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Lyr Add: Three Maidens A-Milking Did Go

Kathmandoobiedoo 12 Sep 00 - 06:34 AM
Bud Savoie 12 Sep 00 - 08:10 AM
sophocleese 12 Sep 00 - 09:46 AM
MMario 12 Sep 00 - 09:50 AM
Peg 12 Sep 00 - 12:00 PM
MMario 12 Sep 00 - 12:35 PM
sophocleese 12 Sep 00 - 01:03 PM
GUEST,Bruce O. 12 Sep 00 - 04:52 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Sep 00 - 05:23 PM
Kathmandoobiedoo 13 Sep 00 - 09:40 AM
Jim Dixon 29 Apr 05 - 08:28 AM
GUEST,Puffenkinty 29 Apr 05 - 09:52 AM
GUEST 01 May 05 - 07:36 AM
GUEST,The saddletramp 11 May 12 - 09:46 AM
Steve Gardham 11 May 12 - 12:13 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: THREE MAIDENS A-MILKING DID GO
From: Kathmandoobiedoo
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 06:34 AM

Hey there,
I have some thoughts on this song, as recorded by Steeleye Span...I wonder if anyone has some info and thoughts as well...for instance, where did they get their version of it, what country is it from, what date?

Here's the words as I transcribed them several years ago. I have probably altered them by as well. I think this song is a reference to the old pagan religion. I think that three maidens refers to the triple aspect of the Goddess- usually maid, mother and crone, but symbolically interchangeable. The young man they know I think of as Robin Hood or Jack in the Green, The God, Her lover. What happens next is of course obvious...the bird in the bush.... The ancient sacred rite- fertilizing, fecundating, etc.

Now here is what I find most interesting:

TO DRINK UP THE SUN, WE'LL DRINK DOWN THE MOON, LET THE PEOPLE SAY LITTLE OR NONE! The sun is I believe a reference to the male-god, and the moon a reference to the female-goddess. 'Drinking it up and down' a reference to the act of taking the god/goddess into oneself- something practiced in many religions even today- for example the shamanistic Jzankris of Nepal, where I live. And Finally: 'Let the people say little or none'. During several centuries people tried to practice the old rites covertly, as secretly as possible- off in the forest perhaps- to escape detection, inquisition and the stake!

So what are your thoughts and/or info to add?
I see this story in the song, but for all I know this version was simply written by Steeleye Span...because I have never found the same version in print anywhere else.

Willow

Three maidens a-milkin' did go
Three maidens a-milkin' did go
And the wind it did blow high
The wind it did blow low
It tossed their petticoats to and fro

They met with a young man they know
They met with a young man they know
And then Polly ask'ed him
If he had any skill
To catch them a small bird or two

Oh yes I've a very good skill
And its yes I've a very good skill
And its will you go with me
To yonder flowering tree
To catch a small bird or two

So off to the Green wood went they
And its off to the green wood went they
And she tugged at the bush
And the bird it did fly in
Just a little above her lily-white knee

Her sparklin' eyes they did turn round
Just as if she had been all in a swoon
And she cried, "I've a bird
And a very pretty bird
And he's packin' the weight of his own crown"

Here's a health to the bird in the bush
Here's a health to the bird all in the bush
AND TO DRINK UP THE SUN
WE'LL DRINK DOWN THE MOON
LET THE PEOPLE SAY LITTLE OR NONE

HTML line breaks added. --JoeClone, 10-Jun-02.


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: Bud Savoie
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 08:10 AM

Oscar Brand and Ed McCurdy both recorded versions of it a bit different from Span's. Their versions had less arcane imagery, but in either case, we know what's going on.


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: sophocleese
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 09:46 AM

Umm, I'm amused on this one. I like to sing this song and sing it in a light-hearted fashion. It never occured to me to think of it as having any particular Pagan significance. The words I sing in the last verse are;

So maids let us drink down the sun,
And maids let us drink down the moon,
Take your man into the wood
If you really think you should
He might catch you a small bird or two.

I always thought drinking down the sun and drinking down the moon meant that you drank through sunset and moonset, i.e. for a long night of merry-making. I did change the words slightly from what I had read by replacing "lads"with "maid".


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: MMario
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 09:50 AM

yup - I always just took it as a bit of nookie and a night of drinking


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: Peg
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 12:00 PM

we sang this one in a pagan choral group I used to be in; we always chose songs with some sort of pagan significance, but I don't think we saw this as having any sort of triple Goddess significance, just a baudy song with some sexual double-entendres...


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: MMario
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 12:35 PM

the other thing is, until this thread I had never seen it as "three" maidens, always "A" maiden...


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: sophocleese
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 01:03 PM

I've always sung it as two maidens...Is there a variation that says four?


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: GUEST,Bruce O.
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 04:52 PM

I don't know where that Sun and Moon stuff came from, but as "Three maids a milking would go" the song is on a mid 19th century broadside on the Bodley Ballads website (in Mudcat's Links) [Lucy Broadwood revived? She was good at finding some 'hidden' religious significance in anything that wasn't completely intelligible. I've never put much trust in comments from spinster daughters of ministers since.]


