I've found Robert Graves' comment (it is in "English & Scottish Ballads", 1957: "It is clear enough that Sir John Graeme did not die merely of a broken heart. Like Clerk Colvill, he seems to have been a landowner who had an affair with a country girl, but later decided to marry a woman of his own class. When this marriage was announced, the girl avenged herself by bewitching him; the procedure being to model a wax image of the victim, make it more real by adding his own (stolen) hair-trimmings and nail-pairings, and then gradually waste it over a candle, sticking pins into parts that the witch wanted to injure most". I don't know whether Robert Graves is right or not, but somehow we must try to explain Barbara Allen's laughter when she sees his corpse and all the verses about the bloody shirts, the watch, the basin full of tears etc. I've chosen some of these verses from some of the most beautiful versions of the ballad I know:
From Martin Carthy's:
"O look at my bed-head", he cries,
"And there you'll find it ticking,
My gold watch and my gold chain
I bestow to you, my Ellen.
And look at my bed-foot", he cries,
And there you'll find them lyin',
My sheets and bloody shirts,
I sweat them for you, my Ellen."
She walked over yon garden field
She heard the dead-bell knelling
And every stroke that the dead-bell gave
It cried, "Woe be to you now, Ellen."
As she walked over the garden field
She saw his corpse a-comin',
"Lay down, lay down your weary load
Until I get to look upon him."
She lifted the lid from off the corpse,
She bursted out with laughin',
And all of his friends that stood round about
They cried, "Woe be to you now, Ellen."
From Sarah Makem's:
They lifted the lid up off the corpse.
She bursted out with laughing.
And all his wearied friends around cried,
"Hard-hearted Barbara Allen."
From Ewan MacColl's:
"Then pit your hand anienst the wa'
And there ye'll find a token,
Wi' my gold watch and my gold ring
Gie that tae Bawbee Allan.
"Then pit your hand anienst my side
An there ye'll find a warran'
An there ye'll get my blood-red sark
It bled for Bawbee Allan.
From Jean Redpath's:
"It's look ye up at my bed heid
And see what you'll find hangin',
A silver watch and a guinea gold chain
That hangs there for Barbarry Allan,
That hangs there for Barbarry Allan.
It's look ye down at my bedside
And see what you'll find sittin',
A basin full o' my heart's tears
That is there for Barbarry Allan,
That is there for Barbarry Allan."
HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 27-Aug-02.