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Lyr Req: Sheath and Knife

DigiTrad:
SHEATH AND KNIFE
SHEATH AND KNIFE 2
SHEATH AND KNIFE 3


Related threads:
'Sheath and Knife' refrain (8)
Help - Sheath & Knife thread? (2) (closed)


GUEST,Sadie Damascus 06 Jun 02 - 04:58 PM
Malcolm Douglas 06 Jun 02 - 08:32 PM
Jeri 06 Jun 02 - 09:05 PM
Susan of DT 06 Jun 02 - 10:18 PM
Garry Gillard 07 Jun 02 - 12:38 AM
greg stephens 07 Jun 02 - 03:56 AM
Malcolm Douglas 07 Jun 02 - 09:20 AM
GUEST,sadie damascus 07 Jun 02 - 09:20 AM
the lemonade lady 07 Jun 02 - 09:57 AM
GUEST,Margaret 07 Jun 02 - 08:18 PM
McGrath of Harlow 07 Jun 02 - 09:08 PM
Ferrara 11 Jun 02 - 10:49 PM
Iago 11 Jun 02 - 11:37 PM
Susan of DT 12 Jun 02 - 05:56 AM
GUEST,California Joe 12 Jun 02 - 03:52 PM
Ferrara 12 Jun 02 - 09:57 PM
Jon Bartlett 13 Jun 02 - 05:04 AM
Noreen 13 Jun 02 - 06:21 AM
KingBrilliant 13 Jun 02 - 06:39 AM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Jun 02 - 07:23 AM
Mrrzy 13 Jun 02 - 01:15 PM
Ferrara 13 Jun 02 - 04:03 PM
Jon Bartlett 13 Jun 02 - 05:59 PM
Malcolm Douglas 13 Jun 02 - 09:40 PM
GUEST,Hester NicEilidh HesterNic@hotmail.com 10 Nov 02 - 11:52 PM
Joe_F 11 Nov 02 - 07:39 PM
Hester 11 Nov 02 - 08:04 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 10:48 AM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Nov 02 - 12:49 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 01:38 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Nov 02 - 02:13 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 03:50 PM
Malcolm Douglas 12 Nov 02 - 04:23 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 04:54 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Nov 02 - 05:35 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 05:43 PM
Hester 12 Nov 02 - 06:24 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Nov 02 - 06:29 PM
Susanne (skw) 14 Nov 02 - 05:05 PM
Malcolm Douglas 14 Nov 02 - 08:09 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Nov 02 - 08:22 PM
Malcolm Douglas 14 Nov 02 - 09:24 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Nov 02 - 09:50 PM
Hester 14 Nov 02 - 09:55 PM
Malcolm Douglas 14 Nov 02 - 10:27 PM
Hester 14 Nov 02 - 11:27 PM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Nov 02 - 02:19 PM
Bearheart 15 Nov 02 - 02:56 PM
GUEST,Margaret 26 Jul 04 - 04:28 PM
Malcolm Douglas 26 Jul 04 - 06:21 PM
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Subject: Sheath and Knife
From: GUEST,Sadie Damascus
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 04:58 PM

I am intrigued and puzzled by a repeated line in Ewan MacColl's stirring version of the incest ballad "Sheath and Knife."

The line is: "The sun gaes tae your tower there with..."

(There was a sister and her brother The sun gaes tae your tower there with Wha maist and tightly loved each other God give we had never been sib...)

Is this merely a homonym, wherein some researcher heard "the son goes to your (her) tower there (to lie) with" (his sister), and made it out as some directional information like "there was a lady in the North"? Or am I missing some other meaning?


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 08:32 PM

Unfortunately the DT transcription of this text (SHEATH AND KNIFE 2) names no traditional source (quite possibly Ewan's fault; perhaps it was another one of those otherwise extremely rare songs that so many of his relations seemed somehow to have versions of), and lines like And tak twa horses stood and evil lead me to suspect that it was made by ear by someone who couldn't quite make out what MacColl was on about, but wanted to try anyway. The refrain seems on the face of it to be close to gibberish, and unlike any other known traditional variant; perhaps someone else will be able to place it.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Jeri
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 09:05 PM

The tower line sounds like
"The sun (son?) gaes tae yon tower the wid"
I don't know what that means either...


