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Lyr Req: The Dilly Song

27 May 01 - 01:56 PM (#471364)
Subject: Lyr Add: THE DILLY SONG
From: Abby Sale

Looking for a good set of words to the actual "Dilly" song. True, it's generally reckoned just a version of "Green Grow the Rushes" (NOT 'Rashes') and there's a tad of info at Commentary and "Green Grow the Rushes". What I'm looking for is a completish non-Gospel-refering version. I have one from Josef Marais who gives sadly little info: "an old Celtic song in the form of a riddle in which numbers repesent some character of religious significance. This song dates back to the Rennaissance." Their tune and rendition is superb! Of course Marais made no bones about his "adaptations" of nearly everything they sang.

My transcription of Marais & Miranda likely has some flaws. The data base example (in the Commentary page) only hints at theirs in the second verse.

(BTW, you're fortunate if you are familiar with the Library of Congress' Negro Religious Songs & Services version Lomax collected about 1940. I believe that's the version that snuck out to the Revival singers - 'Children go and I will send thee...')

(as sung by Marais & Miranda on Ballads of Long Ago, Columbia LP, c.1957)

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you One, oh
What is your One, oh?
One of them is all alone and ever will remain so.
Ever will remain so
(last two lines in counterpoint)
La, la, la, la, la, la, la-la-huh-la

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you Two, oh
What is your Two, oh?
Two of them are lily-white babe, and dressed up all in green, O
Dressed up all in green, O
La, etc

Repeat: La, etc

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you Three, oh
What is your Three, oh?
Three of them are strangers; o'er the wide world, they are rangers
Wide world they are rangers
La, etc.

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you Four, oh
What is your Four, oh?
Four, it is the dilly hour when blooms the gilly flower
When blooms the gilly flower
(no La, etc.)

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you Five, oh
What is your Five, oh?
Five, it is the dilly bird that's never seen but heard, oh
That's never seen but heard, oh
La, etc

Come and I will sing you
What will you sing me?
I will sing you Six, oh
What is your Six, oh?
Six, it is the morning brake [?] when all the world's awake, oh.
All the world's awake, oh.

27 May 01 - 07:27 PM (#471496)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: Stewie

Abby, I found a couple on the Net. Unfortunately, neither give any info about their source. The first is from a group called Current93:


One of them is all alone
And evermore shall be so
Two of them are lily-white
Boys all dressed in green-oh
Three of them are strangers
O'er the wide world they are rangers
Four it is the Dilly hour
When blooms the Gilly flower
Five it is the Dilly bird
That's seldom seen but heard
Six it is the ferryman
The boat o'er the river floats - oh
Seven are the seven stars in the sky
The shining stars be seven - oh
Eight it is the morning break
Then all the world's awake - oh
Nine it is the pale moonshine
The shining moon is nine - oh Ten forgives all kind of sin
From ten begin again - oh

That one from: Click

The second is:


I'll sing you One-O
Green Grow The Rushes-O
What is your One-O?
Green Grow The Rushes-O
One is One and All Alone,
And ever more shall be so!

I'll sing you Two-O
Green Grow the Rushes-O
What is your Two-O?
Green Grow The Rushes-O!
Two, two, the Lily and the Rose
That shine both red and green-O.
One is One and All Alone,
And ever more shall be so!

Three, three the Rivals
Four for the Four Wind-Makers
Five for the Symbol at my Door
Six for the Lady's Bower
Seven for the Stars of Heaven
Eight for the April Rainers
Nine for the Nine Bright Shiners
Ten for The Lady's Girdle
Eleven Maidens in a Dance
Twelve for the Wren in Ivy
I'll sing you Thirteen-O
Green Grow the Rushes-O
What is your Thirteen-O?

That one from: Click

On the gospel side there is an extensive verision in the Max Hunter Collection under the title 'Twelve Apostles'.

Cheers, Stewie.

27 May 01 - 08:04 PM (#471507)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: Abby Sale

Stewie: Thank you. That Hunter collection is an excellent site - I caught that one. The Current93 site came up in a search but wouldn't open. Still won't! Good extra verses you've given, though.

