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John Minear Lyr Req: Demon Lover in New England? (182* d) RE: Lyr Req: Demon Lover in New England? 03 Jan 12


Maybe it would be best to go ahead and put up what Heylin says about the Sullivan text. It's a long quote:

"Just one other American version preserves these "former vows." Unlike Wilkinson's and Wilson's collected texts, the rendition in question, uncovered in Springfield, Vermont, not only survived uncontaminated by De Marsan and his various proxys but by any derivative from Diverting Songs. The female repository, one Ellen M. Sullivan, first recollected the song to collector Helen Hartness Flanders on July 13, 1932. All that she remembered was that a, "girl promises to marry a man who goes away, dies and as a ghost returns and says,"

Oh come with me to the banks of Claudy,
And perform those promises to me, me.

later in the song:

When she came to the banks of Claudy,
Oh, sorry sore was she.
There were seven ships sailing to the brim.
They sunk to the bottom and was never seen no more.

When she came to the banks of Claudy,
Oh, sorry sore was she, she,
For the ships they were made of the yellow beaten gold
And the sails were of silk so fine.4

A month later Flanders returned and managed to glean some additional verses. Mrs. Sullivan called the song 'George Allis', and recalled that the girl in the song, "lay asleep and his ghost came to her." She then recalled much the same verse as Miss Lam:

Oh, begone, begone, young George Allis,
For I am a married wife,
Oh, begone, young George, she said,
For fear there may be strife.

as well as a verse not replicated in any other traditional text, though the second couplet approximates to Morrow Wilson's third verse:

That is not the promise you gave to me
To come in seven long years and a day,
So now come on to the salty seas
And perform your promises to me.5

At last we encounter the evidence that Dylan's "ghost come back from out in the sea" once existed in American tradition. Indeed, in Sullivan's text the ghost came to her in her sleep, placing it in the long-established tradition of revenant ("one who returns after a long absence, esp. the dead"6) ballads. The hugely popular "Well met, well met" opening, though, does not fit easily with such a night visitation.

As an intriguing addendum, the version that Mrs. Sullivan sang to Flanders carried a burden, the final line of each verse repeating the final word and then the entire line, thus:

For fear there may be strife, strife,
For fear there may be strife.7

This rare verse-ending also appears in the version collected by Wilkinson from Miss Lam, this time as a three-word repeat, thus:

And I think he's a nice young man, man, man,
And I think he's a nice young man.8

perhaps suggesting a connection somewhere down the stream of tradition. Mrs. Sullivan also commented to Flanders that, "He was dead and came back as a ghost after seven years because of the oath that was between them,"9 making explicit the revenant nature of the dæmon lover and recognizing the 'broken vows' as the song's key motif. This sort of explication is not repeated in American tradition until Mr. Dylan's highly unusual rendition, which also 'reveals' the revenant nature of the 'man' at the outset (though not the "former vows").

Comparison with A Collection Of Diverting Songs makes it plain that the 'blame' for a form of rationalization that turned the former lover from revenant to flesh and blood should not be placed at any Yankee's door. It had already occured within the (perhaps exclusively) English strain from which the American broadside largely came. In this rationalized 'English' derivative, the lady does not leave her husband and children without some considerable persuasion on her lover's part; and does so only because of the obligation (and, perhaps, love) she still felt for her former dear. As we shall see, in Scottish oral tradition (and the two American texts that best reflect that tradition) the lady is taken to her death not because she elected to take her lover's proferred escape route - "dying from guilt far from her children,"10 as Alan Lomax chose to put it - but because she had proved untrue to her former love, having broken the solemn vows she swore some (seven) years before.

The broken vows may be implicit in some twentieth century texts - "I have returned from the salt, salt sea/ And all for the sake of thee" does imply at least some debt of honour ("the love of thee" makes for an inferior reading) - but more traditional texts, of which the renditions collected by Wilkinson, Wilson and Flanders are rare vestiges, make the vow not only explicit, but the veritable crux of our tale.

Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the Sullivan text, though, is that she has a name for the revenant, George Allis, seemingly a simple phonetic corruption of the only name ever assigned to the mysterious ex-lover, James Harris (or as Peter Buchan would have it, James Herries). Though it was under this title that the song came to be assigned in Child's English & Scottish Popular Ballads, only Buchan called the song by this name."


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