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Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall

DigiTrad:
AN ACRE OF LAND
ELFIN KNIGHT 3
ELFIN KNIGHT 4
ELFIN KNIGHT 5
REDIO, TEDIO
SCARBOROUGH FAIR
SCARBOROUGH FAIR (2)
THE ELFIN KNIGHT
THE ELFIN KNIGHT 2
THE LAIRD O' ELFIN


Related threads:
Scarborough Fair (111)
(origins) Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible (26)
(origins) Origins: Scarborough Fair (46)
(origins) Origin: Scarborough Fair: earliest version? (40)
Lyr Req: The Cambric Shirt (Ritchie & Brand) (13)
Lyr Req: Scarborough Fair / Canticle (Simon & Garf (23)
(origins) lost verse, Scarborough Fair (25)
North Country/Scarborough Fair (9)
Lyr Req: An Acre of Land (29)
Lyr Req: Scarborough Fair / Canticle (9)


Callie 17 Jul 09 - 12:14 PM
Don Firth 17 Jul 09 - 01:08 PM
The Sandman 17 Jul 09 - 01:22 PM
Callie 17 Jul 09 - 01:47 PM
Don Firth 17 Jul 09 - 02:24 PM
Steve Gardham 17 Jul 09 - 04:36 PM
Mysha 18 Jul 09 - 08:59 AM
Steve Gardham 18 Jul 09 - 02:29 PM
Steve Gardham 18 Jul 09 - 02:41 PM
GUEST,Paul 18 Jul 09 - 04:43 PM
Steve Gardham 19 Jul 09 - 01:40 PM
GUEST,Paul 19 Jul 09 - 02:17 PM
Callie 19 Jul 09 - 05:11 PM
Steve Gardham 19 Jul 09 - 05:29 PM
Nerd 20 Jul 09 - 04:38 PM
Brian Peters 21 Jul 09 - 06:59 AM
Nerd 21 Jul 09 - 04:22 PM
Steve Gardham 21 Jul 09 - 05:16 PM
Nerd 21 Jul 09 - 06:14 PM
Nerd 21 Jul 09 - 06:16 PM
Nerd 21 Jul 09 - 06:18 PM
Dave Roberts 22 Jul 09 - 10:03 AM
Brian Peters 22 Jul 09 - 12:55 PM
Steve Gardham 22 Jul 09 - 04:22 PM
mrsfifties 04 Jun 12 - 09:46 AM
Mick Pearce (MCP) 04 Jun 12 - 10:42 AM
GUEST,ceresmary206 29 Oct 17 - 02:29 AM
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Subject: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Callie
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 12:14 PM

Hi all

I am reading Robert Westall's excellent book "The Devil on the Road" about witch hunts in the 1600s. In the book an old woman sings a song to the tune Scraborough Fair but the lyrics are a magic spell.

Does anyone know whether these are actually the original words or whether they have been written by Westall for the novel? A google search has brought up nothing. I am guessing that they have been written for the novel because the words are in contemporary English. Anyone have ideas?

The lyrics in the book are:

Will you make me a fine cambric shirt
Parley with Red Mary in time
Remember me to one who rides by
She was once a true love of mine.

First there was one and then there were two
Three and six and then there were nine
The Devill will make you a fine cambric shirt
Mary was once a true love of mine.

Off with her gown and off with her shoon
Off with her kirtle all made of green
Off with her skin and break up the bones
Now she's gone, she's no love of mine.

Callie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 01:08 PM

I'm not sure that it would be possible to find the "original" words. As with almost all folk ballads, there are many versions, some of which vary widely, but follow a pattern that indicates that they had a common source, sometimes centuries back. Finding the original pre-"folk processed" ballad is sometimes simply impossible. Or often folklorists will argue over which of a couple of older versions may the "original."

I heard a couple of different versions of this ballad even before Simon and Garfunkle did their rendition of it, and I've heard still different versions of it since—but all obviously the same ballad, The Elfin Knight, Child #2.