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Susan of DT
Date: 06 Jun 02 - 10:18 PM

On MacColl's record Solo Flight, he says "A more complete form of the story did not appear until 1960 when Helen Mennie Shire published a 26 stanza version from the Dalhousie Manuscript. This collation is based almost completely on the shire text." I listened to this recently - I was compiling a tape of versions of the incest ballads: Sheath and Knife, Lizzy Wan, King's Daughter Lady Jean, Bonny Hind for Ferrara - and found MacColl's version rather perplexing. It did sound like what was in the DT. I am glad to see that I was not the one who entered (misentered?) this one.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Garry Gillard
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 12:38 AM

I have put all the Child variants for Sheath and Knife here. No "tower".

Garry Gillard


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: greg stephens
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 03:56 AM

Probably something to do with a pagan fertility ritual......


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 09:20 AM

Thankyou for the information, Susan. My apologies to Ewan for doubting him! I don't suppose he mentioned where the Dalhousie example was published? At the moment I can only find references to two potentially eligible books by Helen[a] Mennie Shire, of 1957 and 1969, which I'll try to get a look at at some point; if it was in a journal it will not be so easy.

There appear to be three quite different "Dalhousie Manuscripts"; two, formerly among the papers of the Dalhousie family at the Scottish Record Office and now at Texas Tech University, are transcriptions of poems by Donne and his contemporaries; the other, a collection of letters and songs in holograph sent by Burns to George Thomson and formerly at Brechin Castle, is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, and is presumably the one meant here.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: GUEST,sadie damascus
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 09:20 AM

Thanks, folks. Maybe Susan or one of you can help me with another mystery. One of the incest ballads I have heard somewhere has a fast, mean beat, and ends with the line "If your father doesn't kill you, then I will". Do you know which one it is?


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: the lemonade lady
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 09:57 AM

That's got to be the biggest 'Blue Clicky' I've ever seen! Some of us can't do it at all, but you did the whole thing! Is this a record??


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: GUEST,Margaret
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 08:18 PM

It was partly quoted in "The Ballad Tree" by Evelyn Wells (I think). I don't have access to it now but I've been curious since I read that what the whole text was. She seemed to think it was quite old - 1500's or so.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 07 Jun 02 - 09:08 PM

That's a modest blue clcky...


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Ferrara
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 10:49 PM

Susan of DT played the record for me on Thursday (we stayed at her place en route to Mystic.) I like trying to decipher this kind of thing. Here are some of the things I think I heard :-)

I thought the refrains were:

"The sun gaes tae and ower the wood," with ower pronounced OW-er rather than O-er;

and "God, gif we had never been sinned."

I believe the last bit is a colloquialism with the same general meaning as, "if only we had never gone and sinned."

Maybe it is related to American country/mountain expressions such as, say, "Jimmy's been tossed my doll in the creek," "Jimmy's done tossed my doll in the creek," "Jimmy's gone and tossed etc.", where "gone and ---," "been ---," or "done ---" all carry a connotation that someone did something they shouldn't have.

I remember people, including some of my family (not the Italian side!) using all those phrasings.

Also I think I figured out some mondegreens in the DT version, for example:

"Wha maist and tightly loved each other" seems to me to be, "Wha maist entirely loved each other"

"Oh the folk they talk through ither/ The lassie's wi' bairn tae her brother" should be, "Oh the folk they talk the whether/ The lassie's wi' bairn tae her brother." We would say, "they talk ABOUT whether...etc"

"And tak two horses stood and evil" should read, "And tak two horses stout and able." {stout is pronounced stoot, anyhoo....} Thanks to the original poster of this song in the DT! I would never have tried to figure it all out on my own. Editing is always easier than doing the job in the first place.

Cheers, Rita


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Iago
Date: 11 Jun 02 - 11:37 PM

"The sun gaes tae and ower the wood," with ower pronounced OW-er rather than O-er;

and "God, gif we had never been sinned."