02 Jun 01 - 11:39 AM (#475141)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: Abby Sale

I'm still interested in this song & learning/relearning many things.  Eg, I'd plain forgotten it came through as a Christian adaptation of the Passover song, "Echod Mi Yodea."  "Echod Mi Yodea" first appeared in print in 1590 (not in the first printed Haggadah of 1526.)  It may be older.  It likely was intended for adults, not children.  Norm Cohen (of Long Steel Rail) gives an excellent background in his Haggadah.

I'm most interested in the one I just heard from Marais and Miranda.  Two reasons - they do a remarkable, if largely "art" rendition and also because I'm not very familiar with the actual "Dilly Song" branch.  It seems to be a much rarer segment of the "Green Grow the Rushes, Oh" family - mentioned in the literature but not printed.  It's not New Wave either (at least not the current New Wave) as it's mentioned at least back to 1890.

The few examples I have of "Dilly" give it as a counting song, not a cumulative one.  That is, while each verse answers 'I will sing you xx, oh' with a higher number in each verse, it does not recapitulate each earlier verse.  It is linear and just moves to the next higher number.

Stewie of Mudcat found a text from the English 'industrial techno' group, Current 93, which goes to 10 numbers.  After a bit of search and the help of Gnutella I downloaded their mp3 of it.  It is simply sung (linearly) by an English child with 'techno' sounds around it.  That doesn't help much, though.  (Current 93 seems much interested in techno settings to such trad songs.)

1) Can anyone date "Dilly" further back than 1890?
2) Is "Dilly" always linear?
3) Is "Dilly" always non-Jewish, non-Christian, non-Pagan? (or
    nearly so - at least with little clear referencing)
Thank you.

02 Jun 01 - 12:32 PM (#475168)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: George Seto -

Here's another one from Newfoundland.

Come and I will Sing You

03 Jun 01 - 11:04 AM (#475690)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: GUEST,leeneia

I've been and avid reader, a lover of poetry and a devotee of folklore for a long time, and my ear tells me that this song is so slick, so enigmatic, so careful to avoid commitment to any kind of meaning, that it is a hoax. I suspect it was written in the late 19th century, either as a parody of folksongs or just because somebody had come up with a good tune and wanted some words for it. And, in the final analysis, what's wrong with that?

03 Jun 01 - 04:29 PM (#475942)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: Abby Sale

George: Thank you. I hadn't had a Newf one before.

leeneia: I'd tend to agree but "Dilly" does seem much older. Your very thoughts are really why I'm tracking it more than the other versions, though.

I quote Lomax (1960, he'd upgraded his knowledge over John's in the 40's). He's referring to the great prison gospel version, "Holy Babe:"

Among the carols sung on these occasions was "The Song of the Twelve." Versions of this ancient mystic song have been recorded everywhere in Europe. Archer Taylor ("Journal of American Folklore", LXII, p. 382) suggests that its origin may be found in Sanskrit, but that all European versions are probably derived from a Hebrew chant for Passover ("Echod mi Yodea", first printed in Prague in 1526). The earliest known English translation of the Jewish religious folk song appeared in the seventeenth century, but a number of distinct forms soon developed ("The Twelve Days of Christmas," "The Dilly Song," "The Twelve Apostles," etc.

This, very casually, I admit, dates "Dilly" to seventeenth century. BTW, we know from the very reliable Norm Cohen that it appeared in the 1590 edition of the Prague Haggadah but not the 1526 one (the first printed Haggadah)

04 Jun 01 - 04:40 PM (#476232)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: GUEST,Martin Graebe

Baring-Gould gives a number of variants of this song from around Devon and Cornwall typified by the following:


Come, and I will sing you. What will you sing me? I will sing you One, O! What is your One, O? One of them is all alone, and ever will remain so.

Come, and I will sing you. What will you sing me? I will sing you Two, O! What is your Two, O? Two of them are lily-white babes, and dress'd all in green, O.

Come, &c. I will sing you Three, O! What is your Three, O? Three of them are strangers, o'er the wide world they are rangers.

Come, &c. I will sing you Four, O! What is your Four, O? Four it is the Dilly Hour, when blooms the Gilly flower.

Come, &c. I will sing you Five, O! What is your Five, O? Five is the Ferryman in the Boat, that doth on the river float, O

Come, &c. I will sing you Six, O! What is your Six, O? Six it is the Dilly Bird, that's never seen, but heard, O!!