Here's a version of it, complete with some pretty good information, on Contemplator.

And Wikipedia has a pretty good article on it: Scarborough Fair.

With all of the different versions, it would be hard to say whether or not Robert Westall took an existing variant or wrote his own version of it. But it's close enough to be identified as Child #2.

I hope this helps.

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: The Sandman
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 01:22 PM

parsley rosemary and thyme.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Callie
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 01:47 PM

Thanks Don. I had read all that info. I guess I was hoping that someone - maybe a Westall affictionado - might have a more definitive answer.

thanks & cheers

Callie


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Don Firth
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 02:24 PM

Sorry I can't help any further. Good hunting!

Don Firth


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 17 Jul 09 - 04:36 PM

Looking at it I'd say Westall strung together a few of his own ideas with bits from The Elfin Knight. The majority of what you have there has nothing to do with Scarborough Fair or The Elfin Knight or any of the hundreds of versions I've seen. Child 2 exists in 3 formats all of which are pretty consistent thoughout versions, format one=the early ballad with the supernatural lover blowing his horn and enchanting the girl, two=the Scarborough Fair riddle dialogue between the lover and the lass, three=the Acre of Land reduced down to the man's tasks and expanded into a list of arable agricultural pursuits conducted in miniature. The above stanzas 2 & 3 fit none of this.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Mysha
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 08:59 AM

Hi,

It's a song made after the pattern of Scarborough Fair. One could imagine that someone wanting to express her feelings/spell might make up something like that.

However, I don't think it would be period: "Cambric" seemingly uses an extra syllable in the originals, but there's a reason for that. Cambric is linen from Cambrai, and as can be heard in the Dutch version of the name, "Kamerijk", the 'br' actually represented the remnants of a syllable. In the 17th century, I don't think a singer would have felt the need to add "fine" as a filler.

                                                                                                                                  Mysha


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 02:29 PM

The original line 2 of verse 3 read
'Off with her kirtle woven from twine'

Seriously, line 2 of verse one is an interesting mondegreen.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 02:41 PM

Alarm bells!!!Alarm bells!! Serious thread drift!

As it happens RW is one of my favourite authors, although some of his stuff can be very depressing. MACHINE GUNNERS is absolutely brilliant. I've read it aloud to/with classes so many times I practically know it off by heart, authentic Geordie/Glasgow accents and everything. It kept me sane with manys the disaffected year 9s when I taught English.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: GUEST,Paul
Date: 18 Jul 09 - 04:43 PM

There's an interesting version in English County Songs from Whitby.
Seems to me that the cambric shirt made without sewing is a shroud, the dry well is therefore a grave and the dry thorn … hmm? The acre of land is a liminal zone and therefore has magical connotations whilst the rams horn may have sexual connotations and the peacock's feather was always considered to be unlucky in my family. Magical song? Certainly. Magickal song? Possibly not.
Cheers


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 01:40 PM

PD,
You've been reading too many of Norman Iles' books, me old cock robin!

Sewing with needles, wells/springs, pricks all have definite sexual connotations but I'm not buying it.

Cheers.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: GUEST,Paul
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 02:17 PM

Steve wrote,'You've been reading too many of Norman Iles' books, me old cock robin!'

Actually I haven't Steve, but you seem to be coming down on the side of 'there's absolutely no use of symbolic language in folksong' Which patently isn't true. Of course Iles -overeggs the pudding' but that doesn't mean to say such things aren't used and alluded to continuously. I wasn't referring to sexual connections, you'll notice that most of the images are to death. Incidentally, the herbs, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme all have similar symbolic references which extend far beyond the Victorian 'Language of Flowers ' guff.
Cheers


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Callie
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 05:11 PM

thanks for your thoughts everyone. i like the thread creep re RW. His books are engrossing and thoroughly creepy. He writes for children as though they were adults, or vice versa.

thanks again

c


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 19 Jul 09 - 05:29 PM

Hi Paul,
I'm well aware of the symbolism used in folk song but most of it is commonplace and quite overt and not hidden. It's not a secret language. There are thousands of metaphor's used in folk song but the vast majority are obvious. Nothing wrong with theorising. I put in my sexual twists just to show an alternative equally valid interpretation, but all theory, and nothing wrong with that until someone says, without any evidence, 'this means so and so, fact!'