My memory has McColl singing "Woe! That we'd ever been sib! (said memory is now 25 years old, mind you). At least it made sense. :)

Iago/Martin


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Susan of DT
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 05:56 AM

Sadie - The 4 brother/sister incest Child ballads are
#16 Sheath & Knife - knowing incest - he kills her at her request
#50 Bonny Hind - accidental incest - she kills self
#51 Lucy Wan - knowing incest - he kills her
#52 King's Daughter Lady Jean - accidental incest - outcome varies with version. I have been singing Sarah Cleveland's version where they all survive.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: GUEST,California Joe
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 03:52 PM

Heard EM sing this and explain it first, and he emphasized the line, "God, that we had ne'er been sib," probably on the idea that Americans wouldn't understand "sib" for "sibling."

CJ


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Ferrara
Date: 12 Jun 02 - 09:57 PM

Well, I like "sib," it works much better than "sinned." But Susan and I just couldn't believe that "sib" was what we were hearing. Sounded MUCh more like "sinned."

OK, sib it is.

What about gif rather than give???? Does anyone have a recording of EM singing it they can listen to? I thought I heard "gif" meaning "if". However since they sound so much alike I wouldn't have posted it as gif except for one thing.

In the DT, in the notes following the song there is a translation of "gif" as "if." But, the word "gif" doesn't appear in the lyrics transcribed there at all. So I assumed that the word really is in the song, but hadn't been transcribed correctly.

Well it's not the end of the world to get this "right," whatever "right" may be in folk music, but am enjoying playing with it. It's a fine song -- now that I can understand it.

Rita


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 05:04 AM

Ewan's transcription (notes to Blood and Roses, Vol 5) is as follows:

"The sun gaes tae oot owre the wood" (with "gaes tae" glossed as "goes to") and "God, gif we had never been sib" (with "gif" glossed as "if" and "sib" as "siblings"). I'll type in the whole transcription if folk would like it. The note for the song is exactly as Susan gives it from "Solo Flight" except that there is an additional first sentence, running: "Of the four texts given by Child, only the one taken from Motherwell's manuscript can be said to be more than a fragment of this magnificent ballad."

Ewan's glosses can be a bit odd. Verse 2 starts "Sister, we'll gang tae the broom", with "tae the broom" glossed as "make love". Go figure!

I must say that the "sun" chorus suggests the closing verse of "Edward", which for me is half of a ballad, "Lizie Wan" being the other half. Again, incest, but with no cause alleged in "Edward".


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Noreen
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 06:21 AM

...with "tae the broom" glossed as "make love"

There's a phrase, not used so much now: "living over the broom" or "over the brush" with someone, meaning living as man and wife without being married. Same origin?


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: KingBrilliant
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 06:39 AM

"Going to the broom" as "making love" makes sense. As in going to lie down in the broom together - sounds a perfectly reasonable euphemism. Much akin to "going for a roll in the hay"!
As for the "living over the broom" - maybe that's a reference to the informal marriage ceremony of "jumping over the broom" (which I always thought of as a broomstick - but not sure) - ie being in effect married, but not according to the legal local definition. Maybe.
KRis


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 07:23 AM

Jon: if you can supply MacColl's own transcription, that would be very helpful. I have no quarrel with "the folk process" in its genuine manifestations, but an inaccurate transcription of a commercial recording is another matter entirely, and needs to be accurate if it is to be of any use as a reference.

Going to the broom could very well be euphemistic in this context, though I doubt any connection with "jumping the broom". It's perhaps worth mentioning that the often-debated phrase lay the bent to the bonny broom, though often interpreted as some sort of herb-magic, is at least, if not more, likely to be a sexual metaphor; though I don't think that it's necessary to look for a metaphoric intent in this particular case.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Mrrzy
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 01:15 PM

Thread creep: did you know "vagina" meant "sheath" (probably named by the same male anatomist who labeled the mammilary bodies because they looked like boobs...)?


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Ferrara
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 04:03 PM

In another version, the choruses are "the broom blooms bonny, the broom blooms fair," and "And they daurna gae doon tae the broom ony mair." I always took that to mean that they got up to their incest in the broom, or that going down to the broom was a conventional euphemism for illicit lovemaking.


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Subject: Lyr Add: SHEATH AND KNIFE (from Ewan MacColl)
From: Jon Bartlett
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 05:59 PM

Yes, I agree with the metaphoric "gae to the broom"; I suppose I just reacted to the presence of an explained metaphor in the middle of the usual MacColl Scot-English word glosses.

