliant post and thread -- linked from MetaFilter...now spreading the meme.

On the subject of Child 10, the "jump-cut-to-justice" execution of the elder sister in Clannad's version (boiled in lead) is the direct inspiration (appropriation?) for the name of my band.

And yes, Les Barker IS a genius.

#215 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:51 PM:

The songs my grandmother used to sing to me all seem to emphasize kindness to animals.

If the grinding machine you use to make delicious sausages from...um...unorthodox meat products breaks down, do not climb in to see what the problem is. Especially if your wife sleepwalks. Sleepwalkers are best avoided in any case.

Just leave the yellow cat alone. What, you'd rather have everyone you know die hideous fiery deaths than spring for a sack of kibble?

If Uncle Walter wants to waltz with bears, that's his own damn business.

And on the subject of bears: am I the only one who worried as a child about why the first lines of "The Teddy Bear's Picnic" are so ominous? What will the teddies do to me if I do go out in the woods alone today?

#216 ::: Another Damned Medievalist ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 10:54 PM:

Re WW I

Do not fall in love before you or your young man ships out. If you are the woman, you get pregnant and he will die.

If you are the young man, you will die or more likely come home maimed and the girls will look away.

#217 ::: John Isbell ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:17 PM:

IIRC, a murder is committed to "Teddy Bear's Picnic" in A Z and Two 0s.

#218 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:21 PM:

Jordin, wasn't it "The TWA magicians"? That would be the one where, if you're a shapechanging lady, the shapechanging blacksmith WILL have his way with you and bring down your pride.

Neither of them changed into an airplane.

#219 ::: The Elder Sister ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:28 PM:

/i/Mahler set a German story involving a thigh-bone flute (another source for my remark upthread); is that a cultural difference? Seems like a wind instrument would be much easier to make..../i/

The "Sisters" instruments I mentioned usually involved stringing hair on the curved breastbone....no hollowing or drilling of holes required. (Don't you find it's easier to make instruments from ready-to-assemble body parts? Quicker, too.)

Maybe there's a cultural difference, but I think Mahler might have just drawn upon a old folk motif: if you make an instrument from a corpse, it will always identify the murderer.

Proposing a general (and tentative!) theory of corpse retrieval:

If it's in the water - a wandering minstrel/other retrieves the body, (possibly after mistaking it for a swan), and uses it to create an instrument. The instrument plays by itself and the murderer is well and truly doomed.

If it's on land, buried or in a pit - the corpse is either:

1. Discovered by the logical party (who might first mistake it for a swan) OR

2. reappears in graveclothes OR

3. reappears in another form OR

4. the victim's spirit inhabits a magical, talking animal.

Any of the above will identify the murderer, who is then well and truly doomed.

If the song is short on supernatural elements, a servant will identify the murderer, (possibly locating the corpse in the process.) The murderer is then well and truly doomed.



#220 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 07, 2005, 11:46 PM:

And on the subject of bears: am I the only one who worried as a child about why the first lines of "The Teddy Bear's Picnic" are so ominous? What will the teddies do to me if I do go out in the woods alone today?

There was an incident some years ago where a couple of dumb kids climbed into the polar bear pen at the Bronx Zoo, with predictable results. They shot the bears, which I was angry about, so I wrote a truly morbid filk about it...

...Picnic time for polar bears!
The polar bears are eating up the little boys today!
There was a lot more, but it's even more inappropriate than that.

#221 ::: rm ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:21 AM:

If you go down to the crossroads and try to flag a ride, but nobody seems to know you and everybody passes you by, it's already too late . . . you're dead. (See: Doleful ghost). However, you can still catch a Greyhound bus. (Unless it's New Orleans during a flood, I guess).

If the Devil shows up and invites you to take a walk, politely decline. He'll either exchange your soul for musical talents, or cause you to beat your woman.

#222 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:57 AM:

In the "navigable waterways" category:

If you're fond of drink, keep well away from running bowlines. For that matter, avoid longboats, rusty razors, and captain's daughters. None of them will lead to any good.

#223 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:05 AM:

Don't go to Widdecombe Fair unless you can borrow another six horses (cf., on a tangent, the opening of Once Upon A Time in the West)

One way to stave off pressing seducers/would-be rapists is to say you're in love with them and ask them back to the castle to meet the folks, then sing to them from the ramparts
"There is a flower in my father's garden
Men call the marigold:
And he that will not when he can
He shall not when he would."

If you are a pressing seducer/would-be rapist, of course, bear this possibility in mind.

#224 ::: Kel ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:43 AM:

Simply brilliant, thanks!

But watch out for Bonnie Morag if you're ever in Scotland, she'll be waiting to pounce by the misty blue mountains/hills/river/cottage/dun :)

#225 ::: Hilla ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:13 AM:

Do not sign up for a cruise on a sloop called John B, no matter how cheap the rates.

If ravens are singing about your knight from a tree, you're pregnant, and you find yourself shape-shifted into a deer, run away. Fast. Ignore the dang birds.

Actually, just stay away from ravens, period.

And seals.

If you have a child by a seal, don't let him go swimming.

If you do, for gods' sake, don't marry a gunner.

If you chop off a body part to get a piece of jewelry from your most recent murder victim, and it bounces out of sight, FIND IT!

Do NOT unlock the forbidden door, the thirteenth door, or any door that talks. Do NOT use the forbidden key or the key that talks.

Don't agree to marry anyone named after an animal, or anyone with a color in his or her name.

If the mother says her ghost will haunt you, it WILL.

#226 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:37 AM:

Every rule has its exception, but it's best not to bet the bank that you'll be it.

On redhead lassies: The jury is still out. Best guesses? If you meet her on the way to the fair, she's optional, but discouraged unless you have a mean right hook. If you first see her on your own land after inviting the Gypsies to camp there, she's Right Out (although you'll probably end up mad regardless, so best not let the Gypsies camp on your land in the first place). And if you see her rising out of a lake when you're half-dead of your wounds, she's compulsory if you want to arrive home with your shield rather than on it.

Is it just me, or does it seem that a whole bunch of the advice on this page is equally applicable to contracts with Publi$hAmer!ca?

#227 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:03 AM:

A ferryboat Captain wishing to follow EPA rules on discharges into coastal waters should take care of his cheese.


#228 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:15 AM:

...Picnic time for polar bears!
The polar bears are eating up the little boys today!

Xopher, that reminds me of about half a dozen "Calvin and Hobbes" strips. To say nothing of "The Far Side." You're great.

Highwaymen: don't make the farmer's daughter you've just robbed and stripped naked hold the reins of the horse that's loaded up with your five hundred gold pieces. The booty, in both senses, will ride away without you.

(Why would you do this? Wouldn't any naughty thing you were planning to do to the girl spook the horse? I mean, granted, you're a highwayman: you like living dangerously. But aren't there any handy trees nearby you could hitch the reins to? And if there aren't, you're in awfully open country for both your felonies.)

Also, pursuant to all the American songs, I was inspired to put on some Bessie Smith. And after "Black Mountain Blues," "Shipwreck Blues," and "Send Me To the 'Lectric Chair," all I can advise is to never, ever f*** with Bessie S. Oh, and not to go to Black Mountain.

#229 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:49 AM:

BTW, someone upthread mentioned not sneezing in Italian restaurants. I would've said that "On Top of Spaghetti" has a rather upbeat ending, in the loved-object-lost-through-folly-and-then-regained-tenfold pattern. Unless you were unduly concerned about the risk of attracting feral wildlife with your tree all covered with meatballs, all covered with cheese.

#230 ::: Jerome ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:58 AM:

If your wife serves you eggs and marrowbones, practice lightly stepping aside and pushing waterborne objects with a long larch pole without using your eyes.

Over the last couple of years I've read several news stories about people who have tried to hitch a flight (often from Africa to Europe) by stowing away in the plane's wheel wells. Most of them are crushed by the retracting landing gear or die of freezing or hypoxia. Obviously they hadn't listened to Gordon Lightfoot telling them they couldn't jump a jet plane like they could a freight train.

#231 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:30 AM:

American and Australian:

Never trust a judge who offers you a deal involving sex and a pardon for your husband in the morning.

Er, I think that's from Tosca. Though I'd be interested to know a folk song with the same theme.

It is worse to be the second son. Note that while the youngest son will invariably get the fair princess, the oldest son will at least inherit all his father's land. And as Tennyson said,
"He married for beauty? What's beauty? A flower that blaws.
But proputty, proputty sticks, and proputty, proputty graws."

#232 ::: Adrian S ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:21 AM:

If a strange knight starts asking you about your family's livestock, remember to be as rude to him as possible.

But speak truthfully.

#233 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:17 AM:

BTW, someone upthread mentioned not sneezing in Italian restaurants. I would've said that "On Top of Spaghetti" has a rather upbeat ending, in the loved-object-lost-through-folly-and-then-regained-tenfold pattern. Unless you were unduly concerned about the risk of attracting feral wildlife with your tree all covered with meatballs, all covered with cheese.

Not to start anything about "what is a folksong," but "On Top of Spaghetti" (the words, not the tune) was written by Oscar Brand, who has hosted a folk song show on WNYC for 60 years as of this December. He also wrote "Drag the Magic Puffin" and "A Horse Named Bill," which I think is one of the funniest, and most surreal, kid-songs ever written.

#234 ::: Gregory Frost ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:21 AM:

Dear Mr. Macdonald,
The Queen of Faeries would like a word with you. And you have to go...otherwise I don't get to swap out.

Yrs,
Tam Lin (deceased)

#235 ::: Phil the Bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:40 AM:

If your name is Molly and you are struck by a fever see a doctor real quick or your ghost will be pushing a barrow full of fish products for all eternity.

If your name is Bridget there's a whole army of suitors out there pining for you.

Roving, rambling or travelling as a prefix to someone's name is not an indication that they are going to stay around.

#236 ::: Linda Fox ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 10:31 AM:

You might rethink the wisdom of your marriage if your first sight of your future husband is "A playin' at the ba'".

#237 ::: ken ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 10:44 AM:

Nuts! I'd forgotten the first Les Barker song Alison mentioned, but someone beat me to posting Nancy and Willy And there I was thinking I was one of only three persons in the world who had a copy of Oranges and Lemmings (The album that taught my daughter to spell "llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch" at the age of eleven - though only in time to music)


There is a corollary to the rule about never going out in May. If you are a single bloke and you fancy some action - or even if you are a married bloke looking out for a bit on the side - then if you can get out of the house and into the countryside by sunrise on the fourteenth of May you are on to a winner. And you get to listen while the small birds do change their voices. Though any pretty fair maid who is walking abroad at that time is likely to live to regret being the early bird that caught the worm (or the mole, or even the rat, or the sweet primeroses, as it might be). Unless she is called Nancy of course.

But I've known that for 30 years or more but somehow I never manage to get out of bed early enough.

#238 ::: Alexis Duncan ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 11:56 AM:

>>American and Australian:

>>Never trust a judge who offers you a deal involving sex and a pardon for your husband in the morning.

>Er, I think that's from Tosca. Though I'd be interested to know a folk song with the same theme.

Sounds like Dylan's "Seven Curses". I don't know if there are any more ancient folk sources, though at a quick google, this looks like it might lead to some info.

#239 ::: Phil the Bear ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:06 PM:

You should mistrust anyone who uses, or claims to be able to translate, the following phrases even if they sport a beard, have a finger stuck in one ear and are clutching a posset: "Ri fol lol the dol diddle i doe", "Wack fol me daddy o", "With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down" and especially "hey nonny nonny no".

#240 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:11 PM:

Watch out for keepers hunting for does among the leaves so green-o. Especially if you're female.

#241 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:16 PM:

Phil the Bear, I take those to be the verbal equivalent of the extended fiddle break, during which the characters get up to all kinds of shenanigans.

Harald Korneliussen has posted a wonderful comment over at Crooked Timber, which linked to Jim's post:

There’s a danish/norwegian folk song called "Adolf var av stand velboren" ("Adolf was from a good family"). My friends who have studied folkloristics assure me that it’s not ironic.

In the first verse, Adolf is rejected by Nora, so he throws himself from a big tower in Copenhagen. In the next verse, Nora hears the news, and promptly commits suicide by drinking "a schaps of vitriol" or sulphuric acid, as it is commonly known. Next verse, the father kills himself – the mother was already dead, we hear.

In a couple of verses, random strangers on the street hear the awful story and start killing themselves, too.

It’s the most hilarious folk song I’ve heard. To think that a century ago, they probably cried.

That beats "Oh Katie Dear," and I thought nothing could. Does anyone here know more about "Adolf var av stand velboren"?

#242 ::: Laura Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:37 PM:

Xopher said:

There was an incident some years ago where a couple of dumb kids climbed into the polar bear pen at the Bronx Zoo, with predictable results. They shot the bears, which I was angry about, so I wrote a truly morbid filk about it...

Did you ever hear Phranc's song about that? She was angry too. It's called "The Ballad Of Lucy + Ted" (and I believe it qualifies as a folk song).

#243 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:39 PM:

This is probably old hat to everyone, but the Twa Magicians magic duel theme also appears in folk tale forms, in which the wicked magician does not always win.

When it's not the story of an attempted rape, it's usually an apprentice escaping from an evil master. In the Georgian (Eastern Europe) version I know best, from Yes and No Tales, at the end, the apprentice turns himself into a needle and the master turns himself into a thread and flies through the end of the needle - hmmm, symbolism - whereon the needle flies through a nearby flame and the thread is burnt up.

That was once also a very important situation for teens to know about - apprenticeship to a master who looks respectable but has evil designs. Apprentices were effectively young slaves until the end of their indentureship.

#244 ::: Diane Duane ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 12:39 PM:

Re the sex-with-judge thing: It's in "The Gray Cocked Hat", I think. Along with the Gay Gold Ring and the Highwayman.

In this particular case, the advice is: If you are the judge and are offering a maiden this dubious bargain, make *real* sure the maiden isn't Carrying. Otherwise you get to Spend The Night with her at Pistols' Point and not the Way you Had in Mind. :)


#245 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:02 PM:

If you find green-n-yeller eels in the woods, they are probably not eels. You should not eat them, or else you will get very sick and your mother will make fun of you.

#246 ::: John Isbell ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:33 PM:

American, again:

Hey, it's OK to shoot a woman who's trying to steal your horse.

#247 ::: Eimear Ní Mhéalóid ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 01:52 PM:

This one's in Irish; if you are a rogue, who "played the trick" last night in three different houses, watch out for your new sweetheart's granny - she'll shut you out of the house before you get the chance to do the same again, on the pretext of helping her spin a straw rope.

#248 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:05 PM:

Er, I think that's from Tosca. Though I'd be interested to know a folk song with the same theme.

I thought it was Tosca too.

More opera:

The baritone never gets the girl in the end. Only one exception to date, and he wasn't in competition with the tenor. If he's very good, the baritone may instead heroically sacrifice himself so that the tenor may get the girl.

If you're a married woman, your husband will cheat on you. Your only choice here is what to do about it.

If you decide to get your revenge in kind, then the, er, subject of your revenge may turn out to be the same person as the object.

