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Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible

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:
(origins) Origins: Scarborough Fair / Robert Westall (27)
Scarborough Fair (111)
(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)


GUEST,leeneia 08 Sep 00 - 12:41 AM
Wolfgang 08 Sep 00 - 03:52 AM
Jacob B 08 Sep 00 - 03:42 PM
hesperis 08 Sep 00 - 03:52 PM
Jacob B 08 Sep 00 - 04:34 PM
GUEST,leeneia 09 Sep 00 - 09:25 AM
SDShad 09 Sep 00 - 09:55 AM
hesperis 09 Sep 00 - 02:55 PM
Lena 10 Sep 00 - 07:38 AM
GUEST,leeneia 10 Sep 00 - 10:02 AM
Timehiker 11 Sep 00 - 12:18 AM
GUEST,leeneia 11 Sep 00 - 08:33 AM
Penny S. 11 Sep 00 - 01:53 PM
FreddyHeadey 14 May 15 - 01:13 PM
Will Fly 14 May 15 - 01:24 PM
Will Fly 14 May 15 - 01:25 PM
Jack Campin 14 May 15 - 02:26 PM
Steve Gardham 14 May 15 - 03:28 PM
Anne Lister 14 May 15 - 05:43 PM
The Sandman 14 May 15 - 06:42 PM
Jack Campin 14 May 15 - 07:21 PM
FreddyHeadey 15 May 15 - 03:43 AM
Jim Carroll 15 May 15 - 04:22 AM
The Sandman 15 May 15 - 06:18 AM
Jack Campin 15 May 15 - 07:12 AM
Steve Gardham 15 May 15 - 03:28 PM
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Subject: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 08 Sep 00 - 12:41 AM

I've been musing over the old ballad Scarborough Fair. As you probably know, in it the devil or an assistant devil taunts a woman that she can be his true love if she can perform any number of impossible tasks.

The Sing Out book has a verse that goes "Tell her to dry it (the famous cambric shirt) on yonder thorn/which never bore blossom since Adam was born." This isn't a very satifactory verse, since what's impossible about that?

I've decided that the original must have been "Tell her to dye it...", not dry it. The old-timers would have known immediately that a sterile plant with no juicy berries, colorful petals or sap could not be used to dye a fabric.

That's how I'm going to sing it from now on, and I invite you all to do so as well. I'm also going to change "blossom" to "fruit", since it scans better.

My next challenge is to make the song sound like a devil is singing it, and not like the warm, fuzzy version which Simon and Garfunkel recorded so long ago. Back then, all I thought was, "Isn't that sentimental? It's something about true love, but I don't know what."


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Wolfgang
Date: 08 Sep 00 - 03:52 AM

leeneia,
try to hear Frank Harte singing it titled 'Rosemary Fair', so different (and so much better) from Simon and Garfunkel's rendition that my German friends (just about every German knows the S&G version) don't recognise it though it's basically the same song.

Wolfgang


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jacob B
Date: 08 Sep 00 - 03:42 PM

Sentimental? To me it seems bitter. "Remember me to someone who used to be my true love. Tell her, if she wants to be my true love again, I've got a long list of impossible things she'll have to do first!"


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: hesperis
Date: 08 Sep 00 - 03:52 PM

If you look at the version in the DT, the man comes in saying all these things that she has to do, and the woman responds with her own list of impossibilities that he has to do, and she says in effect 'when you've done all that, I'll meet you and hand you your shirt'.

I've always interpreted that verse as try to dry this shirt on this very scratchy bush without breaking all the threads, since there's nothing soft on the bush to prevent the thorns getting at it.

I wonder if this was originally a riddle song on the same lines as the one that goes "give me a cherry without a stone" or whatever it is. And we just lost the verses where it all was explained.

It could also be about the impossible trials that people often require of each other in order to prove they love the person.

~*sirepseh*~


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jacob B
Date: 08 Sep 00 - 04:34 PM

I've read somewhere that Scarborough Fair is a version of Captain Wedderburn's Courtship. It's certainly a riddle song, but the version in the Digitrad does not contain any of the same riddles as Scarborough Fair.


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 09 Sep 00 - 09:25 AM

I agree with you, Jacob B. I merely thought the rendition was sentimental because I couldn't understand 90% of the lyrics and the arrangement was so syrupy.

To this day, I've only caught one phrase out of the accompanying song Canticle. That phrase is, "blazing in scarlet battalions..." and it refers to a uniform which is 100-200 years too late for Scarborough Fair.

If you gather I am not a fan of Simon and Garfunkel's version, you are right. ----------------- I don't think it's a riddle song, because riddles have answers. S.F. is a song of warning, a song about meanness and inability to love. There were a number of tales and songs from the old days about women who fell in love/had sex with the devil (or a devil) and how bad this was, and this song is a descendent of that group.

I realize that maybe "devil" is too strong a word, as sometimes he is referred to (by Child, anyway) as the Elfin Knight. Whichever he was, elf or devil, he was still No Good.