The words as given in the booklet are as follows: (would some Joe clone kindly set in lines?):

1. There was a sister and her brither
    The sun gaes tae oot owre the wood
Wha maist entirely loved each other
    God, gif we had never been sib.

Similarly:
2. Sister, we'll gang tae the broom
O sister, I would lay thee doon.

3. Brither, alas, would ye dae sae?
I sooner would my deith gang tae.

4. A' the folk they talk through ither
That the lass is wi' bairn to her brither.

5. O, brither ye hae done me ill
And we will baith burn on yon hill.

6. Ye'll gang tae my faither's stable
And tak' twa horses stout and able.

7. She's up on the white horse, he's on the black
Wi' his yew-tree bow slung fast tae his back.

8. They hadnae rode a mile but ane
E'er her pains they did come on.

9. I would gie a' my faither's land
For a good midwife at my command.

10. Ye'll gang to yon hill sae high
And tak' your bow and arrows wi' ye.

11. When ye hear my loud, loud cry
Bend your bow and let me die.

12. When he heard her loud, loud cry
He bent his bow and let her die.

13. When he cam' tae her beside
The babe was born, the lady deid.

14. Then he has ta'en his young, young son
And borne him tae a milk-woman.

15. He's gien himsel' a wound fu' sair
Well [typo for we'll? JB] never gang to the broom nae mair.

16. O mither, I hae tint my knife
I lo'ed it better than my life.

17. But I hae tint a better thing
the bonnie sheath my knife was in.

18. Is there no' a cutler intae Fife
That could mak' to thee a better knife?

19. There's no' a cutler in a' the land
Could mak' sic a knife tae my command.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 13 Jun 02 - 09:40 PM

Thankyou, Jon.


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Subject: Sheath and Knife, Robin Hood and Percival's Sister
From: GUEST,Hester NicEilidh HesterNic@hotmail.com
Date: 10 Nov 02 - 11:52 PM

The imagery of a shooting an arrow to choose a gravesite also occurs in Child 120B, Robin Hood's Death, which also begins with a reference to the plant "broom". The Sheath & Knife ballad (Child #16) appears to be earlier, and the 120A version does not involve the motif of a gravesite chosen by arrow flight. Thus, 120B was probably influenced by #16. However, the question remains, why would an incest ballad, even one with reference to a deer park, yew-bow and arrows be associated with the death of Robin Hood?

Well, 120B also involves close kin (Robin and the prioress are said to be cousins, but called siblings in a 19th century version), sexual impropriety (the prioress is said to murder Robin to keep her affair with a knight named Roger from being revealed), and blood-letting that results in death (the prioress opens Robin's veins to 'heal' him, but betrays him by taking too much blood).

Picking up on the brother/sister blood-letting motif, I am reminded of the Arthurian story of Percival's sister (Malory, Book 17, chapter XI), who was bled to death during the search for the Holy Grail. She also decreed that her gravesite be chosen in a random manner, with her body put aboard a drifting ship and its landing place to be her burial site. (Notice the apparently irrelevant reference to ships in 16A and 16F.) As well, Percival's sister foretells that "ye shall find me under a tower arrived".

These two ballads and the Arthurian romance thus seem to all tap into a deep mythic structure involving sibling incest, bloodletting, and the ritual/random choice of gravesite.

Perhaps the disputed "tower" line in the Ewan MacColl version of "Sheath and Knife" is an echo from the story of Percival's sister.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Joe_F
Date: 11 Nov 02 - 07:39 PM

"Sibling" in the sense "brother or sister" is a recent technical term. "Sib" meant more generally "related", "kin".