On the other hand, if you're a man trying to entice married women into adultery, you could end up in a navigable waterway with a basket of laundry. At best.

#249 ::: Mark A. Mandel ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 02:59 PM:

I know the version of Twa Magicians sung by Banish Misfortune (iirc). Once I mentioned in a filk context that the contest is loaded against the woman: she must continue to evade, while he can win by capturing her. Someone, I wish I could remember who so I could credit them, supplied this closing verse:

Then she became a shrine to the Lady of the Wood
And he reached out to take her and was blasted where he stood.

("I love happy endings, don't you?" -- http://filk.cracksandshards.com/Rudolph.html)

Mark A. Mandel
the Filker with No Nickname
http://filk.cracksandshards.com

#250 ::: The Elder Sister ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:54 PM:

This is a serious appeal regarding John Roberts (no, not that one) of John Roberts & Tony Barrand.

Some of you have posted with specific reference to John & Tony, indicated that you are familiar with "Dark Ships," or suggested that they run the country. Actually, I'm not sure that last would be such a bad idea, but am less certain on the issue of citizenship.

In all seriousness, John collapsed at a concert and has had bypass surgery. He is recovering slowly but will not be able to work for awhile.

Tony Barrand is accepting donations to offset the medical expenses.

If you would like to join the effort by contributing, please make checks payable to JOHN ROBERTS. You may send them c/o Tony at:

Tony Barrand
109 Washington St.
Brattleboro, VT
05301-6485

Thanks for your help.

Sincerely,

The Elder Sister (aka the Child 10 freak who got Charlie off the M(B)TA ;-).

#251 ::: ben. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 03:59 PM:

Blues rules:

1) your woman will do you wrong

2) vice versa

3) someone gets killed, and it ain't pretty

4) jail time. ad infinitum

5) close back doors gently, don't slam

6) animals dead, high water, dark nights = evil times

and most importantly:

7) you only think you can get along without your soul.

#252 ::: lame ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:01 PM:

tag closed, slinks off.

#253 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:16 PM:

Xopher: if the remark about Oscar Brand is to imply that they ain't folk ballads if we know the writers, well, more than half the American and Canadian ones mentioned would be out. (Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, Heather Alexander and Archie Fisher at least have gone by. And James Keelaghan {sp?}.)

If you're a fox-hunter stuck for game, do *not* invoke the devil.

#254 ::: inkgrrl ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 04:49 PM:

Pretty much never invoke the devil, especially at a crossroads. Or at night. Or when rolling dice. Or opening a new jug of moonshine.

#255 ::: Jim Pipkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:11 PM:

If she has an elder sister, bring an elder suitor

Unless they are both cool with it, in which case never go to sleep around them, between them, or in the same county with them.

#256 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 05:53 PM:

The position of your apron has a direct correlation to your attractiveness to bad menfolk/stray bullets. Some authorities (cf. Dink)suggest merely wearing it high may grant you uninterrupted solitude, especially if you never leave your kitchen; however, in swan-hunting season you're best advised to leave it off entirely. The consequent grease stains and burn marks will probably help ward off the bad menfolk, too.

#257 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:03 PM:

The position of your apron has a direct correlation to your attractiveness to bad menfolk/stray bullets. Some authorities (cf. Dink)suggest merely wearing it high may grant you uninterrupted solitude

I understand that 'wearing it high' means you're pregnant. See Doleful Ghost, etc.

#258 ::: Anne ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:33 PM:

Now that I'm thinking about it, it's also a good idea, should you be dancing at your brother's wedding and "accidentally" dance into his sword, to be in love with Pretty Annie (no relation), as she will be able to charm the birds out of the trees and you out of your grave.

Except, you know, you'll get no rest. This could be annoying.

#259 ::: tim ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:52 PM:

Addenda: be kind to cabin boys. Especially when they have drills.

Or if they have little tools, poor dears.

Meanwhile,

Don't bother how you answer your father's question. If you're the first or second son you're getting nothing, and if you're the third you're getting the whole caboodle, no matter how you answer.

If you're a widow keeping a guest house, make all the sexual bets you like; you're on to a winner.

In America: Don't go on down to Buffalo.

#260 ::: Carol ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:53 PM:

For a genre of earlier music, if you are a music teacher you might especially like students named Celia (whereas Celia’s father might want to invest in a blunderbuss). And if your lady and her maid have any type of a contest, best to spend the afternoon in the pub instead of the house.

#261 ::: Oz Childs ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 06:58 PM:

I was just going to say, if you're a miller and this attractive corpse comes floating by, do not under any circumstances make her bones and hair into a violin. It may get you in serious trouble.

Anyhow, it will only play one tune.

#262 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:29 PM:

Eimear: thanks for the Croppy Boy lyrics! Now I must find the tune, as I'd love to sing it. :)

Kayjay, the song about the bankrupt son who fritters away his inheritance, realizes his folly, and tries to hang himself on his father's gallows, ends with the rigged gallows splitting open and the rest of the son's inheritance pouring out of it. The father had set it up that way so his son wouldn't spend the entire inheritance before learning some prudence.

I know it as "The Heir of Linne."

#263 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 07:33 PM:

It's almost unheard-of for anyone to fall ill and recover from it.

#264 ::: Krissy ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:12 PM:

If you're the oldest/middle son just do what the little man/supernatural being/old woman tells you without smarting off to them.

If you're the youngest son, after you finish carrying out the little man/supernatural being/old woman's good advice, do yourself a favor and just forget you even had older brothers to begin with.

#265 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 08:16 PM:

I understand that 'wearing it high' means you're pregnant. See Doleful Ghost, etc.

No, no, I got that. I was...I was just being silly. I can't think what came over me. Sorry.

On the other hand, if you can explain how Dink's man can be long and tall and move his body like a cannon ball...all my mental images of this are pretty goofy. Is my brain not sufficiently deep in the gutter, or is that just supposed to be how fast he's getting out of there the morning after?

Also, if you can prophesy as a lil' baby sitting on your mama's knee (and every second verse or so thereafter) that the Big Bend Tunnel on the C & O road's going to be the death of you, why not look into another line of work? It's tough enough being a tragic hero without having to do all your own oracle work as well.


#266 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:02 PM:

And if you're known as Big John, you might want to stay out of coal mines, especially if they're deep.

Brooke: That occurred to me, much later. Sometimes my mental uptake is not real fast.

#267 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:30 PM:

On the wisdom of hearkening to folksongs, John Aubrey and I would like to present the sad case of Caisho Burroughs.

Mr. Caisho Burroughs was one of the most beautiful Men in England, and very Valiant, but very proud and blood-thirsty: There was then in London a very Beautiful Italian Lady, who fell so extreamly in Love with him, that she did let him enjoy her, which she had never let any Man do before: Wherefore, said she, I shall request this favour of you, never to tell anyone of it. The Gentlewoman died: and afterwards in a Tavern in London he spake of it: and there going to make water, the Ghost of the Gentlewoman did appear to him. He was afterwards troubled with the Apparition of her, even sometimes in company when he was drinking; but he only perceived it: Before she did appear he did find a kind of Chilness upon his Spirits.

You’d think one Doleful Ghost interrupting his bathroom breaks would be enough of a hint, but no. Our boy Caisho’s like the All-Ballad Darwin Award champion of the 17th century. He heads to Florence....

...where he having an Intrigue with a beautiful Courtisan (Mistress of the Grand Duke) their Familiarity became so public, that it came to the Duke’s Ear, who took a Resolution to have him Murdered, but Caisho having had timely notice of the Duke’s design by some of the English there, immediately left the City without acquainting his Mistress with it, and came to England; whereupon the Duke being disappointed of his Revenge fell upon his Mistress in most reproachful Language, she on the other side resenting the sudden Departure of her Gallant of whom she was most passionately enamour’d, killed herself. At the same moment that she expired, she did appear to Caisho at his Lodgings in London. Collonel Remes was then in Bed with him, who saw her as well as he; giving him an account of her Resentments of his Ingratitude to her, in leaving her so suddenly, and exposing her to the Fury of the Duke, not omitting her own Tragical EXIT, adding withall, that he should be slain in a Duell, which accordingly happened; and thus she appeared to him frequently, even when his younger Brother (who afterwards was Sir John) was a Bed with him. As often as she did appear, he would cry out with great shrieking, and trembling of his Body, as anguish of Mind, saying, O God! here she comes, she comes, and at this rate she appeared ‘till he was killed; she appeared to him the morning before he was killed.

Ravens were probably involved at some point, too. His name even rhymes with itself!

#268 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:39 PM:

A ferryboat Captain wishing to follow EPA rules on discharges into coastal waters should take care of his cheese.

This is another that's got me stumped. And I'm still trying to figure out why oranges are deadly.

#269 ::: Krissy ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2005, 09:58 PM:

If your One True Love, or anyone for that matter, runs off from your home on the night of the full moon without any explanation, do not go chasing after them, or the last few stanzas of your life are going to be a mix of unpleasant emotions up to the point where all emotion ceases to exist for you.

#270 ::: Cabell ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:09 AM:

cd: Yes, I've got that version. I like Garmarna a lot. :-)

Lenora: I just found the Jim Moray version and liked it so much that I've ordered the album. I really like the little snatches of discordant music he's sampled in throughout.

Additional: If your kingdom is suddenly plagued by a terrible monster, and coincidentally your own true love seems to have gone missing, your course of action should be clear: kiss the monster.

#272 ::: Adrian S ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 03:59 AM:

If your garter comes untied, do not ask a passing drover boy to tie it up again unless you are prepared to accept the consequences.

#273 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:58 AM:

For those of you who prefer your ballads more recently penned:

1. Stay the hell away from counties named Fairfax (if female) and Darlington (if male and traveling with anyone named Wayne).
2. Withdrawing your dowry and bringing it to a handsome outlaw beneath an oak tree is a sure ticket to premature widowhood.
3. If Jeannie needs a shooter and you think you da man, get the hell out of Knightstown before her dad and big brother find you.
4. If your brother's name is Laszlo, odds are excellent he's a horse thief in a jurisdiction that is a little too enthusiastic about capital punishment.
5. Do not under any circumstances sleep with judges, because Laszlo's toast any way you cut it.
6. Never lend your sweater to cute young girls you meet for the first time at a high school dance, unless you enjoy making their bereaved dads cry.
7. Nothing good can come of street racing, especially if your girlfriend's name is Laura.
8. If you're on your way home from combat duty in a tropical clime, I wouldn't exactly expect your wife to jump for joy when she sees you....assuming you're even visible.
9. Don't for one minute believe that Captain Walker is really dead, especially if his wife is preggers.
10. When at the track, closely observe the horses. If you see a spotted one chatting with his jockey and swigging wine, run to the window and bet the farm on him.
11. Mares and grays are always sucker bets.
12. If your folks are always putting your biker boyfriend down, they may be on to something,
13. If you are a virtuous young lady in a New England seaport, dating a pirate will get you framed by a stripper for his murder.
14. Stay out of little cafes just the other side of the border. Any fair young senorita there is guaranteed to be attached to some jealous wacko named Jose.
15. You may safely assume anyone named Jose in a bordertown cafe is a jealous wacko.
16. Satellite dish+big screen TV+ .44 magnum=long vacation at state expense.
17. Don't expect anything to come of dating girls named Sloopy who live in a very bad part of town.
18. If you live down in the boondocks, forget about much of a love life.
19. Attention matchmakers: there's this lonely guy living down in the boondocks and a trailer-park chick named Sloopy....
20. If you are a panther, perhaps a Michigan automaker's test track is not the most hospitable environment for you.
21. Beware of widows who keep marrying guys named Henry, especially if your name is Henry. What makes you think she's gonna stop with you?
22. If Great Lakes cruises on Canadian freighters in November are dirt cheap, perhaps there's a reason.

#274 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 07:35 AM:

Lessons from the Folksongs of Tomorrow:

You load sixteen gig, and whaddaya get? A formatting error and a system reset.

The fair young maid will answer thee,
Through bitstreams slowed by traffic,
But there among the spam you'll read,
"Young man, you're holographic."

You shall have a download, you shall share a file,
You shall dupe the things you bought in any sort of style,
Get up from the monitor, politely turn your back,
Whistle something public while the crackers run their hack.
(Yes, I know that's not actually "folk.")

#275 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 08:59 AM:

Speaking of biker boyfriends: If yours has fought with the law, and he says he don't mind dyin', take it as a sign.

On the other hand, you'll get a good bike out of it, if it's any consolation.

#276 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 09:30 AM:

If you abandon your lady and later realize she's your One True Love, don't go back and let yourself in with your key. You're not welcome anymore, and she will survive.

The scruffy guy you snooted when you were young will because a hero later, and you'll kick yourself for marrying the dull guy instead.

To recall your forgotten name, ride a horse without one into the desert.

If you finally ask your brother about what happened all those years ago, he'll respond with an extended metaphor about History.

When you're new in town, people look unnatractive and behave oddly, and the women seem positively evil.

To find out if the guy you're falling for is your One True Love, speak up and make him speak up. It might be the real thing, and that's the only way to find out.

#277 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 10:53 AM:

JMF: "Dance to your Daddy" isn't folk?

#278 ::: Larry Lennhoff ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 10:55 AM:

To find out if the guy you're falling for is your One True Love, speak up and make him speak up. It might be the real thing, and that's the only way to find out.
Oh no, that's not the way. You're not paying attention to my words. If you desire to know if he truly cares, check out his osculatory skills.

#279 ::: Scott Spiegelberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:08 PM:

More opera:

Don't let the gypsy girl out of jail, no matter how hot she is.

Don't get involved with painters, it never ends well.

Foreswearing love can make the whole world end.

Foreign soldiers are always married, affairs always end in death, and you should never trust a queen who sings a lot of high notes.

#280 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:15 PM:

On opera: My view of opera was warped in childhood by Golden Grain pasta ads on radio: "Just look: twenty-nine elephants loaded with Golden Grain!" (Also heard things like Bell Brand Potato Chip ads: "'See what the boys in the back bag will have', said dangerous Irving Bell.")

#281 ::: Patty Ann Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Jim -

The "rare" pleasure of laughter is truly appreciated in days like these. Thank You!

#282 ::: Dan Layman-Kennedy ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 02:07 PM:

If you're a horse thief revisiting a town you've previously worked, you might consider the various advantages of a shorter hairstyle.

It probably won't alter your inevitable bad end, but it might make it less... humiliating.

#283 ::: Beth Friedman ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 02:59 PM:

John Isbell said: Never trust a judge who offers you a deal involving sex and a pardon for your husband in the morning.

and Ajay said: Er, I think that's from Tosca. Though I'd be interested to know a folk song with the same theme.

It may be Tosca, but it's also "Anathea," performed by Judy Collins. Not traditional, since it's by Neil Roth, but close enough.

http://www.geocities.com/mot@swbell.net/msb_4.txt

And Xopher, I don't think Oscar Brand wrote "A Horse Named Bill." Carl Sandburg performed it, and didn't he predate him? All the attributions I could find online were either Sandburg or Anon.

#284 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 04:12 PM:

TexAnne: I thought I was filkifyin' Kipling's "Smuggeler's Song." But, as the fella* said, it's all folk music, 'cause horses don't sing.