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Sep 00 - 05:23 PM

According to Roy Palmer (English Country Songs, 1979), versions of this song first appeared in print in the 1820s and it remained popular in print and in tradition for the rest of the century.  Several traditional versions were found still circulating in Sussex in the 1950s.  Some versions have the "Sun and Moon" lines (often less garbled than in Span's version, the source of which I don't know), others don't: the Rev. Sabine Baring Gould collected one from Roger Hannaford of Lower Widdicombe, Devon, in 1890, and the Hammond Brothers had one from William Poole of Taunton, Somerset, in 1905; this latter is in the DT, here:  The Bird in the Bush

We've tarried here all day, and drunk down the sun,
Let's tarry here and drink down the moon.


Prosaically enough, this would mean, "We've been here all day and have drunk until the sun went down; let's carry on drinking till the moon goes down."  Nothing "Pagan" there, I'm afraid, but it's a nice song.

As Bruce mentioned, there are a few broadside versions at  Bodleian Library Broadsides;  here are two (large images):

Three maids a milking would go  Printed between 1842 and 1855 by Jackson and Son, (late Russell,) of Moor Street, Birmingham.
Three maids a-milking would go  Printed c.1845 by Williamson of Newcastle.

Malcolm


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Subject: RE: Info:A Small Bird or Two, Three Maids a'
From: Kathmandoobiedoo
Date: 13 Sep 00 - 09:40 AM

Well folks, thanks for the info....I'm not a spinster daughter of a minister, but just an anthropologist with a big imagination! Thanks, you've shed a lot of light on something I've been curious about for a long time.

Willow


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Subject: Lyr Add: THREE MAIDS A-MILKING WOULD GO (Bodleian)
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 08:28 AM

From Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, Harding B 11(3815).

THREE MAIDS A-MILKING WOULD GO.
"Williamson, Printer, Newcastle" [c1845]

Three maids a-milking would go.
Three maids a-milking would go.
The wind it blew high. The wind it blew low,
Which toss'd their milkpails to and fro.

They met with a man by the way,
And one of them did to him say,
"Kind sir, have you got any skill,
For to catch us a bird or two?"

"O yes, I have a very great skill.
O yes, I have a very great skill.
If you will go with me to yonder shady tree,
I will catch you a bird to your will."

To yonder shady green grove they went.
To yonder shady green grove they went,
And he catch'd her a bird upon her own ground
As soon as he knew her intent.

Then he set her up against a green tree.
Then he set her up against a green tree,
And he beat the bush and the bird flew in
A little above my love's knee.

Then her sparkling eyes turned round
As if she had been in a swound,
Saying, "I caught a bird, upon my word,
Picking upon its own ground."

This pretty fair maiden she fell sick.
This pretty fair maiden she fell sick.
The bird it stopt up and her apron tuck'd up
Until it was forty weeks old.

Pretty maidens, be ruled by me.
Pretty maidens, be ruled by me.
Never catch a small bird upon the green ground
But catch them upon the green tree.

So here's a health to the bird in the bush,
Likewise to the linnet and the thrush,
For birds of a feather will all flock together,
Let their parents say little or much.

* * *

[I wonder what happened to the other two maids? Is this just a fragment of a longer song?]


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Three Maidens A-Milking Did Go
From: GUEST,Puffenkinty
Date: 29 Apr 05 - 09:52 AM

Richard Dyer-Bennet did a version of this song.
In his liner notes he quotes the Harvard
musicologist John Ward who said that the song
came from the so-called "pleasure gardens"
of outer London in the early 1700's.

Sounds like these gardens were swinging
places. Anybody know anything more
about them? Did the song originate there?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Three Maidens A-Milking Did Go
From: GUEST
Date: 01 May 05 - 07:36 AM

Ythree Maids a-Milking; as I have understood the tradition is a simple commentary on village life and the basic modesty / virginity versus "the need to prove a (particularly woman's) fertility prior to formalisation of a relationship - marriage.

The village morals worked this way: The basic understanding was that a girl would keep herself 'chaste' and be 'untouched' on the night her new husband took her to his bed. However (there's ALWAYS a however) - given that the security of a family lay in it's ability to produce offspring who would care for their parents as THEY aged and themn went on to have children of their own to aid them AND their (by then ) grandparents. The ability to bear children was also paramount given that infant mortality in the 19th Century and prior (among villagers) was better than 30% - sometimes greater

Thus; if a young couple were sen to have an "understanding" and the families were in agreement then, said couple were allowed a little "leeway" to experiment creatively. So when a lass DID fall pregnant (with a "Makings of a young cuckoo") it was seen as confirmation that neither she nor her prospective husband were barren and the wedding was thus arranged post-haste.

The reference to Drinking up the sun and drinking down the moon was basically a reference to the person involved going off on a 'bender' - either of regret, celebration of the conception or as an accompaniment to achieving conception. The inference being that they had drunk all night (or were prepared to) and may as well continue all the following day.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Three Maidens A-Milking Did Go
From: GUEST,The saddletramp
Date: 11 May 12 - 09:46 AM

The young man went upon his way
And the ladies departed there too
And the grass on which they'd met was all trampled down and wet
With the trace of a small bird or two, la-la-laa
The trace of a small bird or two!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Three Maidens A-Milking Did Go
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 11 May 12 - 12:13 PM

The language is certainly that of the 18thc pleasure gardens like Ranelagh and Vauxhall. Just take a look at some similar ones in the Douce Collection on the Bodleian site.


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