The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #16170   Message #2420705
Posted By: Malcolm Douglas
23-Aug-08 - 12:17 PM
Thread Name: Lyr Req: Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary
Subject: RE: Juniper, Gentle? & Rosemary
Although a 'magical' interpretation of the refrain is possible, it isn't necessary. Bear in mind that this occurs in one example only of the ballad, printed in Davies Gilbert, Some Ancient Christmas Carols, 1823, 65-67; 'from the editor's recollection' of Cornish tradition. Both Child and Bronson note that the first refrain-line appears under the staff notes as 'Juniper Gentle and Rosemary', while the same line is given in the body text as 'Jennifer gentle and Rosemaree'. Child observes that Gilbert 'appears to take Jennifer and Rosemaree to be the names of the sisters', adding 'No doubt, juniper and rosemary, simply, are meant; Gentle might possibly be for gentian.'

Bronson suggests instead 'hawthorn'. In this, he follows Lucy Broadwood (Journal of the Folk-Song Society, III (10) 1908, 13-17) who discusses herb refrains in both this ballad and in Child 2. A century ago the magical interpretation was taken for granted, but nowadays we tend to be a little more sceptical of such assumptions. They are possible, but they are not self-evident. 'Gentle' for 'hawthorn' appears to be Irish usage, incidentally; whether it was ever used with that meaning in England I don't know.