*Credited to Big Bill Broonzy. And Pete Seeger. And, if one looked hard enough, probably Barry Manilow.

Kill da wabbit
Kill da wabbit
Kill da wabbit
"Well, what did you expect in an opera, a happy ending?"

#285 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 09:05 PM:

There's a reason it's called Dead Man's Curve.

#286 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 10:34 PM:

tim, I scarcely think we'll get a drink till we get to Buffalo.

#287 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: September 09, 2005, 11:11 PM:

Attempting to dispose of felines will inevitably result in side-effects that are directly proportional to the attempted disposal mechanism.

Falling in love with somebody you've met online leads to surprising revelations.

Don't pick fruit out of streams unless you're part of an old childless couple. Ditto for unusually lovely flowers.

#288 ::: Neil Slater ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 03:19 AM:

If you are a comely young lass on her way to market with any foodstuffs whatsoever, or if you meet said wench, be aware that Pregnancy, Vengeful Wives, Jilted Lovers and possibly Doleful Ghosts are lying in wait within three to seventeen stanzas. Guaranteed.

Always join the union. However, do not under ANY circumstances, participate in union activities. Particularly stay away from strikes and other job actions. Doleful Gosts, Strong Drink, Murder Most Foul, and Other Nasty Ends will befall you.

Consider a profession other than law enforcement, since then you'll end up on the other end of the gun in the aforementioned job actions...

Avoid participating in any folksong that ends in Van Dieman's land. Thoroughly bad news, that place.

Oh, and if you're in the sack and her husband comes home unexpectedly, for the love of Odin don't try to hide anywhere in the bedroom. Out the window with you, no matter how high, and send her an email to let her where to forward your clothes.

#289 ::: Sherbs ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 05:48 AM:

Do not sign aboard the scummiest vessel you've ever seen. In fact, don't sign aboard any sort of vessel at all.

Seems someone got to it before me. Ships Always Sink.

You can add Harry to the list of names of guys you don't want to marry especially if they are bound for High Germany.

Edward is also a name of ill-omen, even if it's shortened to Ned though he's more likely to murder someone or be murdered himself than just to run off and leave you.

If you intend to rape and/or murder a beautiful young lady, make sure she hasn't got any sisters (unless you intend to get them too or are in league with them).

If it's a Welsh Folk song:
Don't ask anyone if they have any goats.

Even if you or you true love die or go away there will still be plenty of birds around.


#290 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:59 AM:

If you are a sailor make it your business to enquire the captain's name before signing on. If the captain has a colorful sobriquet (e.g. "Kicking Jack" or "Flogging Billy") be wary.

#291 ::: Mark A. Mandel ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 11:57 AM:

Someone said
>> Never trust a judge who offers you a deal involving sex and a pardon for your husband in the morning.

Ajay replied:
> Er, I think that's from Tosca. Though I'd be interested to know a folk song with the same theme.

It's in folk songs too. Although the judge in "Geordie" is actually honest:

Six pretty babies have I borne
The seventh lies in my body
I'd freely part with them one and all
If you'll spare me the life of my Geordie

The judge looked over his left shoulder
He said, Fair maid, I'm sorry
Said, Fair maid, you must be gone
For I cannot pardon Geordie


#292 ::: Mark A. Mandel ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:01 PM:

If you are a young woman living in, or on the route to, Fenario, do not run away with an army captain no matter what he promises you... unless, possibly, you really, really hate the place so much that you won't mind if all the cities are burned and all the ladies destroyed.

#293 ::: Mark A. Mandel ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:05 PM:

Millers? Tailors? Ha!

Oh, the miller was drowned in his dam
And the weaver was hanged in his yarn
And the Devil got his claw on the little tailor
With the broadcloth under his arm.

Of course, these Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn had all earned their fate: they stole their goods.

#294 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 12:23 PM:

Oh no, that's not the way. You're not paying attention to my words. If you desire to know if he truly cares, check out his osculatory skills.

Hmm, Cher vs. Madonna...you're right, I'll take Cher.

Beth, I coulda swore. But you're probably right.

#295 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 06:09 PM:

Another Lesson, from William Blake.


And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the countenance divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

You will note that "dark satanic mills" are not on the list for building Jerusalem.

#296 ::: Renee ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:44 PM:

From Canada, some modern comments:

Ladies, never trust a fella with a helmet on his head.

French perfume, in bulk, is highly explosive. So keep your boat off the rocks while carrying it... unless you REALLY want away from those Mounties.

A widow hosting a wake ought to believe her wristwatch, not the clock upon the wall.

#297 ::: Kayjay ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:56 PM:

If you committed the murder for which your brother was blamed and hung, but didn't confess to it, don't bitch and moan about the crooked sheriff, judge, and backwoods southern lawyers. Pot, kettle.

#298 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 08:59 PM:

There's a Gervase Fen novel in which Our Eponymous Hero describes a saturnine gentleman named Mills as "dark and satanic."

A cookie for all who know why this is a science-fiction reference. (If I start baking now, I'll be done by World Fantasy.)

#299 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:10 PM:

Also from Canada --

If the wildly sentimental sorts who run the late Regency period British Army's colonial detachments see fit to bury the dashing bachelor general with his brave and devoted aide de camp, a class based interpretation of these events is much more acceptable than any other, obviously implausible, interpretation.

Renee --

'perfume, smokes, and rum'; it doesn't have to be bulk detonatable perfume.

#300 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 09:31 PM:

A propos of Fenario. I have in my possession a version of "Pretty Peggy" in which there was a troop of Irish dragoons who marched down by Fivey (o). In that version that stuff about burning down the town is absent, but Pretty Peggy doesn't go for the captain, and the captain pines away. I've heard the tune from it on bagpipes called "The Bonnie Lass of Fivey" played extra sprightly as a march, and the old guy who sings the song on the old recording (ca 1951, actually) sings it pretty cheerfully too. (the tune is similar to but not identical to the various Fenario tunes one hears) So I keep thinking -- I think these "Irish dragoons" are English dragoons lately come from Ireland, and the song is all cheerful because that Peggy was faithful to her people and scorned that captain and really did him in.

I don't know whether the Fenario version is earlier, or the Fivey version, and it would be interesting to know. And it would be interesting too if the old guy who'd sung the Fivey one had been alive in time for me to ask him what he thought about it.

#301 ::: Byrd ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 10:40 PM:

Regarding Mermaids, to give some words:

"My father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light
He slept with a mermaid one fine night.
Out of this union there came three:
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me."

#302 ::: Lea ::: (view all by) ::: September 10, 2005, 11:53 PM:

If going to Ilkley Moor, whether for purposes of courting or duck hunting, don't forget to wear a hat.

Avoid participating in any folksong that ends in Van Dieman's land. Thoroughly bad news, that place.

However, if the song begins there, and you're female, you may do better for yourself, as there's a possibility you'll catch the eye of someone important enough to get you out doing hard labor.

Don't marry men who've been off crusading. Invariably he'll have made a promise to a woman he met in the Holy Land, and once she turns up to collect, he'll probably ditch you. Though you may get a handsome settlement out of the deal, at least.

If you've disregarded the rules about avoidance of forests, and consquently provoked the local elf population, then the best way to stave them off is to make the sign of the cross on everything in the house.

#303 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 06:48 AM:

Ah, well, and speaking of Barry Manilow--

Never, never, never, until such time as they begin successfully screening for weapons at the door, nevernevernever fall in love at the Copacabana.

#304 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 07:41 AM:

Which reminds me, the designer Nudie Cohn died the other day, and the first thing in my head was Dr. Hook's "The Ballad of . . ."

(If you know the lyric, you'll know why Nicole's post triggered that particular memory. Of course, metal detectors at a country concert are Not On; Elise and I were once flying out of Las Vegas during National Finals Rodeo week, and most of the buckles going through security outweighed an AK with spare mags. To their considerable credit, the TSA guys were handling this with politeness, a sense of humor, and almost no slowdown.)

#305 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:36 AM:

If you hear a couple of corbies (crows, ravens, their friends-and-relations) discussing what they're having for lunch/dinner, pay close attention. They might be having your One True Love, or whoever you were looking for.

#306 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 08:57 AM:

If your mother predicts that things are going to go badly, she will be right. If your father predicts that everything will turn out OK, he will be wrong.

#307 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Your humble author has unearthed his copy of "The Prairie Home Companion Songbook".

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

#308 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:34 AM:

Ships do not always sink.

Usually, granted, but what about the Mary Ellen Carter?

Anyone can write a song about a ship sinking, but Stan Rogers is a genius.

#309 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Dave Bell: Your humble author has unearthed his copy of "The Prairie Home Companion Songbook".

Dave - You can't hurt me - I have Garrison Keillor firewalls installed on all my media sources. His insincere folksiness will never bruise my tender sensibilities ever again. Mwahahahahaha!

#310 ::: zhoen ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:53 AM:

I'm amazed no one else has mentioned:
Do not be in too big a hurry to commit suicide/lay down to die just because your True Love is reported dead/married to someone else/has rejected you. TL may well show up alive in the next stanza or have a change of heart.

And do not be in too big a hurry to kill your new born child, especially if you are going to brag about how good you are going to dress your babies to the Dour Ghost of said baby. (Cruel Mother- also to be avoided under the relative named cruel rule.)

Wonderful, wonderful. I have to go study folksongs, thanks for stimulating a long dormant True Love.

#311 ::: Jean Lamb ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 09:55 PM:

Other advice: Always believe what a talking salmon tells you. (Unless it's actually Loki in disguise, in which case you're screwed).

If you're John Henry, listen to the Smothers Brothers and take _their_ advice. Steam drills are more expensive than coffins, but you'll like the first one better.

If you have a wife named Ruby, don't even ask. Just makes sure she remembers the bottle of Jack Daniels when she comes _back_ from town.

If you're a miner in Alaska, _always_ specify cremation.

#312 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:24 PM:

People shouldn't remind me of things.

No, that's just shifting the blame, and it's unavoidable anyway.

One (heh) from the vaults:

You’ve coiled your braids around your ears and put your gun away
Leia, are you contemplating going EVA?
The speeder bike is revving and she’s gonna run around
Oh Leia . . . don't take the Force to town

It wasn't me that started this whole crazy Rebel show
And when I got involved it was entirely for the dough
And certainly that R2 droid’s got better moves than me
Oh, Leia . . . you just spilled beer on me

It's hard to love a man who’s just a great big paperweight
And after all this run-and-gun I’m sure you want a date
But my head’s fixed just loose enough that beeping makes it pound
Oh Leia . . . don't take the Force to town

She’s through the lock, ‘cause I just heard the hissin’ of the seals
She ain’t got no idea how a carbon cowboy feels
And if my drives would motivate I’d put the hammer down
Oh Leia . . . don't take the Force to town

Oh Leia . . . For god's sake not with Chewie!

#313 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 01:09 AM:

On the other hand, in Real Life Examples of not heeding folksongs, we have Letty Lade, who defied half a dozen major rules.

First, she was a highwayman's mistress. Seriously, now, who survives that? But as far as history records, she wasn't even haunted by her hanged lover's Doleful Ghost, despite going on to marry a rakish, horse-racing English lord named John who was a good friend of the Prince Regent.

To sum up all the things one should never, ever get involved with, we have:

1. Highwaymen
2. Rakes
3. Lords
4. Johns
5. Princes
6. Royal Georges

And not only was she not hideously murdered, IIRC she and her husband lived quite contentedly ever thereafter, with Lady Letty happily horrifying Regency society with her high-perch racing carriage and becoming a byword for cursing. The she-didn't-just-say-that-did-she? kind of cursing, I mean, not the woe-betide-me-I-am-undone kind. Despite, as I was saying, all balladic probability.

#314 ::: ken ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 06:52 AM:

Being a Brit I've never heard of the "Fenario" song till I read about it here. But the Bonnie Lass of Fyvie is one of the most popular Scottish folksongs & I think it is at least 200 years older, if not 300.

The Irish Dragoons were marching down to Fyvie, a place in Aberdeenshire in Scotland as are the other places mentioned in the song - the geography works. For some reasons lots of old songs take place in that area. Maybe its just because Ythan is such a pretty name for a river. Fyvie is between Turriff and Old Meldrum. Its near Kirktown of Auchterless and such places as Rothienorman (which sounds mildly rude to me), Tifty, and the very un-Scottish sounding Steinmannhill.

The song might be a version of an even older English ballad but the current (very popular) version is pretty clearly set in the Scottish Civil Wars in the 1640s (which went on at the same time as the English Civil Wars but the sides lined up rather differently)

Apparently versions of Pretty Peggy similar to the Scots song have been collected in the Appalachians, & others were used as marching songs by Union troops in your action replay of the Civil Wars on a rather larger scale, so it was certainly known in north America well before "Fenario" got in on the act.

The royalist party employed large numbers of Irish troops, also Gaelic speakers from the west of Scotland were still occasionally called "Irish" in those days, and both would have been in Montrose's army (Montrose fought on the King's side, as he saw it, which wasn't always the way the King saw it). In the song they were on their way to Aberdeen - the Irish sack of Aberdeen is mostly forgotten nowadays (except maybe by sectarian Scottish & Ulster Protestants) but it happened. Rape & pillage and all that - Pretty Peggy was probably very wise not to go with her captain.

And the Folksong Rule of Life derived from this is simply never, ever, believe what a soldier tells you. Especially if it involves leaving home with him. Or sex.

#315 ::: Squrfle ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 09:24 PM:

So, if someone would be willing to help a Midwesterner- just what is it about those lemon trees anyway. I mean, I know they're pretty.

Squrfle (not that anyone here is likely to know any Elizabeth Northrup :)

#316 ::: eithne ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 10:12 PM:

also, if you are a girl try not to fall in love with anyone named Johnny, as he will almost certainly die or tell you he has. A doleful Ghost may be the bearer of the news

#317 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 12, 2005, 11:16 PM:

ken, thanks! -- in the version I know the girl doesn't believe him, and he pines away.

Squrfle -- the song about the lemon tree, very pretty, just lies about the fruit.

The smell of a lemon blossom is one of the most poignant, beautiful, compelling, arousing smells there is (plum blossom might be more so, though it's more subtle). That's what the "lemon flower is sweet" part means. But lemons are far, far, far from being "impossible to eat."

THe dumbass who made up the song was reaching for a metaphor. If I was to make a metaphor with the lemon blossom being courtship and the fruit being the long term of a relationship I would have had to go with a whole essay or something, because the thing is that lemons are wonderful, but you have to put some effort into them.

The reason there are so many covers of that stupid song is that the tune, while not gorgeous, is a very sticky earworm.

#318 ::: Elise Matthesen ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 01:07 AM:

For Hilla, in trade for the Sloop John B remark, I offer Les Barker's "Sloop John A":

Oh, where can the John A be?
Maybe the A's at sea
We had a good look 'round
And then we went home
We had to go home (had to go home)
Oh yes we had to go ho-o-ome
We couldn't find her
And so we went home

And for Lea, from the same brilliant song-crafter, a filk to something something d'amour, the real name of which neither Mr. Ford nor myself can recall at the moment:

Ilkley d'amour
La moor where les Yorkshiremen go
Ilkley d'amour et j'ai been there
With no chapeau
(Tha'lt snuff it.)