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 11 Nov 02 - 08:04 PM

Hi, Joe:

Actually, "sibling" was my word to describe the relationship. In the 19th century version, the Abbess is said to be Robin's "sister dear". She is referred to in that manner three times in the ballad, as if to emphasize the relationship:

OF ROBIN HOOD'S DEATH AND BURIAL by Sebastian Evans


Cheers, Hester


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Subject: Sheath and Knife influence on Robin Hood's Death
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 10:48 AM

Thought I should elaborate on the relationship between "Sheath and Knife" and "Robin Hood's Death":

Compare Robin`s instructions to Little John in version B of the death ballad (Child 120):

>>>And a broad arrow, I`ll let flee;
And where this arrow is taken up,
There shall my grave digged be.
`Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet;<<<

... with the sister`s instructions to her brother in the A version of "Sheath and Knife" (Child 16):

>>>`Now when that ye hear me gie a loud cry,
Shoot frae thy bow an arrow and there let me lye.
`And when that ye see I am lying dead,
Then ye`ll put me in a grave, wi a turf at my head.<<<

The main difference here seems to be that in "Sheath & Knife", shooting the arrow not only determines where the gravesite shall be, it is also the means of death. At least, the apparent meaning is that the brother is to shoot his sister when she calls out and bury her where she falls. Another possible interpretation of the ambiguous text, however, is that the sister is in labour [she is said earlier in the A version of the ballad to be "wi child"] and knows she is dying, and that she is requesting the brother to shoot an arrow at the moment she gives birth (i.e. her "loud cry") simply to choose where her gravesite shall be, not to hit & kill her.

Also note, that in the 19th century version of Robin's Death, Robin gives his burial instructions not to Little John, but to the Abbess, who described repeatedly as his sister (although she is his cousin and his murderer in the original ballad):

Of Robin Hood's Death and Burial - Sebastian Evans (1865)

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 12:49 PM

Child (English and Scottish Popular Ballads I, 185) uses the Robin Hood verse to elucidate the arrow-shooting episode in Sheath and Knife (though he later modified that interpretation: see III, 103), but does not imply any actual connection between the ballads. Do you have any evidence of a direct connection (beyond speculation based on the coincident motifs), or any to support the suggestion that Sheath and Knife is necessarily the older?

Your points are certainly interesting, but I'd like to see some external corroboration.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 01:38 PM

Hi, Malcolm:

I don't have a copy of Child on hand, and didn't realize that he had made a comparative analysis of the two ballads. I was working from on-line excerpts of just the ballad texts themselves. I shall be very interested to read both Child's original interpretation and his revision.

As for the "Sheath" ballad being older, I based that assumption simply on the numbering, which I had understood, from a comment by two Robin Hood scholars, reflected Child's attempt to put all the ballads into chronological order. ie. :

"This ballad is not recorded until the Percy folio, a badly damaged copy, in the mid-seventeenth century; the first full text is from the late eighteenth-century garland The English Archer of 1786, though, as Child notes, it itself "is in the fine old strain" (III, 103). Child prints the ballad early in his collection, as no. 120. This early placement can be justified: the author of the Gest knew the tradition of Robin's death. It is presumably one of the "tragedies" which Bower mentions in the 1440s; Grafton in 1569 refers in some detail to the story, and the Sloane Life concludes with it." (Knight and Ohlgren, 1997; http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/dearhint.htm)

I thus assumed that Child's numbering system represented a rough chronology.

Certainly the last arrow motif is not original to the tale of Robin's death, occuring in neither the Percy folio (Child's A version) or the Gest (Child 117). The motif must therefore have come from a source extraneous to the RH tradition, and the similarity between Robin's burial instructions and those of the sister in "Sheath" are striking, as is the apparently irrelevant reference to "broom" (which occurs in no other Robin Hood ballad as far as I am aware). There's nothing to say, however, that those elements didn't find their way into both ballads (#16 & #120) from a third, unknown source.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 02:13 PM

The motif seems not to have been uncommon in folklore, so I wouldn't read too much into its occurrence in two otherwise-unrelated ballads. The arrow-shooting in Leesome Brand (Child 15) may be more fruitful for you if you are looking for correspondences, but you might want to do some extensive background reading first. Broom turns up so often that it's unsafe to base conclusions upon it; though it often occurs in a sexual context and -sometimes- with a metaphoric function, it's also often just broom!

Child's numbering system is largely thematic, with ballads grouped -to an extent- in related categories; there also seems to be some attempt at a chronological arrangement within those criteria, but you can't rely on it in itself to provide answers. Another problem is that Child died before he was able to write his planned Introduction to the collection, which, among other things, would have explained how his system actually worked.