Cheers,
Steve


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Nerd
Date: 20 Jul 09 - 04:38 PM

This is all interesting. I don't have much to say to the original question, except that I am as certain as it is possible to be about these things that Westall's verses were made up by him or someone else who wished to connect this song to witchcraft, and do not represent any historical connection with witchcraft.

Paul and Steve, as you both no doubt know, there are many possible "solutions" to the symbolism in such songs. In the related "Riddle Song" or "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship," the "cloth with no needlework, weaving, etc" appears to be (not to be indelicate), a woman's pubic hair, just as the "winter fruit that in December grew" is the male member. Thus "my father had some winter fruit that in December grew, my mother had a mantle, that warp nor weft went through...."

In that song, as Steve G points out, the symbolism is not so hidden; many members of the traditional community singing the song would understand it. Barre Toelken's essay on this showed that in North Carolina, many of the riddles in the "riddle song" existed in oral tradition separately from the song, and many adults knew them ("Q: What is deeper than the sea? A: Vagina--it can't be fathomed!")

In Toelken's words:

In A, verse 12, the lady asks for "winter fruit that in December grew," and for "a silk mantil that waft gaed never through." Both of these, phrased as conundrums and with certain simple but vivid differences in terminology, were current among rural men in Buncombe County, North Carolina, in the summer of 1953, and there seems to be no reason to believe they are anything but traditional. Their proper answers were, respectively, "penis" or "baby," and "pubic hair." The "Cambric Shirt" can thus be seen in the same way; his asking the girl to present him with a garment that is not stitched or hemmed can be seen as a request to "show me yours." But, as Paul says, it also has overtones of the shroud, and Toelken found those similarities to be present in oral tradition too.

In general, how "Magickal" The Elfin Knight is is hard to say. On the one hand, it clearly contains magic in its very conception; a visitor from elfland. On the other hand, the specific tasks (acre of land between water and strand, shirt without sewing, sow a field with one peppercorn, etc) are the typical kinds of impossible tasks found in folktales. In the folktale context, the specific tasks don't seem to be THAT important symbolically, so that different versions of the same tale will often have quite different tasks. The important thing is that they are impossible and can only be solved either with magical help (which is then provided), or by extraordinary effort and cleverness (which the hero demonstrates).

In most versions of "The Elfin Knight," the girl simply sets equally impossible tasks in return, a plot that exists in folktales as well. That way, no-one actually has to perform any tasks at all!

In this particular story, since what seems to be at stake is the girl's maidenhead (mentioned at the end of the oldest versions), I would think a sexual connotation more likely than a connotation of death--however, given the similarities between "faerie" and "limbo/purgatory" that we see in such stories as "Tam Lin," the death idea could be present as well. Toelken's take is that many of the riddles are ambiguous in exactly this way, and can be interpreted as about either sex or death. He states that ambiguity is the most essential characteristic of many versions of this ballad, and points to one Ozark version as an example, a version that ends (as many traditional versions do) with the girl posing her own tasks and then saying "if you do all that, then you can have your Cambric shirt." In Toelken's words:

instead of carrying the story out to a stated conclusion, "The Cambric Shirt" focuses the listener's concentration on the ambiguities themselves in such a way that he hears the girl say no, but realizes that she means yes. He sees that if the young man succeeds in doing properly the tasks she outlines for him, he will have had his "Cambric Shirt" in the process.