I stand solidly with Drew and the rest who are of the opinion that Les Barker is a genius. (And now I want a Les Barker singing party. Time to find those songbooks.)

#319 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 03:30 AM:

The French original is "Plaisir d'amour", variously attributed to Giovanni Martini and Martini il Tedesco, and a quite properly classical piece which has been much simplified into the folk and pop genres.

Check out Joan Baez for one example.

#320 ::: Satyrblade ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 09:08 AM:

If a Highborn Lady/ Lord's Wife/ High Queen/ Lady of the Manor/ Bright Young Maid/ Barefoot Lassie/ or ESPECIALLY a Faerie Maiden invites you off for a bit of sport - RUN!!!!! You may be mocked as "half a man," but at least you'll survive till morning!

#321 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 11:53 AM:

Another's wife
You shall not screw
For God won't like it
If you do
BURMA SHAVE

If you make off
With others' stuff
The LORD is prone
To cut up rough
BURMA SHAVE

Avoid yerself
A heap of trouble
Keep Sunday free
And watch your stubble
BURMA SHAVE

Right, that's three...

#322 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 11:54 AM:

Another's shave
You may not covet
However much
You think you'd love it
BURMA SHAVE

Four...

#323 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 01:12 PM:

While I've been admiring Les Barker's poetry (Regularly performed between sets at the Winnipeg Folk Festival) for a while, the moment I decided he was a musical genius as well was when, in a pause between songs at the stage I was at, I heard a refrain echo over from another:

"May the turtle be unbroken..."

Had to go over and catch the rest of *that* story. Alas that I never did hear all the words.

#324 ::: Judith ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Died laughing: see also doleful ghost haunting with gigglefitz and deep rumbling laughter.

#325 ::: a.y. chilton ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 02:14 PM:

Mark, who asked about Elder Sister songs: Check out Loreena McKennit's "The Bonny Swans".

Do NOT go walking with your elder sister by the river, especially not if she covets your True Love. She'll think naught of pushing you in. As if this would win your S.O. over to her?? But as someone else points out, the harp eventually tells all...but what good did it do ya? You drowned, a harper made various of your body parts into a harp, and fat lotta good that will do Sweet William your True Love!

#326 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 03:36 PM:

This is absolutely spectacular and true.

Thanks!

~Emily

#327 ::: Stephen ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Thank you, one and all. Especially Mr. MacDonald.

Xopher: Cher? Madonna? It was Betty Everett in 1964.

Brooke: As I recall the song doesn't mention the tunnel or the railroad. The lines is:

He picked up a hammer and a little bit of steel and said this hammer's gonna be the death of me, Lord God.

More from America:

No matter how you get to Memphis, no good will come of it, particularly if either good or low-down Southern whiskey is involved.

If you have three little children and a very sickly wife, never gamble with a brand new Stetson hat as the bet, especially if you’re gambling in the dark with a man who has a forty-four at home.

If you meet a beautiful woman in the swamp, she is undoubtedly an ugly witch wearing another’s skin. Go home.

If you meet a man on the levee before daylight, don’t hand him your twenty-dollar bill.

Young ladies had best avoid cowboys altogether, especially if they ride the rodeo.

You may be thinking of leaving an old friend to become another’s blushing bride. If your old friend has a coal black 45, it would be best not to advise the old friend of your wedding plans. Otherwise, be attentive at the altar.

Avoid anyone who walks on gilded splinters, and who ain’t afraid of no tomcat. Pride will fade and you will feel his malice.

If you’re playing poker with your back to the door and you get dealt three aces and two eights, it’s best to fold your hand and leave. It is not under likely to be a winning hand.

If you meet a man at a crossroads in Mississippi who offers to teach you to play guitar, politely decline. The cost of the lesson will be prohibitive.

Avoid a certain kind of fool who likes the sound of his own name.

If your name is Big Jim and you own the town’s diamond mine, don’t walk in on Lily and someone looking like a saint.

If you meet a man who speaks in riddles, with eyes as black as coal, you should definitely hide.

As a rule of thumb, anyone with serpentine body parts or apparel, such as rattlesnake eyes or a cobra skin necktie, is not your friend.

If the mean judge asks what time it is, don’t respond “five to ten”, regardless of what the courtroom clock says. Likewise, even though you may have debts that no honest man can pay, it is not a good idea to mix Tanqueray and wine.

While the angels may know that you love the young lady, it is unlikely that she will write you care of the Birmingham Jail. She will most likely be down in the valley, hearing the wind blow.

Hoochie-coochie men are best avoided in general. This is especially true if they have a mojo hand, John the Conqueror root, gris-gris or a black cat bone.

Should you meet a man with an axe handle pistol built on a graveyard frame, shooting tombstone bullets, wearing a ball and chain, drinking TNT and smoking dynamite, it would undoubtedly be in your best interests not to start any sort of altercation.

#328 ::: Brooke C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 05:40 PM:

Stephen: I'm sure there're a zillion versions of John Henry. I was looking at W. H. Auden's Book of Light Verse, which has the first stanza:

John Henry was a lil baby,
Sittin' on his mama's knee,
Said, "De Big Bend Tunnel on the C. & O. road
Gonna cause de death of me
Lawd, lawd, gonna cause de death of me."

Which seemed to me to be a lot of detail for a baby to have at his fingertips. Delphi lost a good prospect there. And then he keeps on making comments throughout, like, "'fore I'll let that steam drill beat me, I'll hammer my fool self to death," which, as we all know, is just asking for it.

(Hm...Zora Neale Hurston's version in Mules and Men doesn't have that first stanza, but does have John Henry's woman and the business about "who's going to shoe your pretty lil' feet" which I know I've seen in several different songs. Auden has John Henry's mother all dressed in red, which is...interesting. I do like his version a lot anyway, if only for the striking imagery of: "He broke a rib in his lef'-hand side/An' his intrels fell on de groun'." Lawd, lawd.)

Also from Auden's Light Verse: Running off with a daring young man on the flying trapeze is a surprisingly self-actualizing move: you'll learn a useful trade and look hot.

Now she flies through the air with the greatest of ease
This daring young girl on the flying trapeze
Her figure is handsome, all men she can please,
And my love is purloined away.

Note: daring young trapeze men may be subject to the same PR doubts as all of those roving harpers and whistling gypsy lads, but they seem less likely to be doing their own advertising in this case. And if they are, I like the way they think.

#329 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 06:24 PM:

There's also a version of John Henry* that starts with "The Central of Georgia Railroad/Gonna be the death of me." The C&O's Big Bend Tunnel has the strongest historical associations, though in this context, when you say "historical," shaker, you better pray, 'cause if those cites don't hold up strong, Department gonna throw you away, oh lordy, Department gonna throw you away.

JH also has at least three women in his life, dressed variously in red or blue (and sometimes, at the end, black), one of whom, Betty Ann, took his place during an illness and "Betty Ann drove steel like a man."

There were hand drillers on a great number of projects, both in tunnel building and hard-rock mining (which is a whole other snappy revue of high explosives and lung disease), and the songs are naturally going to pick up variants, particularly variants that add some corroborative detail to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative. The earliest known version, which you can read here, doesn't give a location or railroad at all.

He may have come up from Georgia
He mighta hailed from Kokomo
But I think I'll say he's from the USA
And make a buck wherever I go.

*Or "Jawn Henry," depending.

#330 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 06:38 PM:

The version I learned in school had in the first verse "He picked up a hammer and a little piece of steel" but the he was sitting on his daddy's knee also.

And then there's "John Henry" as done by the Brothers Smothers. It's non-canonical and worth hearing.

#331 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 07:05 PM:

I have in my repertoire a black and a white version of John Henry, and I have conflated them completely, but I only have two women, and the woman who drove steel like a man while John Henry was sick in the bed was Polly Ann which may be significant because, according to the eponymous song, Betty Ann just looks like the thunderhead before the rain comes down.

There's lots of scary songs about that tunnel building back then: "Swananoa Tunnel" sung Bascom Lamar Lunsford is probably the scariest. He's one of the scariest singers ever anyway, right up there with Dock Boggs.

#332 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 13, 2005, 07:49 PM:

Mike:
It's usually John Hardy who's visited by the "little girl dressed in red" and "little girl dressed in blue" though none too little by the sound of 'em.

Moral for that one:
Don't date any man who carries two guns every day. One should be enough for any reasonable man.

#333 ::: Sherbs ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 05:32 AM:

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 11, 2005, 11:34 AM:

Ships do not always sink.

Usually, granted, but what about the Mary Ellen Carter?

Don't think I know this one, can anyone point me to the lyrics?


To sum up all the things one should never, ever get involved with, we have:

1. Highwaymen
2. Rakes
3. Lords
4. Johns
5. Princes
6. Royal Georges

Royal Georges and Jameses


#334 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 06:08 AM:

Stephen, you said:

You may be thinking of leaving an old friend to become another?s blushing bride. If your old friend has a coal black 45, it would be best not to advise the old friend of your wedding plans. Otherwise, be attentive at the altar.

This does double if your friend is called "Bill".


#335 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 06:35 AM:

Jo; Mary Ellen Carter's not trad, it's Stan Rogers. And this thread demonstrates the qualitative difference between trad folk songs and modern songs in a trad style.

But more importantly, the Mary Ellen Carter had already sunk, the song's about raising her. Worse, the song is set the night before the attempt to raise her; the implication being one of bravado and doom. But it's not a real ship (it's a stand-in for the many ships abandoned to marine insurance fraud), so listeners less cynical than I are welcome to believe it was successfully raised.

#336 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 12:04 PM:

Why does my response disappear sometimes when I hit some key by accident? What key is it? I'm going to put a cage around it.

I hate reconstructing things.

What I wanted to say is I can't go along with Alison's division of trad and non-trad. Most of the music people accept as trad was composed by commercial hacks in a period not more than three hundred years ago. There are fashions in music, in the tunes, the themes, and the catch words, and there are intelligible things you can say about the history of the songs, and intelligible things you can say about the different contexts the music arises from, but you can't make an intelligible, rigid divide like that.

It's Big Bill Broonzy, whose music ought to be much better known these days than it is, who said that thing about all songs being folk songs because he never heard a horse sing. And I think he should know.

You know what else is weird? I can't find a single streaming example of Big Bill Bronnzy's music anywhere. Man's been dead for half a century, who's getting the money?

#337 ::: OG ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 01:12 PM:

I can't find a single streaming example of Big Bill Bronnzy's music anywhere. Man's been dead for half a century, who's getting the money?

Document Records, who recently issued a 9-volume collection of his recordings, perhaps?

Rhapsody has the collection available for streaming, BTW.

#338 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 02:12 PM:

Alsion: We've had multiple prior examples of people suggesting lessons from folk songs that are not trad, and few of those have been blinked at. (Heather Alexander's Faerie Queen has been mentioned, Charlie Daniels' The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Archie Fisher's The Witch of the Westmorland, someone whose name I can't recall's Black Fox. Oh, and Barrett's Privateers.) I'm not sure whether that really excepts them from being suitable sources for lessons, especially as so many are written in dialogue with prior songs of the same stripe, much as modern SF is with earlier SF.

I'm also not entirely sure what the boat being fictional has to do with the point of the song.


Anyhow: (I typed up the first few verses, then said, "To heck with it. I always forget a word or a line here and there on this one" and googled.)

She went down last October in a pouring, driving rain
The Skipper he'd been drinking and the Mate, he felt no pain
Too close to Three Mile Rock and she was dealt her mortal blow
and the Mary Ellen Carter settled low

There was just us five aboard her when she finally was awash
We worked like hell to save her, all heedless of the cost
and the groan she gave as she went down it caused us to proclaim
that the Mary Ellen Carter'd rise again

Well, the owners wrote her off, not a penny would they spend:
"She gave twenty years of service, boys, then met her sorry end.
But insurance paid the loss to us, so let her rest below,"
and they laughed at us and said we had to go.

But we talked of her all winter, sometimes around the clock
"She's worth a quarter million a-floating at the dock!"
and with every jar that hit the bar we swore we would remain
and make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again

(Chorus)
Rise again, Rise again
That her name not be lost to the knowledge of men
All those who loved her best
and were with her 'til the end
will make the Mary Ellen Carter rise again!

All spring now we've been with her on a barge lent by a friend
Three dives a day in a hard-hat-suit and twice I've had the bends
Thank God it's only sixty feet and the currents here are slow
Or I'd never have the strength to go below

But we patched her rents, stopped her vents, dogged hatch and portal down
Put cables to her fore and aft and girded her around
At tomorrow noon we hit the air and then take up the strain
and watch the Mary Ellen Carter rise again

(Chorus)

For we couldn't leave her there, you see, to crumble into scale
She's saved our lives so many times, a-living through the gale
But the laughing, drunken rats who left her to her sorry grave
They won't be laughing in another day

And you to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again

Rise again, Rise again
Though your heart it be broken and life about to end
No matter what you've lost;
Be it a home, a love, a friend
Like the Mary Ellen Carter rise again!

#339 ::: Kathleen ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 04:22 PM:

Re; Two Sisters

"BTW: the expression "Gang te the broom" is a euphamism for having sexual relations."

Not exactly, or not only. "Jumping the broom" is a perfectly valid wedding ceremony, though usually of the year-and-a-day, handfasting variety. Standing on a stone, as the verse also specifies, indicates taking a vow. So, for whatever reason and uration, they did tie the knot. Makes the both of them even more culpable, don't you think?

This is one of the funniest things I've seen in along time, I must say!

#340 ::: Geneva ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 04:36 PM:

Here's Tania Opland's take on Cruel Sister:

Oh sister, sister, won't you walk with me
To see the ships sail oer the sea?
And as they walked the windy shore
The dark girl pushed her sister oer

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam
Crying sister reach to me your hand
Oh sister sister please let me live
And all that's mine I'll sure give

It's your own True Love that I want and more...

and it goes on to include the harp made of her breast bone and three strands of her yellow hair

Geneva

#341 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 06:46 PM:

Kathleen: different broom. The broom you jump is a cleaning element, the broom you go to is a flowering shrub which grows in thickets.

#342 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 07:27 PM:

"So she floated like a swan/the salt sea bore her body on" is right up there with "and her cloak was random and wild" for mad romantic language.

Don't know if that's cause or effect for the popularity of the Cruel Sister ballads.

#343 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 07:40 PM:

When we were young my brother and I had a game we called "Folksong Prevention."

If bad things happen in a folksong, just put in enough extra stanzas in the middle to keep the bad stuff away.

For example:

The Cruel Sister, after the younger, fairer sister is pushed in the water:

She did the breast stroke and butterfly
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
Said "I learned to swim down at the Y"
Fa la la la la la la la la la.

She did the sidestroke, she did the crawl,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
And a racing turn at the miller's wall
Fa la la la la la la la la la.

And so on for as many strokes as you can think of.

Or, in Long Lankin, keep adding warnings at the beginning:

Said my lord to my lady
As he pulled on his socks
Beware of Long Lankin
Who lives in the rocks.