You have to look at the source information for each text and Child's background notes, too (and as much additional information from other studies as you can) before starting to draw conclusions. Online texts without the notes are, I feel, of little real use to anyone who's serious about the subject.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 03:50 PM

Hi, Malcolm:

Thanks for those elucidations.

>>>Another problem is that Child died before he was able to write his planned Introduction to the collection, which, among other things, would have explained how his system actually worked.<<<

O, poor Child! And the poor scholars trying to follow him.

I think I shall have to put _The English and Scottish Popular Ballads_ on my Xmas wish list. It would be handy to have my own copy. Is there a good version with all the volumes bound in a single book that you could recommend?

The Leesom Brand is quite an interesting text, but I don't quite see why you think it is "MORE fruitful for you if you are looking for correspondences". Obviously it is a very close cousin to Sheath & Knife (especially 15B), but I don't see how it sheds any additional light on the question of how the extraneous "gravesite divined by arrow" motif might have found its way into the Robin Hood legend in the late 18th century.

>>>Online texts without the notes are, I feel, of little real use to anyone who's serious about the subject.<<<

Ah, seriousness -- I left that behind in grad school. When it comes to folk ballads, I'm a just hobbyist, and my particular interest is the Robin Hood legend, rather than the ballads as a whole. Moreover,
as a structuralist rather than a historian, I believe we can learn a great deal from a close reading and comparative analysis of the texts themselves, even when there are no notes available or "external corroboration" as you term it.

>>>Broom turns up so often that it's unsafe to base conclusions upon it<<<

Broom may be a common element of folksongs, but as I've mentioned, it occurs in the Robin Hood canon ONLY in Child 120B as far as I am aware. Indeed, it occurs in the opening stanza, which is markedly different from the usual paean to spring that opens most other RH ballads, even those which are violent rather than comic in nature. And the frequent repetition of the reference to broom in the refrain of "Sheath and Knife" makes it a key textual element of that particular ballad as well.   

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 04:23 PM

Ah, I see; if your interest is in the Robin Hood ballads, then Leesome Brand won't be much use to you. I mentioned it in relation to Sheath and Knife only. For what it's worth, I live not far from the places where many of the Hood stories are set; and there is certainly plenty of broom in the Kirklees area even today! I don't discount your theory, but I do think that textual analysis alone is generally not enough to demonstrate direct connections.

Child has long been out of print, but just this year that has all changed. Loomis House has reprinted the first volume, with the rest to follow, and Heritage Muse is bringing the whole thing out on CDROM.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 04:54 PM

>>>Child has long been out of print, but just this year that has all changed. Loomis House has reprinted the first volume, with the rest to follow, and Heritage Muse is bringing the whole thing out on CDROM.<<<

Thanks, Malcolm:

I shall keep my eye out for those publications! The CD-ROM sounds convenient, but I do find a hard-copy book much more satisfying. How frustrating that all the Loomis volumes are not being released simultaneously.

In the meantime, I shall have to make do with access to the copies in my local library system. Unfortunately, they don't always note the volume number properly in their catalogue, so you never know which volume will actually turn up on the hold shelf when you make a request. Oh, sigh!

Anyhow, if, in your folklore studies, you come across any more instances of a gravesite being selected by a divinatory method or an appeal to chance (paricularly the flight of an arrow or the drifting of a ship), please let me know.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 05:35 PM

But still no explanation of the refrain.

As it stands MacColl's transcription sounds as if it's to do with pinning the events to a particular time of day, the time when the sun rose clear above the trees of the wood, mid-morning perhaps, but that doesn't seem too relevant.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 05:43 PM

>>>I live not far from the places where many of the Hood stories are set; and there is certainly plenty of broom in the Kirklees area even today!<<<

Hi, Malcolm:

What a merry place to live! Here across the pond, with my aversion to flying, I feel a bit disconnected from the folk stories and customs I enjoy analyzing. Ah well, I'm sure I'll get there one day.

Since you are familar with broom in its native habitat, I wonder if you aware of any seasonal connotations with the plant?