This essay, by the way, was published in the journal Western Folklore in 1966, then revised almost thirty years later as a chapter in Toelken's book Morning Dew and Roses. It's an outstanding contribution to the literature on this ballad, from an outstanding scholar.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Brian Peters
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 06:59 AM

In the 17th-century broadside chosen by Child for his 'A' version of the ballad, the young woman - having been bewitched by the elf knight's 'magical horn' - is actually pretty keen to lose her maidenhead, at least until the moment he admits to being married with kids. It doesn't take too much imagination to read a sexual metaphor into her line: "I wish that horn were in my kist..." ('kist' = 'chest' or 'box').

I'm interested in Nerd's examples of the old riddles turning up in 1950s North Carolina, but even more interested to hear what actual answers the men would give to the conundrum. Would they really answer "penis" or "pubic hair"?

It may well be that the 'correct' answer to "What is deeper than the sea?" is "vagina", but when that riddle appears in ballads the commonest solution is "Hell". Are we to suppose that everyone knew the sexual reference but hid it it behind a biblical one?

Lastly, when Colleen Cleveland sings 'The Cambric Shirt' as learnt from her grandmother, she delivers the final lines:
"When you have done and finished your work
Then come to me, and I'll make your darn shirt"
with something approaching a sneer. The message seems to be more "Get stuffed" than "I'm saying No, but I mean Yes". That doesn't mean it never meant the latter, but it's quite possible that meanings can change according to context.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Nerd
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 04:22 PM

Yes, Brian, you're quite right. In many versions, the meaning is clearly "get stuffed," but Toelken was suggesting that in the Ozark version he was mainly discussing at that point, it was more of a come-on!

He also knew, of course, that the "deeper than the sea" riddle is answered with "Hell" in the ballad. It is very standard for riddles to have two or more alternate answers, a sexual one and a non-sexual one. This goes back all the way to Anglo-Saxon riddling, my favorite of which is:

Wrætlic hongað      bi weres þeo,
frean under sceate.      Foran is þyrel.
Bið stiþ ond heard,    stede hafað godne;
þonne se esne    his agen hrægl
ofer cneo hefeð,      wile þæt cuþe hol
mid his hangellan      heafde gretan
þæt he efenlang ær      oft gefylde,

Which can be translated thus:

A wonder hanging      by the lord's thigh
Under his waist.      In its front is a hole.
It is stiff and hard,      in proper position;
when the man      lifts his garment
over his knee,      he wants to greet that well-known hole
With this hanging      thing's head…
to its full depth      he has often filled it.

The answer can be "penis," or else "key," since keys were often kept hanging on one's belt under an outer garment, and the commonest type of key had a round hollow shaft whose front end formed a hole.

In the fourteenth century, the Czech cleric Claretus de Solencia compiled a collection of Latin riddles, about a third of which feature such dirty/clean alternative answers.

And then there's this modern one: "What sticks out of your pajamas in the morning, so hard you can hang your hat on it?"   (The answer, of course, is "your head," which come to think of it, preserves the ambiguity of the question!)

Toelken spends about a page of his essay documenting such double-entendre in riddles, partly to demonstrate that even the answer stated in the ballad may not be the only answer known to the audience, and that, yes indeed, it is likely that in many cases everyone in the audience knew the "dirty" answer. But this is not to say that the sexual answer was the "correct" answer...it's more that the existence of multiple answers was accepted and used for various rhetorical purposes by crafty speakers. In the case of the ballad, it was used to add sexual overtones to a story that is about a strange kind of courtship...a natural kind of overtone for such a tale, surely.

Unfortunately, Toelken does not give the precise wording of the answers that he glosses as "penis" and "pubic hair." I wonder if he remembers what the loggers said...it's been a long time!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 05:16 PM

Hi Nerd,
Many thanks for this info. I will certainly be looking out for Toelken's books. It might save me some research if you could please list those of his works that are relevant to balladry.

BTW I am guessing you are intervening from the opposite side of the pond. There are very few people this side with such knowledge.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Nerd
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 06:14 PM

Hi Steve,

Yes, I am an American folklorist (also named Steve) with a day job at the Library of Congress. The links below are therefore to LC permalink records, which can give you the full bibliographic details.