Said my lord to my lady
As he stirred his hot tea
Beware of Long Lankin
Who lives up a tree.

Said my lord to my lady
As he cut his beef roast
Beware of Long Lankin
Who sits on a post.

And so on, for hours if necessary.

Or, in John Henry, add Man Who Invented the Steam Drill stanzas to keep John Henry from dying in the contest:

The man who invented the steam drill
Thought that he was mighty fine
Said if you want to drive sixteen feet
Just put two steamdrills on the line,
Lord lord,
Just put two steamdrills on the line.

The man who invented the steamdrill
Was sitting underneath a tree
Said every time a steam drill gets sold
A dollar and a half comes to me,
Lord Lord,
A dollar and a half comes to me.

The man who invented the steamdrill
Said it just ain't no use
A man like Henry comes once a hundred years
A steam drill can be mass produced,
Lord lord,
A steam drill can be mass produced.

Extemporize more as the situtation requires.

(That's when we learned that the reason for the repeated lines was to give you time to think of a next stanza.)

#344 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: September 14, 2005, 09:42 PM:

(That's when we learned that the reason for the repeated lines was to give you time to think of a next stanza.)

And if you're with a group, you can get them going multiple times on the repeat lines while you desperately think of more verses.

#345 ::: deb ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2005, 12:45 PM:

Great list!! I don't have time to read all the comments but I'd like to add another rule which probably hasn't been mentioned:

Never, ever, put a crab in a chamberpot, esp. if it is the middle of the night and it seems like a good idea at the time because no one ever uses that chamberpot.

#346 ::: Joe Fineman ::: (view all by) ::: September 15, 2005, 03:51 PM:

If you do happen by a navigable body of water, remember that psychopaths are often lacking in prudence. You may be able to fool him into turning his back on you; it never hurts to try. Likewise, if your father tells you he has murdered your mother, and you are fully armed, do not hesitate to take advantage of the latter fact.
*
One piece of advice need only be quoted:
If you will not while you may, you shall not when you will.

#347 ::: Michael Alewright ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:12 AM:

I find all this advice very inspiring. Because no good deed should go unpunished, I inflict upon you all a cautionary tale:

Let's say you're a King and you don't need a thing
And the witch who's your wife brings a smile to your face.
She's given you power, she's warm in her bower
She carries your child with the finest of grace.

And what do you do for all she's done for you,
Do you thank her with flowers in perfumy blends?
Not so! You debase her, set horses to race her
While she is in labor, to thrill all your friends.

Surprise! Your fine wife is now out of your life,
Leaving you with a curse as a sign of her scorn.
No remuneration will save generations
Of kids who are screwed from the day they are born.

CHORUS:
You've pissed off the sidhe, and it's good night to thee,
For your luck's gonna suck for an eon or three.
Don't treat 'em like drudges, because they bear grudges
And they'll knock you upside of your whole family tree.

You're young and you're wishing, one day while you're fishing
That love would arrive ready-made to your door.
And there in the water is Cupid's own daughter,
Whose smile holds a promise that you're gonna score.

You've grown very fond of the face in the pond
And she comes forth each night to sleep close by your side.
Though neighbors may die and there's blood where you lie
She just tells you, "Don't ask, and please don't go outside."

Though the love of your fairy is getting quite scary
It's too late already for you to bow out;
Go seek a new maiden and doom you'll be paid in,
You'll wish you had stayed in, beyond any doubt.

CHORUS

You're snug in your castle when up comes a vassal
A crone who desires a bed for the night.
You tell her to blow if she hasn't got dough,
'Cause you don't doss a vagrant whose pockets are light.

She won't go away but once more asks to stay
And you tire of this game and say "No!" once again.
But boy, she's got guts (or she's partially nuts)
And she asks one more time not to sleep in the fen.

"Sod off, or just die!" is what you start to cry,
But by then you are changing and can't say a word;
You really did teach her; but now you're a creature
Whose anguish is hale but whose hopes are interred.

CHORUS

Your ghost will be pallid, and soon a Childe Ballad
Will paint your sad tale for the whole world to see!

#348 ::: Greg M. Byrne ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 10:56 AM:

Hey,
What a riot! Haven't seen anything this good in a long time! Twenty years ago a group of folk musicians entered a competition through an English magazine, called the 'Southern Rag' (I'm sure it's out of print by now!), where the object was to re-write a traditional folk song or maybe it was just the title and incorporate the gist of the song into a modern newspaper headline-whatever! For example, take the song 'The Silkie'. Headline read: "Bull Seal Returns from Long Sojourn at Sea to Reclaim His Son from Local Village Woman/ex-Lover!" I think we placed 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th in the contest. Didn't get first! That would have been the record deal. Anyway I've been laughing for hours on this! TY.
Greg

#349 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 17, 2005, 12:12 PM:

That thing about writing the synopsis of the song as a newspaper headline -- Harry Smith did that back in what, 1952, with the "Anthology of American Folk Songs," and somehow I think he wasn't the first.

#350 ::: Merav ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 11:53 AM:

Remarkably, no one seems to have hit on these two:

Trying to foist off nasty older relations on the devil can be good fun, but watch that it doesn't backfire on you.

If a talking animal starts to bait you about your true love, under no circumstances do it any harm, unless you fancy running from the law and spending your life alone. Or tending a garden.

#351 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Headlines should be shorter.

Seal Returns: Two Feared Dead

#352 ::: Miriam ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2005, 07:48 PM:

If your lover's stockings, cheeks, or hair seem unfamiliar to you, except no excuses. It's probably not him.

#353 ::: Judith ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:17 PM:

Filksinger, not only should old people be respected,for even though they may have slowed down, they've just gotten more devious and wait for you to come "within range". This should also include eldest siblings. WEG

#354 ::: Judith ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:30 PM:

Miriam, Easier to just stay in FAMILIAR places as the UN-familiar will appear that much more out of place and easily spotted.
Then too, avoid magic and its uses/users and objects.
Avoid all the deadly vices , cling to the virtues and walk in them with all your might and even then someone will want to test your virtue so you're screwed.
Avoid alcohol at all costs; blue ribbons are the least that can happen.
Avoid magical creatures: see crunchy and good with ketchup.
Avoid daydreams as they lead to folksong fodder. Avoid rich foods that leads to gluttony, giftedness that draws jealousy.
Avoid having attractive spouses: BIG CAN O' WORMS Then there are rulers of any kind, identifying with animals, ie. baby snow leopards, fast cars and faster women/men.
That leaves plain jane and jon happy in their plain life but even then, some kind person thinking to help them... LOLOLOL!

#355 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 12:49 PM:

For pete's sake, it's not going to kill you to get up and bar the door!

#356 ::: Miss Elizabeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 19, 2005, 06:29 PM:

If you are under an if/then curse, do try to follow it, even if you don't know what the "then" is. No, I don't care if Lancelot is riding down to Camelot, I told you not to look at it! Fine, but don't come crying to me when you die in a little boat and all he has to say is that you're relatively pretty.

Also: if her name is Jolene, it would be wise to have a standing prescription for penicillin at the pharmacy. Just sayin.

#357 ::: sunder_a ::: (view all by) ::: September 20, 2005, 01:29 PM:

Here's a few I learned from my Dad, a Southern good ol' boy who would actually sing to his children (and whose 76th birthday is today):

Do not expect the Georgia (railroad) line to obey the normal laws of physics.

It can profit you to hang around with the captain of your work crew. He is an idiot who tosses his valuable personal effects in the trash.

Looking down the other side of a mountain can give you a clear, if depressing, sense of your own place in the Universe.

#358 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2005, 02:20 PM:

What where all the above about???

#359 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2005, 05:04 PM:

James, if you are not a spambot, go to the very top of the thread and read Jim McDonald's original post. It is quite detailed, and should set everything in context.

Otherwise, well, you may be about to meet the Clelland family of Dundee.

#360 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2005, 09:14 AM:

If you are a woman who decides to ignore all the good advice above, be sure to make friends with men named Jim Dandy or Jones before you set out on your adventures. You'll need it

In general, avoid El Paso.

For Russians: don't step on the feet of Muslim soldiers--you're good, but not that good. For Muslim soldiers: don't assume that an inability to walk indicates an inability to fight.

#361 ::: Caitlin ::: (view all by) ::: October 11, 2005, 08:41 PM:

1. The author of the song about the "bonnie bonnie broom" never had it invade their vegetable garden.
2. Leave the blacksmith alone, no matter how clever he looks with his hammer in his hand. It will not matter if you are true. He will secretly marry another and laugh at your plight.
3. If you are in your middle twenties, do not permit your father to marry you off to a fourteen-year-old boy; even if he is a great man's son. If you cannot avoid this, do not send him off to war to prove his manhood. Drag him back to bed instead and prove it there... after all, when the kids are grown, the age difference will not matter!

#362 ::: Nimloth ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2005, 01:06 AM:

Irish--Also, if you get your girl pregnant and subsequently have to steal to keep them alive, you will either not see the morn or be shipped off to Botany Bay.

Australian--Don't be a noble bushranger; you'll be killed by police so that people can make ballads about how marvellous you were. Conversely, don't be a blackhearted bushranger. You'll be killed by a plucky lad or lass and people will make ballads about them.

When looking for a notorious bushranger, don't trust a black woman tracker. She's his girlfriend, and is probably wearing his clothes.

If you elope with the handsome young stockman and your old man catches you, try to look like nothing's wrong. Chances are he won't notice.

If you happen to be a bushranger and want to make yourself popular, capture a town, then rob the bank and use the money to buy everyone free drinks.

Conversely, if you want to make yourself unpopular, catch a man's horse and terrorise it. He will come visiting.

Never go bush looking for your true love. She is already dead and you will be, too, soon. Stay at home and find someone who knows how to get home if lost.

#363 ::: Stephen M (Ethesis) ::: (view all by) ::: October 29, 2005, 12:00 PM:

GARNETT'S HOMEMADE BEER
1. Oh the year was nineteen seventy-eight,
(How I wish I'd never tried it now,)
When a score of men were turned quite green
By the scummiest ale you've ever seen
Chorus:
God damn them all,
I was told this beer was worth its weight in gold
We'd feel no pain, shed no tears,
But it's a foolish man who shows no fear
At a glass of Garnett's homemade beer.
2. Now Garnett Rogers cried the town
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
For 20 brave men all masochists who
Would taste for him his homemade brew.
3. This motley crew were a sickening sight
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
There was caveman Dave with his eyes in bags
He'd a hard-boiled liver and the staggers and jags.
4. We hadn't been there but an hour or two
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
When a voice said "Give me some homemade brew"
As steeleyed Stan hove into view.
5. Now steeleyed Stand was a frightening man
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
He was eight foot tall and four foot wide
Said "pass that jug or I'll tan your hide.
6. Stan took one sip and pitched on his side
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
Garnett was smashed with a cupful of drugs
And his breath set fire to both me legs.
7. Now here I am with my 23rd beer
(how I wish I'd never tried it now,)
It's six long years since I felt this way
On the night before my wedding day.

#364 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 09:50 PM:

I was looking back over this thread and finally got curious enough to find what Lucy Kemnitzer called "Swananoa Tunnel." It's in the Digital Tradition database as "Swannanoa Tunnel," in two versions, and Lucy's right: it's scary.

I'm going back to the Swannanoa Tunnel
That's my home, baby, that's my home

Asheville Junction, Swannanoa Tunnel
All caved in, baby, all caved in

Last December I remember
The wind blowed cold, baby, the wind blowed cold

When you hear my watchdog howling
Somebody around, baby, somebody around ...

You don't need to see a birchbark hat to know the speaker's status.

#365 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 10:47 AM:

Going by Carterhaugh worked out okay for young Janet, but things didn't go quite as well for Ann, Brenda, Carrie, Dagmar, Elanor, Frieda, Gail, Heidi, or Inge. Mantle green, gold ring, or maidenhead, every one of 'em.

#366 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 02:53 PM:

While one is pleased for Janet, it's something of a loss that she wasn't Zoë. We could have had an illustrated lyric book in the Gorey fashion, The Carterhaugh Cuties.

On the other hand, perhaps There is a Story Behind This:

Out then spak the Queen o Fairies,
And a ragin' Queen was she:
"Sing not a' she, ye balladeers,
And let yon rootkit play,
For she's taen awa the bonniest verse
Since Leonard Cohen's day.

"But had I kend, Tam Lin," she says,
"How craftin' gaes agley,
I wad hae taen my pencil blue,
We fain had stopp't at J."

#367 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 03:59 PM:

A is for Ann, who a grey eye attracts
B is for Betsy, unclear on the facts
C is for Chris, who at least argued well
D is for Daisy, who never did tell
E is for Ellen, who'd never been close
F is for Fay, who bought rings by the gross
G is for Gilly, whose smile was a candle
H is for Hilda, who got quite dismantled
I is Isolde, who went down with laughter
J is for Jill, who was tumbled right after
K is for Kay, who was certain and sure
L is for Lynn, who strayed off the coach tour
M is for Molly, untied from her beau
N is for Nora, who never said No
O is for Olive, whose caution was small
P is for Peg, who liked Ewan MacColl
Q is for Quinn, who was startled but pleased
R is for Rosie, whose kirtle got creased
S is for Susan, who went with a nod
T is for Tessa, who woke feeling odd
U is for Ursula, old for her years
V is for Vicky, who dates balladeers
W is for Wanda, who asked and who got
X is for Xenia -- well, X marks the spot
Y is Yolanda, who needed some force
While Z's clever Zoë, who bet the right horse.

You're right; I'm going to feel terrible in the morning.

#368 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2005, 08:09 PM:

Teresa, there's a whole world of story in "Swannanoa Tunnel" (do I have enough ns yet?). Stuff about history and progress, and how terrible they are: and stuff about the land: and -- well, you know. It's all there. It's as finely a crafted a story as any I have read. If you get a chance to hear it sung by Bascom Lamar Lunsford, that's the apex of all versions.

#369 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2005, 12:31 AM:

Ashville Junction was first collected by Cecil Sharp, who, being a Brit, wrote it down as Swannanoa Town-o.

#370 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: November 26, 2005, 08:34 AM:

Mike, you are amazing. I hope you're feeling wonderful today.

You should get Sue Mason or someone to illustrate that.

#371 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2005, 09:48 AM:

Janet put her backpack on
And all her goods arranged
And she's gone to Carterhaugh
The light bulbs for to change.

She'd not changed a double bulb,
a bulb but only two
When up then spoke young Tam Lin
says "Lady change no more"

"And why change you the light bulbs
without my acquiescence"
"Those reg'lar bulbs use too much power
I prefer fluoresescents".

-- Jeri Corlew

From How Many Folksingers Does It Take To Change a Lightbulb?

#372 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2005, 10:42 AM:

Owww....

I have to ask, though: regular or Ott-Lite?

#373 ::: c.l.jackson ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2005, 07:57 AM:

you have all forgotten the false Argyle.he will ride his horse across your lawn and threaten to burn your house down,and that's just for statrers!!