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: SDShad
Date: 09 Sep 00 - 09:55 AM

Hesp, I'd venture a guess that the "stone" would be a seed.

Chris


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: hesperis
Date: 09 Sep 00 - 02:55 PM

Yeah, a cherry seed is known as a 'stone'.
A cherry without a stone is a cherry blossom, probably.

That Captain Wedderburn's Courtship song is very similar to the riddle song I heard on a children's album somewhere. Scarborough Fair is quite different, though.

Should I post the lyrics to 'Canticle'?


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Lena
Date: 10 Sep 00 - 07:38 AM

sorry,I don't mean to be negative,but I can't help picking up every chance I have to say how much I hate that song...I do!!!!I do!!!I even hate Carthy's version of it!!!! But,sung with a rough,nasty,devil-like voice,it coul be interesting....


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 10 Sep 00 - 10:02 AM

Yes, Lena, I know what you mean. The words are negative, but the melody is so seductive and feels so good to sing, that we keep singng it.

I have been experimenting with singing the devil's words in a hard voice and the "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" in a softer, faraway voice. It's kind of fun.

Some people reading these posts may not be aware of this, so let me mention that the "parsley, sage..." bit is a charm, magic words naming supposedly powerful herbs. It's purpose was to protect the singer, because the singer is in danger for singing about a devil. So when I sing them, I am trying to sound like a faraway angel interposing good magic.


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Timehiker
Date: 11 Sep 00 - 12:18 AM

The version I like best is called "The Elfin Knight". The chorus at the end of the first line is - Blow, blow, blow winds, blow. And at the end of the second line is - And the wind, it blows my plaid awa'.

The line about drying the shirt goes;
Ye maun dry it on yon hawthorn...
That has ne'er seen blossoms since man was born...
The hawthorn is a member of the rose family and indeed has blossoms on it, which would make drying the shirt in the requested manner, an impossible task.

This version also has the womans response. Her line, after she's listed all the tasks she requires is;
Now gin ye work out a' this work...
Come te me and you'll get your sark!...

The mention of the herbs in the other version does have a special meaning. Certain herbs were said to represent certain human traits or characteristics. Thyme was for femininity or virginity. I'm not sure what the parsley and sage represented. Mentioning them would evoke certain associations for the listeners. Those associations could have come from the earlier use of the herbs in charms, as Leeneia mentioned.

Done well, especially with the womans response, it's a grand song. I like it.

Take care
Timehiker


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 11 Sep 00 - 08:33 AM

Thanks for posting that. I can see how the "blow, blow.." refrain would be really enjoyable to sing, with all those lovely long o's in ii.


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Subject: RE: Scar. Fair uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Penny S.
Date: 11 Sep 00 - 01:53 PM

Sage, I have just read today, has a long established connection with mental ability, so maybe wisdom. Parsley, off the top of my head, was coyly described in a herbal I once read as appropriate for correcting menstrual cycles.

The four of them, though, are the commonest in English cuisine, apart from mint.

Penny


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 14 May 15 - 01:13 PM

Thanks to Wolfgang.
Frank+Harte/_/Rosemary+Fair is a cracking piece.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 May 15 - 01:24 PM

My favourite version is by Robin and Barry on their classic album "The Rout Of The Blues" - a quite different tune and feeling from Simon & Garfunkel's, which I've never liked.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Will Fly
Date: 14 May 15 - 01:25 PM

My favourite version is by Robin and Barry Dransfield on their classic album "The Rout Of The Blues" - a quite different tune and feeling from Simon & Garfunkel's, which I've never liked.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jack Campin
Date: 14 May 15 - 02:26 PM

Whin bushes have traditionally been used for hanging clothes to dry wherever they grow.

Whins in Yorkshire

The spines stay attached to the bush and don't penetrate the fabric much since there are so many of them.

I have never seen a gorse/whin bush that didn't flower - maybe that was the point, but it's pretty obscure.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 14 May 15 - 03:28 PM

Common and Midland Hawthorn, and Blackthorn are our native thorns and all of them flower, but I suppose any prickly bush could be referred to as a thorn.

This stanza isn't in the earliest version

just 2 stanzas form her task.

For thou must shape a sark to me
Without any cut or hem, quoth he.

Thou must shape it needle and sheerless
And also sew it needle threedless


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Anne Lister
Date: 14 May 15 - 05:43 PM

For what it's worth, a friend who knows her stuff in terms of herbs and their less conventional uses says (without knowing the song) that using parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme would be a great way to conjure up a demon lover.
Isn't that where we came in?


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 May 15 - 06:42 PM

each to their own, but in my opinion the tune that Carthy used is superior.
Sage is a herb that has connections with wisdom, hence the refernces to being an old sage.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jack Campin
Date: 14 May 15 - 07:21 PM

Sage is a herb that has connections with wisdom

It doesn't. "Sage" meaning wise and "sage" meaning the herb are etymologically unrelated homophones (which weren't homophones at all for the first few centuries they were in use).


