The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #50574   Message #767686
Posted By: Stewie
18-Aug-02 - 09:15 PM
Thread Name: Lyr/Chords Add: Pretty Polly
Subject: Lyr Add: PRETTY POLLY (Dock Boggs)
The note to the 'Pretty Polly (2)' in the DT, linked above by Masato, suggests it is essentially Dock Boggs' version. I disagree - it differs significantly from both of Boggs' recorded versions. In particular, Boggs' 1927 recording has no stabbing. It seems to me that we can conclude only that the unfortunate lass was buried alive.

Here is the text of Boggs' 1927 version:

PRETTY POLLY [Dock Boggs 1927 version]

I used to be a rambler, I stayed around in town
I used to be a rambler, I stayed around in the town
I courted Pretty Polly, and her beauty has never been found

Oh where is Pretty Polly, oh yonder she stands
Oh where is Pretty Polly, oh yonder she stands
With rings on her fingers, her lily-white hands

"Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, come take a walk with me
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, come take a walk with me
When we get married, some pleasure to see"

He led her over hills and valleys so deep
He led her over hills and valleys so deep
At length, Pretty Polly, she began to weep

"Oh Willy, oh Willy, I'm 'fraid of your way
Oh Willy, oh Willy, I'm 'fraid of your way
Your mind is to ramble and lead me astray"

"Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, you're guessing about right
Pretty Polly, Pretty Polly, you're guessing about right
I dug on your grave, two-thirds of last night"

They went on a piece farther and what did they spy?
Went on a piece farther and what did she spy?
A new dug grave and a spade lying by

She threw her arms around him and began for to weep
She threw her arms around him and began for to weep
At length, Pretty Polly soon fell asleep

He threw the dirt over her and turned away to go
Threw the dirt over her and turned away to go
Down to the river where the deep waters flow

That transcription is from Barry O'Connell and I got it from Here. O'Connell notes that Brown ['North Carolina Folklore II] has several variants of 'Pretty Polly' from which Boggs' version comes. He refers also to an interesting, but different, version in Leonard Roberts 'Sang Branch Settlers'.

In Boggs' later version [June 1963 for Folkways], there is no murder at all. Boggs finishes with the penultimate verse of his 1927 version, with Polly falling asleep. Mike Seeger noted, however, in 'Dock Boggs: His Folkways Years' [2CD reissue - Smithsonian/Folkways] that Boggs sometimes sang the last line as 'He threw her in the river where the water's twenty foot deep'.

Another superb old-timey performance of this ballad is B.F. Shelton's 1927 recording which has been reissued on 'Music of Kentucky Vol I' Yazoo 2013. The first commercial recording was by John Hammond (vcl/bjo) in 1925, but not issued until 1926.

--Stewie.