#374 ::: April ::: (view all by) ::: December 29, 2005, 01:08 PM:

The funniest and longest 'insider joke' I've ever seen! Thanks for the laugh and the reminders of some great tales told! Would be great if you could create a list of song titles to follow the rep... give outsiders a reference to look up (and maybe create some fans of the genre to boot!)

#375 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 22, 2006, 01:16 PM:

Recently, Mr. Patrick posted info on the release of his band's CD.

In that post, we find a link to the most excellent Alison Scott's Page Full of Free Music She Likes. She likes a lot of Traditional Folk.

One of the songs there (downloadable for free) is Lord Gregory (sung by Alasdair Roberts). Short version: Young lady arrives at her boyfriend's castle, new baby in arms, only to be informed by the boyfriend's monther that the boyfriend is away bringing home his bride. No good comes of it.

This got me to thinking-- Rather than drowning the baby (and herself) in the salt sea, wouldn't it be better for her to go to Merry Scotland (which is chock-a-block with brothers, usually in groups of three, all eager for a bit of adventure and some loot) to solve her problem? How about going to the Gallant Grahams or the Gay Gordons and asking for a bit of help with a pernicious Castle problem?

O the Grahams, the gallant Grahams,
The Grahams were a' good friends tae me,
And if the Grahams were at my side
A foot o' ground I wouldna' flee....

The Gordons cam', the Gordons ran,
And Gordons there were many,
And ilka word that's them amang
Was Gordons, mak' ye ready.

Or she could look up Willie MacIntosh, after he got done with Auchindoun.

All in all, she could arrange it so that Lord Gregory (and his mom) would wish that they'd opted for child support instead.

#376 ::: Nicole ::: (view all by) ::: January 26, 2006, 02:53 PM:

i thought that was extremely well done.. loved the references to Tam Lin and the Bonny Swans (or whatever that's titled). Very clever, gave me several chuckles

I was wondering, what version of Tam Lin have you read? Where could i find it? You could email me at BIGNI96544@aol.com, leave me a message at my myspace or even leave a comment at my livejournal (just ignore the username for that. it's an old joke). Any response would be
highly appreciated :D

I recently read Dogs of Babel which referred to it frequently, and am trying to find the version that was in the book.

#377 ::: Trevor Jennings ::: (view all by) ::: February 13, 2006, 11:37 AM:

Never doze off under a willow by a navigable waterway, especially if some genial old local has told you it's called Old Man Willow.

#378 ::: Kirsten ::: (view all by) ::: February 15, 2006, 12:00 PM:

Well, there was a comment this month, which means the game's still open...

If you really want to marry a soldier, don't let him put the wedding off for any reason. And if he asks you to provide clothing, check his ring finger, and his wallet for photos.

Similarly, if you are a sixteen-year-old girl, don't bother asking Queen Mary to help you get a boyfriend. Look at how her marriages have turned out - the woman obviously has nae taste in men.

If you are one of four Marys, your chances of survival are three out of four: not bad odds, but safest to behave yourself and don't dress too showily.

If you have a cow, you ought to ask more for it than enough to buy a kilt and plaid. Which will, in any case, not be much of a disguise since your legs will still look fairly feminine even if you stop shaving them.

If your boyfriend is tall, fair, and musically talented, he'll probably attract undue female attention. This holds true in real life too. I've succeeded in hanging on to mine so far, but we're only at the six-and-a-half-year mark...

#379 ::: Pamela ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2006, 12:49 PM:

Great thread! I've laughed myself into stitches all morning. I'd just like to add:

If you engage in a riddling contest with a supernatural being, make sure you know his real name first.

If your true love is arrested for murder in another town, don't go to see him unless you have an army at your back first.

If you're a merchant's son, avoid public houses and beggar wenches unless you want to wake up with more to regret than just a hangover.

If you've had a child by a previous relationship, especially a boy, introduce him as such to your husband before he hits puberty.

If you have aspirations to be a gossip columnist, be sure to walk out on evenings in the spring "to take the air." You'll overhear more conversations and guilty secrets than you can shake a stick at.

#380 ::: Ted Garvin ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2006, 12:57 AM:

If your lover's husband offers to fight you and you have only a penknife, run like hell.

#381 ::: Katika ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2006, 08:50 PM:

If you are an Irish Australian and you take to a life of crime everyone will love you and remember you for it.

If you are female and dither over a problem for long enough a man will always solve it for you (in time to stop your doleful ghost or not is another matter).

If you are shot or wounded in anyway, it /will/ be mortal and you /will/ die with a bold phrase on your lips.

#382 ::: deborah lisson ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2006, 06:30 AM:

Two more thoughts to chew over.
1)If your own true love goes off to sea, don't wait seven long years for him - when he comes back, chances are you won't recognise him anyway.
2) If you are a young maid and find yourself sharing a bed with a strange man, make sure he sleeps next to the wall.

#383 ::: mona ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 08:21 PM:

'It's not all bad though. For some reason, if your love is sent to the far ends of the earth as a punishment, if you follow him or her, you'll meet up again, despite the fact that the country is several thousand miles across. And this before mobile phones.'
*****
HOWEVER, you will likely have fallen in love with your brother-in-law on the journey and (surprise!) no good will come of it. But it made a good movie....

Mona--who needs to get hold of all these songs!

#384 ::: mona ::: (view all by) ::: September 08, 2006, 09:26 PM:

LMAO! I need to get hold of these old songs! We could make a similar list of American folk/country song/campy horror flick warnings, too!

For instance:

If someone gets murdered while you are in bed with your best friend's wife--confess to the adultery.

If you are making out in a car on a deserted road and you hear a noise on the car roof--LEAVE!

Do not take up with a woman whose boyfriend is named "Bad Man Jose".

If you find a sweater hanging on a tombstone--just ignore it.

If your girlfriend has a yellow ribbon tied around her neck--leave it tied.

Remember it's called Dead Man's Curve for a reason.

Any kind of car racing is just a plain bad idea. This includes motorcyles outside laudromats, too.

If you are trying to reach a town called Morrow--don't bother with the train.

Avoid swamps at all costs.

And for Pete's sake, stay off Wolverton Mountain.

Stay away from El Paso, too. Maybe just forget Texas

If you're a long-haired hippie--drive to LA via Omaha.

If you're home alone and the lights go out, he's already in the house and you're going to die. Deal with it.

If you are running through a dark woods trying to get away from an axe murderer--take off the &%$#* high heels!

Cheers,

Mona

#385 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 10:15 PM:

And another thing, even if you are the recruiting sergeant, it's still a bad idea to go near the seaside. Worse if you try to recruit Irishmen there. And if the Irishmen don't want the crown in the bargain, just walk away.

#386 ::: P J Evans sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2006, 05:09 PM:

or something unwanted, anyway

#388 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: October 27, 2006, 03:37 PM:

It's more like Treet™ than spam.

I think Samuel is trying to raise the Google page rank for the African Studies program at Columbia. He's probably looking for high-traffic sites with comments and then dropping in a link.

(Currently, Columbia's program is the eleventh result for African Studies, which is pretty good, I'd think. Either Samuel's approach is working, or he's awfully ambitious.)

Doesn't ML's template drop in a ref="nofollow" (or whatever) to make this sort of thing pointless here?

#389 ::: Dorie ::: (view all by) ::: November 08, 2006, 06:43 PM:

Oh my! This thread is still going....absolutely one of the most hilarious pieces I have ever read. Someone sent me the link (thank you Neil!)after I cracked up over his bumper sticker which reads : IF YOU'RE IN A FOLKSONG, DON'T GO TO THE RIVER. Have always been fascinated by the folksong elements, in fact on one website forum ages ago I posted my own entitled "The Cruel Second Cousin Once Removed". There was no doleful ghost but there was a wee penknife, a bonny brown steed, and a fair maid taken by the milk-white hand before he told to her his name.

#391 ::: Sugar sees comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2006, 06:56 AM:

#391-399.

#392 ::: fidelio sees even more spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2006, 12:25 PM:

Spammity-spam-spam.

#394 ::: Aislinn ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2007, 01:32 AM:

Also, for the men, don't make a bet with your your wife to be silent just to get out of closing the door. get your can off the chair and close it.

#396 ::: Bill Feagin ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2007, 10:17 PM:

Another suggestion--if you are from Wexford and your wife loves you dearly but another man twice as well, then makes a visit to the doctor, heed the letter the doctor signed with his hand and sent to you to let you understand. And don't worry about eggs and marrowbones--the taste may be jarring, but you won't go blind, and you can pull a fast one on your ould wife. With me tiggery-tiggery-tuaram and me tuaram-tuaram-ta.

Also, if you are a good fiddler who has been invited by a young countess to share her bed early one morning at cockcrow, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, breathe a word of your plans to your houseboy Tom, as the backstabbing little bastard will go in your place to score some nookie himself. It will end badly.

#397 ::: Bill Feagin ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2007, 09:39 PM:

Oh, also...

Avoid both Cork City and the Streets of Laredo on the 14th of May, as you will surely meet with your downfall and have to be carried by six jolly fellows.

Use protection if you're a young sailor lad who takes a pretty chambermaid into his bed; somehow, she'll wind up having twin children by you.

If you're a young butcher who takes a pretty chambermaid to his bed, be sure you have exact change when paying her for "the mischief that (you've) done."

In Belfast town, avoid at all costs the pretty colleens--being too drunk to say no to anything, you'll wind up framed for robbery and getting transported to Australia for seven years. This is not fun.

Don't pester saints in Glendalough--not if you don't want to be thrown into a lake, and especially not if you're female.

Don't invite young soldier lads to your mother's house in the middle of the night when the moon is shining clearly. This is a recipe for a one-night-stand.

Lastly, if the King of Scotland wants you to captain his might boat because some bonny lad said you were the best sailor ever, deny this hotly and do not take that position. You'll wind up 50 fathoms deep in the North Sea off Aberdeen.

Bill

#398 ::: Carrie S. sees repetitive spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 12:23 AM:

Currently #398-401. I suppose it might not be spam, but either way it's redundant.

#399 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2007, 12:57 AM:

Until I started working with birth certificates two weeks ago, I would have said "What kind of name is Camern?" But now I wouldn't say that.

#400 ::: Paul Stamler ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:09 AM:

Never sleep with anyone named Willie.

#401 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2008, 01:21 AM:

...regardless of your gender, Willie's gender, or anyone's sexual preference.

This goes double if you have reason to believe that Willie drowned sometime before the ballad started.

#402 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 08:18 PM:

And I know there was more stuff in this thread after January, but it was lost in the Great Disaster. When it comes up on the Wayback Machine, then, perhaps....

#403 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Worldcongoing had some recent posts that are still missing, too.

#404 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 28, 2008, 09:17 PM:

If your boyfriend is a sailor, and his name is [...] William, he's your One True Love, and you should be loyal and keep your half of the ring next to your heart.

But wait for him, at home, no matter how long it takes. If you go to find him, chances are you won't like what you find.

#405 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: October 28, 2008, 11:14 AM:

If your One True Love has sailed far away, wishing to turn into something that would fly to your far away love will not lead to happiness.

Even if your One True Love has a lily white breast suitable for the laying on of one's head.

See above: sailors for one's One True Love, navigable waterways

#406 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2008, 07:18 AM:

Found in the Wayback Machine: Nothing new. Alas. There were new posts; I know, I made one of them.

#407 ::: Robin Ribakoff ::: (view all by) ::: March 05, 2009, 12:13 AM:

Never go with your love if he asks you to take a little walk along the banks of a river, such as the Ohio. If you do, bring 'round your little 44. That way you can root-a-toot-toot him in self-defense when he pulls out his knife. If you are strong enough to drag him out to the lone prairie, dig a shallow grave, throw him in it with a freshly killed 'possum' placed on top of the grave instead of a marker. That way the wild coyotes can howl and bring over their entire pack and eat him down to his bones.
Then run through the Everglades and hope that neither the skeeters nor the gaters will get you. But if you are wise you will know that the jury will rule self-defense instead of murder.

#409 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2009, 10:47 PM:

O I forbid ye, maidens a',
Who wear jeans on your ass,
Tae come or gae by San Berdoo
Where Tam Lin's sellin' grass.

There's none that gae by San Berdoo
But wish that they were dead:
He'll either burn you for some weed
Or nail you in his bed.

Janet's put on her miniskirt
Cut high abo' the knee
An' she's awa' tae San Berdoo
As fast as drive can she.

She had not entered in a bar
Nor ordered up a beer
When up and sauntered young Tam Lin
Says "Whatchoo doin' here?"

#410 ::: Kay Shapero ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2009, 05:57 PM:

My word - this is STILL going on...

OK, if you're a noble lad you meet a young maid out a-roving with her roses all in bloom - just ride right on by.

And if you're a rogue and the lady asks for what's between your legs, do not be surprised when she rides off on your horse...

#411 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2009, 06:03 PM:

#412
And be glad that all she wanted was the horse.

#412 ::: Kay Shapero ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2009, 06:21 PM:

Don't bet your lady that she can't climb yon broom field hill without you taking her maidenhead. One way or another you are SO going to lose that bet...

If you see something odd involving a funeral procession of cats on the way home from the pub, even if you HAVE soaked up a fair bit don't stand between the cat and the chimney when you report this to the family.

And one for opera..
Don't take that poison yourself, feed it to the wicked Count and escape in the confusion...

#413 ::: Ceiswyn ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2009, 06:54 PM:

If your love evinces a desire to sail to the Dutch coast, dissuade him. And the seven score mariners he wants to take with him.

#414 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2009, 08:28 PM:

Don't set sail from Halifax on a ship named the Antelope, no matter how much prize money you're offered.

#415 ::: Andrew ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 12:33 AM:

It's so fun to look back at my previous posts from 4 years ago. (72 & 125).

Presume when entering into having contractors that they will rob you blind, but can still produce great works, as evidenced by Egypt.

#416 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 10:01 AM:

When you're engaged in manual labour, make sure that the work site and its logistics/operations are organized for safety. Don't work in high-up locations without a "buddy", remember that bricks are very heavy in quantity, and don't stand directly under heavy objects that aren't properly secured.

#417 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 10:56 AM:

When you is a steel-drivin' man, learn to work the steam.

#418 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 11:18 AM:

Joel, #418: And whatever you do, don't try to shortcut bringing a bunch of leftover bricks back down by loading them into a barrel whose rope is secured at ground level!

#419 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 11:56 AM:

Don't go a-rovin'. It'll be your ruin, even if you take a fair maid with you.

#420 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 12:02 PM:

If you're the parents of a bunch of lads and lasses, don't send them out sheepshearing unless you have an urgent need for grandchildren.

If you're a lad or lass and you're going sheepshearing with a bunch of other lads and lasses, a) don't wear white and b) bring condoms.

#421 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 12:24 PM:

It's a bad idea to agree to any bargain that asks you to hand over the first thing that runs to greet you when you come home.

Indeed, it's a bad idea to agree to any bargain.

#422 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 12:49 PM:

You must on no account allow a dirty gal to fondle you, even if you drink your rum and tumble down.

#423 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 02:17 PM:

A field of barley is never a good place to meet your true love, but especially not on a windy day.