As I mentioned, most RH ballads begin with a paean to spring. (Although there is one late example with a Yuletide setting). Spring, however, would obviously not set the appropriate tone of pathetic fallacy for the death ballad and so this standard paean is omitted. Indeed, early pseudo-historical references to Robin's death generally give a November or early December date for his death. I wondered if broom was ever associated with this time of year?

Although, a thought does come to mind. During the fall, broom would be in seed, would it not? And I've read several references to the problem of broom as an invasive weed where it has been introduced in North America, particularly because when touched, the seed pods will project the seed a long distance (much like an arrow from a bow). Indeed the shooting of the Robin's last arrow could be taken as a metaphor for ejaculation (shooting of semen, literally "seed"). Thus his burial would be more of a "planting", with regenerative implications. As you noted, broom often has sexual connotations in folklore (perhaps because of the "promiscuous" spreading of the plant's seed). And the Sheath and Knife ballad, and more particularly its close cousin Leesome Brand, both have strong a regenerative theme, and a close linking of birth and death. [Whew! Gives you an idea of the labyrinthine paths down which my mind wanders.]

Indeed, I've given a great deal of speculative structuralist thought to the regenerative motif in the Robin Hood death ballad, particularly in comparison to the crucifixion story:

The Dying Hero

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 06:24 PM

>>>As it stands MacColl's transcription sounds as if it's to do with pinning the events to a particular time of day, the time when the sun rose clear above the trees of the wood, mid-morning perhaps, but that doesn't seem too relevant.<<<

Hi, McGrath:

Actually, that's quite helpful.

Okay, lets reject the "tower" transcription as a mishearing, and accept the line as:

"The sun gaes tae oot owre the wood"

But, is this not more likely a reference to the sun setting (going out over [i.e. 'behind'] the trees) rather than the sun rising (which would more likely be phrased as 'coming up over the trees') And of course, the diurnal cycle of the sun is metaphorically linked to its yearly cycle, with sunset being analogous to fall (and the death of the vegetative world).

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Nov 02 - 06:29 PM

Plausible enough - so the refrain would mean "The sun goes down" or -"The night is falling", an appropriate one, given the dark and bloody story.

Makes poetic sense. Some Scots linguist please confirm that it makes linguistic snense.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Susanne (skw)
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 05:05 PM

As I have no better explanation to offer I could live with that one. Any mention of a 'tower' is certainly out - I've compared the transcription Jon Bartlett thankfully provided to what Ewan sings on 'Black and White - the Definitive Collection'. Also, I can't hear any mention of 'sib', only 'sin'. As he sings the last line a lot quieter than the rest it could well be 'sinned', although neither makes grammatical sense.

The narrative lines seem to be fairly straightforward. I'd suggest two changes in verse 8, though: Ewan sings 'yin', not 'ane' at the end of the first line, and 'Ere' (before), not 'E'er' (ever) at the start of the second.

Gordeanna McCulloch sings a version with the 'And we'll never go down to the broom any more' refrain, but I haven't worked it out fully.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 08:09 PM

Gordeanna sings a standard version. MacColl, typically, just had to have something different, and from as obscure a source as possible. There is no point at all in speculating on the possible meaning of the text he used -if we can't agree that the transcription John quoted is definitive- unless someone is able to produce the Dalhousie MS text that MacColl claimed to have used as the major source of his collation.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 08:22 PM

There is no point at all in speculating on the possible meaning of the text he used

Whether MacColl used a genuine MS text as it stood, or rewrote it or even made the line up, it seems fair to assume that he had some meaning in mind when he chose to sing the words.

And anyone singing the song surely needs to have some meaning in mind as well. And I'd say that is where the point lies in trying to clarify what they are and what they might mean.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 09:24 PM

As I thought I had stated pretty clearly, there is still an ongoing dispute in this discussion as to whether or not the text quoted is what MacColl actually sang; and we have, equally, no idea as yet as to whether or not his recording reflected a genuine traditional version of the song, or just a made-up personal interpretation of what he thought it ought to have been. By all means quote me, but please don't edit what I have said in order to dismiss, spuriously, the point I made; which is what you have just tried to do. We need to know exactly what he sang (and what his source sang; his interpretation of the "meaning" is irrelevant if it is only his own) before we can presume, on our part, to interpret. So far, we still do not have the required information.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 09:50 PM

Sorry if I've quoted you in a way that distorts what you were saying, that wasn't the idea. My editing just consisted in taking the first section of the sentence, with the full text being there in your post immediately above what I wrote.