Barre's only book on balladry is the aforementioned Morning Dew and Roses.

He also edited a volume with D.K. Wilgus, entitled The Ballad and the Scholars.

Finally, he appears to have been the singer on a recording of ballads intended to accompany a literature textbook, called simply Ballads!

(Barre was a fine singer, and made one album back in the 1950s when he was 20 or so. He had a stroke several years ago, and I don't know if his voice made a full recovery.)

His other works on balladry include mainly papers published in journals such as Western Folklore and the Journal of American Folklore, some of which were revised to become chapters in his book.

Apart from that, Barre was an expert on both Native American (Indian) folklore, and Japanese folklore--quite a range of interests!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Nerd
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 06:16 PM

Oops, it appears I got the first clicky wrong. Here's http://lccn.loc.gov/94013608


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Nerd
Date: 21 Jul 09 - 06:18 PM

Hmmm, I've bungled it again. Third time is the charm!

Morning Dew and Roses.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Dave Roberts
Date: 22 Jul 09 - 10:03 AM

Robert Westall sadly passed away quite a few years ago. He was my art teacher at Sir John Deane's Grammar School, Northwich, in the 1960s, and I knew him socially in later years when his wife was a friend of my wife's. He was indeed an excellent writer and a man of strong principles. He was once offered a teaching job providing that he a) learned to drive and b) shaved off his beard.
He turned the job down, rightly contending that it was no one's business but his whether or not he drove a car or wore a beard.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Brian Peters
Date: 22 Jul 09 - 12:55 PM

Looks like I need to read Toelken, too. Thanks, Nerd.

It's a pity more collectors didn't ask singers what they thought the songs meant!


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 22 Jul 09 - 04:22 PM

Amen to that, Brian, but most collectors have just been keen amateurs with no folklore or field studies training, and little time, and basic equipment. It's only when it's too late, having sat down to study this material, that we realise what we should have done.

Thanks, Steve.
I've just ordered a copy of MD&R from a Florida shop via Alibris. I was so anxious to get a copy I forgot to consider the possibility that the text might be online.

Dave,
Another good reason to respect RW.


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: mrsfifties
Date: 04 Jun 12 - 09:46 AM

Hello there. New to Mudcat so bear with ..

I'm doing some research for a BBC drama (ghost story!) and need a bit of information and hoping someone can help me.

1. Is the version of Scarborough Fair collected by Sharp in July 1913 from Richard Hutton of Goathland the earliest version of the song?

2. Are there any accounts of the meeting between Sharp and Hutton, or in general of Sharp's visit to Yorkshire

3. I'm guessing there will be several versions of the song; does anyone know how many and where they were collected from?

4. I understand SF is a descendant of a ballad called The Elphin Knight of which there is a MS dating from the 17th century. Does anyone know where that MS was collected and where it might be now?

5. Where might I get hold of a version called Whittingham Fair? Words and or music?

Many thanks in anticipation


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: Mick Pearce (MCP)
Date: 04 Jun 12 - 10:42 AM

mrsfifties

Your original request was posted in this thread: Scarborough Fair: earliest version? and there are replies to your questions there.

Mick


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Subject: RE: Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall
From: GUEST,ceresmary206
Date: 29 Oct 17 - 02:29 AM

Dear MrsFifties,
We watched the film, it was absolutely BRILLIAN. I have been a S.F.J Child fan since I was 14. Yes there was a Whittingham faire song as a variant, as well as the Elfin King SFJC Child 2. I often thought that the version of Whittingham preceeded Scarborough Fair (in time and in collection). I haven't found a copy of that (song) either in lyrics (other than in a very old copy of SFJ Child that I found at our local library back in the 1970's (as a teen), but I would be very interested in what you found!

I guess I am a very weird person, but I love tracing these ballads backwards, including The Silkie, Mary Hamilton, and House Carpenter. I know you had your answers from the amazing job you did collecting for the Movie. Thank you for your work. Mary.


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