#424 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 03:35 PM:

Pigs (that is, literal swine) know how to dance, but they only dance jigs.

Sometimes you must hit them with a shovel to get them to perform.

#425 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 04:04 PM:

@425

Barley awns, Mark. You end up having to wash all your clothes, and the scratchy bits get everywhere.

Like your ears. What did you think I was referring to?

#426 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: August 27, 2009, 09:01 PM:

Mark: I don't know about the barley, as the truelove is dead before the barley is sown.

#427 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2009, 01:17 PM:

Do not attempt to run a race with a cannonball*. It ends badly.

--------------

*Unless you are one of Baron Munchausen's marvelous companions. If you are, you know that you are.

#428 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2009, 04:47 PM:

Terry, I think you've erred - it's there to be shaken in the wind, you see.

Dave Bell - and you tend to end up a lot more willing to die for your cause.

#429 ::: Tom Padwa ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Also, if you are a Bluebeard about to push a young lady off a cliff, and you tell her to hand over her fancy, costly dress, and she tells you that her modesty demands that you turn your back first....don't you do it!

#430 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: February 08, 2010, 12:55 PM:

Don't fool around with the molecatcher's wife.
And while you're in Manchester, remember that hotel where the chambermaid was so obliging? Don't go back there for your goose next Christmas. You won't like what she serves up.

I love this thread.

#431 ::: Buckshot Dot ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2010, 06:33 PM:

Your treatise on folk songs is terrific! I should like to add that, if you are a young man deeply in love with a young lady with long yellow hair, stay away from Yarrow! Especially if she has a hoard of brothers, a jealous sister, or there is more than one crow sitting in a tree nearby. Best to shoot the crows and get out of there muy pronto! Moral: Go for short haired brunettes who are only children.

#432 ::: Leslie Fish ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2010, 02:43 AM:

Joe Bethancourt introduced me to this thread, and I love it.

Another one: if you're a young maid abducted by a noblemen named Lord Pagan, burst into tears at the first opportunity. Don't wait until you're pregnant.

--Leslie

#433 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 05, 2010, 01:50 PM:

Woo! Leslie Fish and Joe Bethancourt read this thread? Fanboy squee!

* You won't spend the summer pleasantly on the range of the buffalo. Summer, yes. Range of the buffalo, yes. Pleasantly? Not so much.

* Don't go at all, stay at home if you can. Beware of that city (they call it Cheyenne).

* If all that you can pack is two pints of whiskey, a pipe, and a spoon, and you're going to be expected to perform hard physical labor on arrival -- find out the name of your destination. If it's "Mosquito Lagoon," you might consider that being dead broke isn't really that bad after all.

#434 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2010, 01:29 PM:

If a guy named either Anon or Trad seems to have a strong interest in your life story, tread very carefully.

#435 ::: joanc ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 07:59 AM:

If you wish to avoid the revenuers, do not fire your still with green or rotten wood. They will get you by the smoke. I know. In our house, we ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792.

#436 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 08:55 AM:

Don't rely on letters from blacksmiths.

#437 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 11:11 AM:

I think I posted this before, but it likely got lost in the Great Goop.

Make no promises to, nor any bargains with, any supernatural being you are so unlucky as to encounter. If it's that or death--choose death. It'll be more fun.

#438 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 11:15 AM:

Never leave your pistols where Jenny can get at them whilst you sleep, as Captain Farrell is unlikely to suddenly develop a fatal water allergy.

#439 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: June 10, 2010, 12:34 PM:

If you're a young lady who has been waiting for your true love to return from a long sea voyage and a stranger tells you that he's dead, that stranger *is* your true love. You might want to reconsider the relationship; anyone who would test your devotion by faking his own death is probably going to be a rotten husband.

#440 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2010, 04:20 AM:

More from fairy tales (and the Book of Judges) than songs, but:

If your father comes home from a long journey/war/mysterious absence, don't rush to be the first person to greet him. Send the dog. Or your bratty kid brother.

#441 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2010, 06:05 PM:

The Book of Judges? I don't think I've read that one (yes, I know it's a book of the Bible). It turns up in Greek myth, too: Agamemnon and Iphigeneia.

#442 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2010, 06:09 PM:

David, 443: Jephte.

#443 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: July 01, 2010, 06:15 PM:

Judges 11:30 - 40

30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.

32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.

33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.

35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.

37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,

40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

#444 ::: Lila Richards ::: (view all by) ::: July 24, 2010, 03:14 AM:

This advice is from Hamlet (both Shakespeare and McNaughton - the latter making it sort of folksong - or is that filksong?). If your father's ghost appears to you on the battlements enjoining you to avenge his murder by your throne-usurping uncle, do not say yes! If possible, leave the country altogether (though not on any ship with passengers called Rosencrantz and Guildenstern), otherwise multiple deaths are bound to ensue - including your own - followed by invasion of your country by a neighbouring state.

#445 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 11:02 AM:

Young ladies:

If your boyfriend is a sailor and he

a) Returns unexpectedly,
b) Looks pale,
c) His clothing is wet,
and,
d) He has a bit of seaweed clinging to him,

DO NOT kiss him.

---------------

If you are engaged in piracy, and you see three lofty men-of-war to windward, you are screwed.

---------------

If you are engaged in piracy, and you are near the reef called Dead Man's Chest, find a good defensible position and stay put.

---------------

If your girlfriend is named Barbara Allen, get all your immunizations up to date, get plenty of rest, stay well-hydrated, take up a hobby... and find a new girlfriend.


----------

In general, if your girlfriend is known by her buddies as "cruel" or "hard-hearted," you need a new girlfriend pronto. Particularly if the small birds sing "hard-hearted" every time she passes by. It's a hint. A clue. Y'know.

#446 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 11:21 AM:

Lila @ 246... If your father's ghost appears to you on the battlements enjoining you to avenge his murder by your throne-usurping uncle, do not say yes!

In Corneille's play "Le Cid", the hero's dad gets into a bit of a disagreement with the hero's girlfriend's dad, things get physical, and the hero's offended dad tells him to go avenge the insult. The hero responds:

"Tout autre que mon père l'eut éprouvé sur l'heure."

Rough translation...

"If you weren't my dad, I'd have hit you so fast you wouldn't have seen it coming."

Yup, anything said in French has a built-in classy feel to it.

#447 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 02:19 PM:

Dear God, my French is primitive. That looks like "Any other than my father had felt it within the hour" to me. I know, of course, that isn't right - it doesn't make sense. But I would never have got to the meaning by myself.

The more I keep coming here, the more ignorant I feel.

#448 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 03:22 PM:

Dave, 449: You got close to the literal meaning; you just missed the pluperfect subjunctive, which nobody ever uses and hardly anybody teaches. Besides, not understanding Corneille is hardly a mark of idiocy! He's kind of like Shakespeare in the difficulty of his language. (Would it help if I told you that "éprouver" can also mean "undergo"?)

#449 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 03:23 PM:

Dave Luckett... You were very close, actually.

"Any other than my father WOULD HAVE felt it within the hour"

#450 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 06:34 PM:

Actually "Any other than my father had felt it within the hour" is archaic and means the same thing as "...would have felt it..." means in modern English. As in the hymn line "[if Jesus Christ hadn't risen]...our faith had been in vain."

#451 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 07:01 PM:

Xopher... Speaking of Christ's Birth, right now I'm reading Connie Willis's "Miracle and Other Christmas Stories", which confirms that Christmas is Barely Controlled Chaos. Kris Kringle confirms it.

#452 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 06, 2010, 07:02 PM:

Calamity! 'Confirm' used twice!

#453 ::: Uly ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 07:31 PM:

#438 - and if he says he'll marry you and always be true if only you have sex with him - he's lying. He just wants to have sex with you. There is no marriage in the future, and if he doesn't kill you your poor heart is just bound to break.

Oh, and men? If, by some chance, you do get married (and only to one woman at a time, thanks!) remember: YOUR WIFE WORKS HARDER THAN YOU. You have an EASY life, your wife does more in one day than you do in three. It is NOT the other way around! Women? Avoid this fate - dress in men's array and go do something else.

#454 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2010, 08:14 PM:

How did I miss James D. Macdonald's #411??? If I had a cat, it would be startled by my LOLing.

#455 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:07 PM:

I checked over the thread and didn't see it, but it's possible this piece of advice may already have been posted:

You are a maiden who has managed to keep her virtue up to this point. Your young man is standing under your window, in the freezing rain and hail, demanding that you let him into the house. In this scenario, you have a choice. Either he dies of hypothermia (see: Doleful Ghost) or you lose your virginity. I recommend that you pick the hypothermia. It's his fault he's out in the rain, after all.

#456 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2010, 04:19 PM:

...or you lose your virginity.

And your mother will come to know.

After that: pregnant, deserted, dead, or some combination of the three.

Unless of course you have arranged some elaborate device involving ropes and pulleys to get your young man up and down the chimney. This will a) fool your parents, and b) guarantee you both have a good time with no lasting ill effects. Really, trust me on this one. And, as it happens, I have some ropes and pulleys right here.

This can go terribly wrong if you cheap out on the elaborate mechanism and instead hang a string out the window which your young man is to pull as a signal for you to go downstairs stealthily, open the door, and allow him to work his will. I promise you that the person who pulls on the string won't be who you expected. Plus, your mother will find out.

#457 ::: Wynne ::: (view all by) ::: January 14, 2011, 04:53 AM:

If you steal a woman's maidenhead, and she has the sense to ask your name afterwards, don't taunt her or try to run away. She WILL chase you down to the King himself, who will either force you to marry her or hang you, depending on your current marital status. But don't worry, she's probably richer than you anyway.

#458 ::: Paul Dellechiaie ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 12:26 AM:

According to all this my lady, Jean, and I are pretty much toast. As in completely screwed.

To wit:


> #64 -- J. C. Runolfson -- September 05, 2005, 08:51 PM:
> You should also change your name if you're a young lady named Jean or Darcy.

Enough said. (Though neither of us are exactly young any more.)

> #14 -- Kristine Smith -- September 05, 2005, 02:07 PM:
> I'm surprised at no mention of redheads, who should of course be avoided as they make the most Doleful Ghosts of all.

She's a redhead.

> #16 -- PiscusFiche -- September 05, 2005, 02:18 PM:
> And totally avoid sleeping under trees, especially hawthorne. There has to be a handy Holiday Inn somewhere, right?

We camp frequently during the warmer part of the year. And almost always among and under trees.

> #81 -- Merav -- September 05, 2005, 10:59 PM:
> Do not date nearsighted men who like guns.

I'm quite nearsighted and, yes, I do like guns. . .

> #189 -- ajay -- September 07, 2005, 12:32 PM:
> Do not become an artist. Or a singer. Or a dancer. Or, for that matter, a courtesan. Such persons rarely live long

Too late for milady on the first three of those.

> #190 -- Stephen -- September 07, 2005, 12:41 PM:
> And don't wear green unless it's St Patrick's day.

She wears green all the time, it's her favorite color.

> #172 -- Paul Clarke -- September 07, 2005, 08:58 AM:
> If you plan to entwine with said true love, do it while you're both still alive. It's a lot more fun that way.

Finally a happy one. . .


This is a lot funnier to me now than it would have been before Jean and I got together. She's a singer of traditional and folk music, not to mention a harper. And, no, her harps are not made of bones. She performs pretty much everything from early mediaeval to about 1950. The subject matter of this thread is her stock-in-trade. And I was mostly unfamiliar with it.

#459 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 17, 2011, 09:03 AM:

If you are a young man looking for a date, it's okay if a young lady is described as "handsome" (though you're likely to wind up heart-broken).

If she's "saucy," same as a young male who's "saucy," take care.

But if she's "roguish" or "sporting," be ready to spend some time in gaol (in you're lucky) if not Van Diemen's Land (if you aren't).

#460 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2011, 09:18 PM:

How many markers do you find in the first stanza?

Polly on the Shore:

Come all you wild young men and a warning take by me
Never lead your single life astray or into bad company
As I myself have done, being all in the month of May
When I, as pressed by a sea captain, a privateer to trade.

#463 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2011, 10:03 AM:

A fellow who’s a massively accomplished flirt hasn’t been spending his time sitting around waiting for his One True Love to come along. Furthermore, odds are poor that you’ll turn out to be his One True Love who will reform him.

"Still...I knew when I loved by the way I behaved."

#464 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: August 29, 2011, 11:20 AM:

Oh, God. I've only just discovered this thread. Thank you, Jim, Erik, and Carrie! (Also, a spammer has just inadvertently done me some good.)

And because I have no self-restraint at all - and with apologies in advance to Abi and the whole Dutch contingent - here is something that visited itself upon me a couple of years ago. Opinions of the characters are not to be taken as those of the author...


The Lowlands of Holland

Last night as I got married
Laying in my marriage bed
There came a bold sea-captain
And he stood at my bed head
Crying, "Rise up, rise up, Reilly,
And come along with me!"
But I never was that kind of boy,
And I don’t intend to be.

Then up and spoke my bonny bride,
And called the skipper names.
"Crawl out that window you crept in
With all your creepy games!
And take with you your dirty crew
And set them fast to steer
For the Lowlands of Holland,
'Cause we don’t want that there 'ere!"

"Now Holland is a pervy place
And a hotbed, sir, of vice,
And there's kinks enough in Amsterdam
For those as find 'em nice.
Yes, there's kinks enough in Amsterdam
But no joy here for you,
And this blunderbuss agrees with me,
So we'll bid you fond adieu!"

The captain fled. To her I said,
"What know you of such stews
Where seamen like that captain bold
Themselves do sore abuse,
That lately were a blushing bride?"
"Eh, I never blushed at sea
But I took my sport in every port
Like the boy I feigned to be!"

"Yes, a brave young buck I feigned to be
Since my first love me betrayed,
So a rambling sailor I became,
As you do, when you're a maid.
And I liked the rum, the dope, the brawls,
The guys and girls as well –
But the Lowlife of Holland
Can get boring as all hell."

"So it's back for me to England's shores:
As a maid I went again,
And I met you in that harbour inn –
What more is to explain?
For it's sixteen years I lost on land,
And six more lost at sea,
But the Lowlands of Holland
Have entwined my love and me..."

#465 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 30, 2011, 09:25 PM:

Gray Woodland #468

That is absolutely brilliant.

#466 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: August 31, 2011, 02:00 AM:

If you liked that, page back through his blog -- he's done some good ones.

#467 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 11:06 AM:

Don't kiss the clay-cold lips of your recently deceased significant other while he/she is lying in his/her coffin. The sequelae may be unpleasant.

#468 ::: Gray Woodland ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 01:14 PM:

Aaargh, I seem to have lost track of this thread! Many thanks to James and David for their kind words.

More Helpful Advice:

Pretty Saro just wants your land, which in your case you have not got.

Miss Katey Morey is smarter than you are.

And so is Lovely Joan.

And so is that mysterious maiden you are importuning, with nefarious intent, to let you in to her father's house.

And so in fact is every other maiden you may be thinking to approach with nefarious intent, because otherwise she would be the protagonist, and it is her doleful tale the Narrator would now be relating. Word!

There is an exception. You do not want to be it. She has a lot of brothers. You do not want to meet them.