I had no intention of dismissing what I understood to be your point. Finding out what MacColl actually sang is important, and so is finding out what the text he drew it from actually said, if there is such a text.

However, if that were to be impossible, and if all we had was what MacColl has given us (either the recording or the transcription as well), I can't see how would mean that this version of the song should not be sung, or that it is not important for any singer to have in mind a meaning that makes sense. And I don't in anyway imply that you believe that.

Songs often have a tendency to change their meaning, as singers muddle the words and misunderstand the meaning because of that, and also because of changes in the way language is used.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 09:55 PM

It seems unlikely that Ewan McColl made up his own lyrics in an archaic Scots dialect. Thus, it seems logical he was working from an existing text or source.

Cheers, Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 10:27 PM

MacColl regularly made up his own lyrics in "Scots"; he made up his Scottish accent, if it comes to that. The text that John quoted earlier is not particularly archaic in form. The question is to what extent it is authentic; we have already been told that MacColl's text was a collation made from an example in the Dalhousie MS and other, unspecified, sources.

Have neither of you read what has been said so far?


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Hester
Date: 14 Nov 02 - 11:27 PM

>>>MacColl regularly made up his own lyrics in "Scots"; he made up his Scottish accent, if it comes to that.<<<

Malcolm:

I admit I had not heard of Ewan MacColl before reading this forum. However, nothing previously said in this thread suggested to me that he was a known charlatan. In fact, the reverse seemed true as many of the contributors seemed to look on him as a valid and valuable source for the study of folk songs.

>>>we have already been told that MacColl's text was a collation made from an example in the Dalhousie MS and other, unspecified, sources.<<<

Yes, I'm aware of that. I thought the existence of these sources was the point you were disputing, Malcolm.

>>>Have neither of you read what has been said so far?<<<

Have you never been taught how to interact civilly with others in a discussion, Malcolm? I find the tone in several of your posts on this board, to me, and to others such as Q, to be offensive. If you cannot be civil, then do not address me in future. I'm interested in learning more about folk music from the many knowledgable people here, but I have no wish to debate with a pedantic, self-aggrandizing cyber-bully.

Hester


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 02:19 PM

The extent to which MacColl rewrote the songs he sang is clearly intereresting, just as it is in the case of Robert Burns. Finding out that kind of thing is valuable.

However a song doesn't live or die solely on the basis of when it was written and by whom.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Bearheart
Date: 15 Nov 02 - 02:56 PM

Very interested in all this. Have always found this ballad and variants thereof fascinating. Sing Gordeanna's version myself. (and a lovely one it is too.)

Saw Peggy Seeger in concert a few weeks ago in Columbia SC while visiting there-- she's apparently living near Ashville NC? Maintains a website-- Why not ask her? I think if you did a search for her on the web the site would come up easily enough... She probably heard him sing it lots of times.

Bekki


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: GUEST,Margaret
Date: 26 Jul 04 - 04:28 PM

The first verse is quoted in "Living With Ballads" by Willa Muir, published in 1965. She says it was "recently" discovered among papers in Panmure House, Angus, and written down in the middle of the 17th century. Anyway, the verse goes:

Ther was a sister and a brother
the sun gois to under the wood
who most intirelie loved other
god give we had nevir beine sib

and a couple more verses, to say that the news

... wil go from on to uthir
until it comes to Jhon my brother

and Jhon my brothir is most il
he will us both burne on a hil

There is no other reference to where it might be found. I suspect it was published as a journal article rather than a book, or maybe an article in a local paper or magazine.


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Subject: RE: Sheath and Knife
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 26 Jul 04 - 06:21 PM

Thank you for that: the mention of Panmure was the missing clue. It looks as if the text was published in Helena Mennie Shire's small book Poems from Panmure House (Sebastian Carter: Cambridge, 1960). Copies are pretty scarce, though: the nearest to me is probably the one at Manchester University. I'll have to see if I can get a look at it.

Since the thread is back again, I'll just add that Hester and I subsequently made up our disagreement!


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