Come, &c. I will sing you Seven, O! What is your Seven, O? Seven it is the crown of Heaven, the shining stars be seven, 0!

Come, &c. I will sing you Eight, O! What is your Eight, O? Eight it is the morning break, when all the world's awake, O!

Come, &c. I will sing you Nine, O! What is your Nine, O? Nine it is the pale moonshine, the pale moonlight is nine, O!

Come, &c. I will sing you Ten, O! What is your Ten, O? Ten it doth forbid all sin, from ten begin again, O!

In his notes about the song in 'Songs of the West' he gives the following:

"There are similar verses in German and Flemish; a Scottish version in Chambers' "Popular Rhymes," 1842, p. 50. Also found in Brittany: Luzel, "Chansons Populaires," 1890, p. 88. There is a Medieval Latin form, beginning " Unus est Deus." A Hebrew form is printed in Mendez: "Service for the First Night of the Passover," London, 1862; a Moravian form in Wenzig : "Slavischer Marchen-Schatz," 1857, p. 295. It is also sung in the Eifel, Schmitz : "Sitten u. Brauche des Eifler Volkes," Trier, 1856, p. 113. A Greek form is in Sanders: "Volksleben der Neugriechen." See also : Coussemaker, " Chants populaires des Flamands," Gand, 1850 ; ViIlemarque, Barzas Breis, r8ยข6, and later editions."

In these notes he also talks about the variations and about the meaning. In the song manuscripts he gives the texts of most of the collected versions and of several of those referred to above (including the greek one)

Lucy Broadwood also gave a lot of information about interpretation of the song in her the notes on her version of 'Green Grow the Rushes, Oh' in 'English County Songs'


04 Jun 01 - 09:52 PM (#476459)
Subject: RE: The Dilly Song
From: Abby Sale

Martin, Great! That's what I wanted to know. I should have thought of the good Rev. B-G. And it's comforting to know that the Industrial-Techno version is true to tradition. :-) Thanks!

09 Oct 02 - 06:52 AM (#799359)
Subject: The Dilly Song (revisited)
From: GUEST,

I've been doing some work on "Green Grow the Rushes O" and the Dilly Song. Mostly, this is simply bringing together stuff on the Web (some of it from Mudcat!) but I've a few versions not found in Mudcat. The whole thing runs to 40 pages (currently) and anyone who'd like an electronic copy, please backchannel me. A short summary follows.

Robin Hamilton


It looks as if "Green Grow the Rushes O" and The Dilly Song are fairly distinct poems (while they both refer to the lily-white boys, they diverge markedly after the first few lines) rather than simply different versions of the same poem. (I've managed to identify six versions of "Green Grow the Rushes O", one from Scotland, and include three in the material.)

The "best" text (certainly the one with the strongest riddle elements) comes from Dorset, and seems to be written down for the first time in the late nineteenth century, but it +may+ predate that in the oral tradition. Most people seem to think so, but I'm not absolutely convinced - it could be a Victorian pastiche, though the variety of versions goes against that. Except "the lily-white boys" phrase only occurs in two versions of the text. My feeling is that The Dilly Song is a late rewriting, taking off from the beginning of "Green Grow the Rushes O".

If I were to attempt to characterise "Green Grow the Rushes O", I'd describe it as a counting song, with elements which are a mixture of the biblical and the cosmological, with a strong riddle element. The Dilly Song, it seems to me, is later, and substitutes for most of this a mush of pseudo-medieval (if rather resonant!) elements such as the Gilly Song, the Dilly Hour, and the Gilly Bird. All a bit twee, if you ask me. But maybe exactly what the Dilly/Gilly stuff is constitutes a separate set of questions.

I've included as many texts and more or less closely related poems as I can find, and some of the interpretations that appear on the Internet.

I think I'm fairly happy with the interpretations of all the lines except the lily-white boys and the six proud walkers. Phoey!!

About the only original contribution on my part is towards the end, on W.H.Auden's relation to the song, and on a possible link with a 17thC poem, "Tom o' Bedlam's Song". I haven't really argued this through properly, as I finished work on the current piece at 3 am this morning (!!!).