When you have a sibling and a light-of-love who are both deeply dear to you, introduce them promptly.

If your girlfriend is named Anne, refer to her affectionately as Nancy, and under no circumstances as Annie. Annie is the name of somebody the Gods have it in for, and Their aim is kind of sloppy.

Do not keep flash company unless you have exceptionally high time preference.

If you are a maiden deep in love, get used to having a lot to complain about.

Eels do not keep very well. It is not necessarily anybody's fault.

Marrowbones do not reliably induce blindness or stupidity.

A penknife is the best weapon in the world. In the rare case where somebody offers to lend you a great big bilbo in lieu of it, consider that they may not have your best interests at heart!

#469 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 04:18 PM:

Rather than marching through Fife, Fennario, Fivio (or any variants on the name), consider taking public transit.

#470 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 18, 2011, 08:02 PM:

No matter how much you loved the deceased, crying over their grave for a year and a day will not help.

#471 ::: ChrisB ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 01:34 AM:

A troth is a cross between a toad and a sloth. Ask Rambling Sid Rumpo.

#472 ::: ChrisB ::: (view all by) ::: September 26, 2011, 02:22 AM:

And when it comes to professions that won't get you drowned or shot, bogle-clenching looks good;
(To the tune of "Lincolnshire Poacher")

When I was a clencher's bogle man
In famous Lincoln Town,
I'd often clenched my bogling fork
For less than half-a-crown.
And I would joggle and nurk my boys
As quickly I shall tell,
Oh 'tis my delight on a shining night
And a foggy night as well.

Oh once I took my moulies
And I set them in a snare.
Twas then I spied a scropers man
A'whirdling a hare.
But I was not afeared my boys
Of that there is no doubt.
Oh tis my delight on a shining night
When the coppers aren't about.

Although I'm over eighty now
My bogle I still clench
And I will flutter my artifacts
At any passing wench.
I've tickled many a screebling nut
as on my way I go.
Oh tis my delight on a shining night
At just 50p a throw - oooooh !

#473 ::: Marr965 ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 03:35 AM:

Should you find an old oak which is named after a town, (See specifically the "Old Dungarvan Oak", etc.) and someone wants to tell you about it, then bloody listen to them! If you don't listen to them, then it's probably best not to take an axe, chainsaw or other cutting equipment to it, just in case.

Should someone ask you to build a bridge across "foaming waters" or a river that has otherwise claimed large numbers of lives, for heavens sake, don't do it.

If giants take you on as a worker, then always disobey their prohibitions. You might be beaten nearly to death, but at least you won't be killed.

If a door keeps closing on you, or something keeps moving away, always assume it's the work of a demon. Try stabbing the door or the item with your sword. You might get a magic item out of it.

If contracted to hunt a giant centipede or other chitinous arthropod, don't just plug away at it with arrows. Spit on your first arrow, then hit it dead in the forehead. You won't waste arrows that way, and you'll earn the gratitude of whoever it was tasked you with slaying the beast.

If you have a huge feast and you are told that no-one will come to it because of the giant monster living in your lake, for heaven's sake, don't invite the monster. Sure, the monster will end up dead in the end, but the 6+ hours spent in a monster's stomach in the interim are probably not your idea of fun.

If you're a king and it's prophecied that your son will overthrow you, kill you or otherwise remove you from office, don't try to kill him by leaving him on a hillside or something. Either do the job yourself and utterly dismember the body, or take good care of him and warn him as soon as he's old enough to understand that a prophecy has said that he will overthrow you, kill you or whatever. Then, if the prophecy doesn't involve your death, abdicate in favour of him. If it does, get yourself fatally injured in some kind of battle or accident, then ask him to kill you out of mercy. Either way, you'll avoid inbreeding, a hideously long and painful death and a messy war.

If there's a prophecy about anything at all, assume the events mentioned will come to pass. Seriously. Those Oracles know what they're talking about.

Your spouse or betrothed probably knows more about whatever he's talking about than your mother, particularly if you are female. If your mother gives you advice as to how to find out what your spouse/betrothed looks like, take it with a pinch of salt. Then just ask him/her.

If your spouse/betrothed asks you not to do something, for heavens sake, don't do it. Particularly if you are given a very good reason not to do it.

#474 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 03:55 AM:

Actually, there is a documented case in Greek mythology of a prophecy being averted: it was foretold that if Hektor's son Skamander (aka Astyanax) grew to manhood, that he would rebuild Troy and take bloody vengeance upon the Akhaians. So, the Akhaians took him by force from his mother, and flung him from the walls of Troy...and he, you know, died of it.

(There are apparently various nations that had attested legends that they were founded by Astyanax, who escaped via a substitution. Nonetheless it is inarguable that Troy was not rebuilt, and bloody vengeance was not taken.)

Another principle: Pay your workers fair wages. In particular, if Zeus puts two gods to work for you as a punishment for them, and you agree to pay them a specified recompense for a year's work, do not then stiff them.

If you are stupid enough to stiff them, and one of them sends a monster to terrorize your people as revenge, and Heracles comes along, and you offer Heracles a reward of magic horses for getting rid of the monster, which he then does...

(I assume you all can see where this is going)

...do not then stiff him.

Laomedon, the father of the famous King Priam, is my pick for the single stupidest character in all of Greek myth, which I'm sure you'll agree is a hotly-contested title.

#475 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2011, 08:53 AM:

Chris B #476:

That wouldn't be one of the ballads collected by Rambling Syd Rumpo, would it?

#476 ::: Uly ::: (view all by) ::: October 30, 2011, 08:41 PM:

David, I wouldn't say that was averted. It was a simple if-then. IF he grows up THEN he will rebuild Troy. They did the sensible thing of ensuring his death rather than leaving him to die of "being picked up by shepherds or, in a pinch, wolves", and thus the THEN didn't happen because the IF didn't happen, and it's all happy for everybody!

#477 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 02:31 AM:

Well, for everybody except poor Andromache.

#478 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: October 31, 2011, 03:15 PM:

David, would that be Eggplant-Cooking Andromache?

#479 ::: Claire M ::: (view all by) ::: December 28, 2011, 11:54 AM:

Hiya,

I thought I had a true luv who I'll never see more
For I was slighted, like never before
I talked about music
To pretend I didn't care
That he never got a shot at …...oh, let's not go there

I know that someday I shall find a fine man
He shall take me to concerts & we'll see good bands
I can't forget these old songs, pray, can you tell me how??
For once I truly loved them, I still luv them now.

#480 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2012, 02:42 PM:

Have I mentioned how annoyed I am with The Two Magicians?

So, let's add a new last stanza:

She became a roadrunner
According to the text
And he became a coyote
And you know what happened next.

#481 ::: Syd sees probable DeutscheSpam ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2012, 08:56 PM:

@ 485

#482 ::: Kay Shapero ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2012, 03:07 AM:

Wow - still going I see. Just saw Jim Macdonald's latest post. ROFL!!!!

Hmm... it's midnight now so not going to reread everything. But if you're a king, sleeping in an unfamiliar manor, and up pops a grizley gruesome hag and starts ordering you around... unless you're really interested in marrying a young and beautiful maid who will still likely order you around... Leave. At once.

#483 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2012, 04:49 PM:

Jim, may I snaffle that verse for the next time I sing Two Magicians, please please please? Because it's great.

#484 ::: OtterB see probable spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:25 PM:

Almost reasonable, but doesn't quite fit.

#485 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 23, 2012, 02:54 PM:

Yo, Elise: You can totally use that stanza in any way you like.

#486 ::: Nancy P ::: (view all by) ::: July 10, 2012, 01:52 PM:

This is a very useful list and, as a red-haired teenager named Nancy, I have used similar rules throughout my life. I have also been forbidden by parents and loving friends from associating with sailors and soldiers just to ensure my survival. I even live in London! People just don't appreciate how difficult it is to remain alive and intact with an unbroken heart in these circumstances.

Another rule, step-family: just run

#487 ::: Rose ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2012, 07:41 AM:

If you're at the well, and someone asks you for a drink, get them one. Especially if you have a history of incest and infanticide.

If you're a pub landlord and some ragged-looking chap asks for a drink and your daughter's hand, he probably has large amounts of gold hidden about his person.

Although cockerels may be annoying when you're trying to have a lie-in with a Doleful Ghost, on no account should you shoot them, especially if you're wanted for several daring highway robberies.

Always listen to your mother UNLESS your name is Lord Thomas.

And, if you're thinking of eloping, learn the meaning of the phrase "pathetic fallacy".

#488 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2012, 08:25 AM:

If you feel you absolutely must complete the joke by giving the tied-up girl a musket, for God's sake don't give her one that's not only loaded but primed.

Gags don't actually do that much for volume, only articulateness; you could probably manage to make enough noise to warn him off without shooting yourself. It is at least worth a try.

When your lover has killed herself to save you, you might consider not immediately turning around and getting yourself shot anyway.

(I realize "The Highwayman" is not actually a folk song.)

#489 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: July 17, 2012, 11:04 AM:

Carrie S. (494): There are several other not-actually-a-folk-songs already in the thread. So you're in good company.

#490 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: July 28, 2012, 05:52 AM:

Mother. Enough questions. Make my bed. Now. Please.

#491 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2012, 10:32 AM:

If you enter a bar called "The Bucket o' Blood" do not be surprised by any level of violence you encounter therein.

#492 ::: Conuly ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2013, 01:56 PM:

May have mentioned these before, but listen, if the girl says "don't leave me alone here or I will be dead when you get back" that MIGHT just be hyperbole or, on the other hand, she MIGHT know whereof she speaks. Ask yourself if this is a cry for help, and act accordingly.

On the flip side, if your love has died, give yourself a few weeks before getting a new bed six feet under. Who knows, maybe you'll meet somebody better! And then wouldn't you feel silly?

And talking about how you'd stalk your love if you were a bird is creepy. I'm just gonna say it. If he doesn't love you back, it's probably because you're creepy. Saying you would rather be dead does not help. Ew.

#493 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: February 12, 2013, 03:04 PM:

Do be nice
to Mom and Dad
Or end up wishing
That you had
BURMA SHAVE

To worship pics
of gods or men
will make the LORD
annoyed again
BURMA SHAVE

#494 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2013, 12:05 PM:

If you stab your sweetie and attempt to conceal the crime, if a Doleful Ghost doesn't get involved a little bird will have been watching and will tell everyone. Count on it.

You may or may not have a chance to say "Come all ye" before you are hanged/burned at the stake/pierced through the body by one of the victim's relatives/all of the above.

(A bit off topic: If you are in a time and place where you have the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present, exercise those rights. Vigorously. Invariably. Repeatedly. Constantly. Without fail. Even if a TV News Program offers you money. Or you will live to regret it.)

#495 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2013, 12:28 PM:

Also, if you have murdered a family member, avoid musicians, especially if they are carrying instruments crafted of non-standard materials. In fact, avoid the instruments too, even if they've just been set down on a rock sans player.

#496 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2013, 10:32 PM:

Went out last night to take a little round,
I met my Little Sadie and I blowed her down.
I run right home and I went to bed,
A forty-four smokeless under my head.

Began to think what a deed I done,
I grabbed my hat and away I run.
I made a good run, just a little too slow,
Overtook me in Jericho.

Standing on the corner a-ringing a bell
Up stepped the sheriff from Thomasville,
Says, "Young man, is your name Brown?
Remember the night you blowed Sadie down."

"Oh, yes, Sir, my name is Lee,
If you ask for a search I won't agree,
That is all I'm going to say
Please send a lawyer down my way."

Took me downtown and dressed me in black,
They put me on a train and they sent me back,
Nancy Grace wanted to confer
Didn't say a word to her.

Judge and the jury took their stand,
Judge had his papers in his right hand.
No witness, gun, or DNA;
Had to let me go my way.

#497 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2013, 03:57 AM:

Bearing in mind that some people now think that Johnny Cash really did serve time in Folsom Prison...

Say nuthin', call for a lawyer, and for Ghu's sake don't write songs about it.

#498 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2013, 01:56 PM:

Dave B., #497: What, you mean he didn't? I thought that was what the whole Man In Black mystique was about.

#499 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2013, 05:32 PM:

And when he sang there, the crowd did NOT cheer when he sang that he shot a man just to watch him die. The producers recut it that way to...well, not quite sure why. What's gained by making a bunch of prisoners look more vicious than they really are? Did they think it made Johnny look tougher?

#500 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2013, 08:29 PM:

Lee @498: my understanding, reinforced by his Wikipedia page, is that a number of times he spent a night in jail, but he was never sentenced to prison time. He did do a lot to try to improve prison conditions, including playing quite a few concerts at prisons.

#501 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2013, 06:00 PM:

Y'know The Lass of Roch Royal, right? Young lady turns up at Lord Gregory's castle with baby in arms, asks to be let in. Rather than wake up Lord Gregory to tell him his girlfriend is there, LG's mom tells her to go drown herself. Fair Annie goes and does so. Lord Gregory is pissed at his mom when he hears, but whatchagonna do? She (and the kid) are drowned.

I think it would be awesome if, rather than drowning herself, Fair Annie had gone and gotten Henry Martin1, the Gallant Grahams2, the Gay Gordons3, the Bold Buccleuch4, and Willie Macintosh5, come back and said, "Hey. Let's talk about child support...."


---------------

1. "Oh no, oh no," said Henry Martin,
"That thing it never can be...."

2. O the Grahams, the gallant Grahams,
The Grahams were a' good friends tae me
And if the Grahams were by my side
A foot o' ground I wouldnae flee.

3. The Gordons cam', the Gordons ran,
And Gordons there were many,
And ilka word that's them amang
Was "Gordons mak' ye ready."

4. "I would set that castle in a low,
And slaken it with English blood;
There's never a man in Cumberland
Should ken where Carlisle castle stood."

5. "Head me or hang me, that will never grieve me,
I will burn Auchindoun ere the life leave me."

#502 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2013, 06:07 PM:

Similarly with Pretty Polly:

He led her over mountains and valleys so deep,
He led her over mountains and valleys so deep,
She conked him on the head while he was asleep.

Now fifteen to twenty poor Willie must do,
Now fifteen to twenty poor Willie must do,
They took away his belt and the laces from his shoes.

#503 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2013, 08:49 PM:

Lila, #502: Heh. There's a reason that May Colvin is my favorite ballad. Not only does she defend herself, she also doesn't cave in when he begs.

#504 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2013, 01:51 AM:

Lila @ #502:

Well, you know, there are at least two versions of the Pretty Polly ballad. There's the one where Polly's ghost stands by her grave wringing her lily-white hands, and there's the one (which I think is older) in which Polly's ghost hunts down her murderer, though he flees for foreign shores, and tears him to bloody shreds.

That said, I like the idea of a version where she has the self-possession to avoid being ghosted in the first place.

#505 ::: Lee sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2014, 06:51 PM:

@505

#506 ::: Xopher Halftongue sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 09, 2014, 06:51 PM:

Generic spammy spam.

#507 ::: Benjamin Wolfe sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: October 23, 2014, 06:40 PM:

Away with you, to the eternal pit of spam from which you came!

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