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: FreddyHeadey
Date: 15 May 15 - 03:43 AM

Sage...
It's interesting that they're not etymologically connected.
There has been research done though
"The reason sage may have an effect is because it contains a cholinesterase inhibitor, a chemical which prevents the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. Low levels of acetylcholine in the brain have been linked to memory problems. It is obviously only early stages of research into this herb, but there are clearly some interesting avenues for further research."
BBC magazine article


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 May 15 - 04:22 AM

The riddle ballads are, IMO, the most interesting carriers of folklore in the tradition, and among the oldest survivals though many of them have been rationalised, and 'blandified' because their original meaning has been largely lost – 'Scarborough Fair' is pretty typical of this happening, though, when well sung, it can still be a powerful song - try and find the recording of Scots Traveller, John McDonald singing 'The Elfin Knight' (forget S and G – pop-pap).
This is a summing up of the genre from collector, Lucy Broadwood, taken from Lowry C Wimberley's 'Folklore in the English and Scottish Ballads (1928) – essential reading for anybody interested in ballads.
Jim Carroll

"Says Miss Broadwood:
On studying this type of riddle-ballads one cannot fail to be struck by the extraordinary frequency with which "plant-burdens" occur in them. Both abroad and in the British Isles one meets still with so many instances of plants being used as charms against demons, that I venture to suggest that these "plant-burdens," otherwise so nonsensical, are the survival of an incantation used against the demon-suitor. That it should have disappeared from many versions of the riddle-story (when the dialogue only survives), is most natural, seeing that to mention an evil spirit's name is to summon him, in the opinion of the superstitious of all countries. Every one of the plants mentioned in the burdens above quoted is, as a matter of fact, known to folklorists and students of the mythology of plants, as "magical." That is to say, from the earliest times they have been used both as spells by magicians, and as counter-spells against the evil powers who employ them. ...
It is perhaps hardly necessary to remind our readers that, from early times, the herbs or symbols efficacious against the evil eye, and spirits are also invariably used on the graves of the dead, or during the laying of the dead to rest.
Miss Broadwood's observations on the magical properties of the plants represented in the burdens of The Elfin Knight and Riddles Wisely Expounded may be summarized as follows: parsley, used by the ancient Greeks at funerals, and on graves, and employed magically in Germany, the British Isles, and in Europe generally; sage, a magic plant in England, and proof against the evil eye in Spain, Portugal, etc.; rosemary, called "Alicrum" or "Elfin Plant" in Spain and Portugal, is worn there against the evil eye, burnt against witches in Devonshire, and everywhere associated with funerals and death; thyme, a chief ingredient in a recipe (ca. 1600) for an eye-salve for beholding without danger the most potent fairy or spirit, and associated with death and the grave in England; juniper, sacred to the Virgin in Italy and France, and especially potent against evil spirits; the gentle (thorn or bush), the name used all over Ireland for the large hawthorns which are regarded as holy and sacred to the "gentry"—"gentle people" or fairies who inhabit them; holly and ivy used magically from the earliest heathen times, holly being particularly abhorred by witches in England and other countries of Europe; broom, most potent against witches and spirits, and per contra, often used by witches in their spells; the bent or rush, protective against the evil eye, and, as Miss Broadwood points out, doubly powerful when combined with the broom, as in the refrain, "Lay the bent to the bonny broom." We may dis¬miss the subject of the incantation refrain by quoting a note from Scott, which goes no little way toward proving Miss Broadwood's point that our plant burdens are incantations directed against evil spirits;
The herb vervain, revered by the Druids, was also reckoned a powerful charm by the common people; and the author recollects a popular rhyme, supposed to be addressed to a young woman by the devil, who attempted to seduce her in the shape of a handsome young man:~

"Gin ye wish to be leman mine,
Lay off the St. John's wort and the vervine."


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 May 15 - 06:18 AM

Jack, have you tried sage tea?Sage Tea or infusion of Sage is a valuable agent in the delirium of fevers and in the nervous excitement frequently accompanying brain and nervous diseases.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Jack Campin
Date: 15 May 15 - 07:12 AM

The reason sage may have an effect is because it contains a cholinesterase inhibitor

Cholinesterase inhibitors can be very toxic - that's how organophosphate and thiocarbamate nerve gases and insecticides like sarin, VX and parathion work. Their effect is only reversible with difficulty - hopefully the inhibitor in sage doesn't bind permanently.

This looks good

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16205785

but it's an old study that doesn't seem to have been followed up.


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Subject: RE: Scarborough Fair: uncorrupting the corruptible
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 15 May 15 - 03:28 PM

Whilst not decrying Miss Broadwood's comments on the magical properties of plants, the earlier (pre1800)versions of The Elfin Knight have no mention of herbs at all. The herb refrains don't come in until the nineteenth century.


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