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3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?

DigiTrad:
SAYS THE BLACKBIRD TO THE CROW
THE THREE CROWS (BILLY MACGEE MACGORE)
THE THREE RAVENS
THE THREE RAVENS (5)
THE TWA CORBIES (7)
THOMAS O YONDERDALE
THREE CRAWS
TWA CORBIES
TWA CORBIES 2
TWA CRAWS SAT ON A STANE


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Lyr Req: Three Black Birds (8)


Bob the Postman 18 Apr 06 - 07:58 PM
Uncle_DaveO 18 Apr 06 - 07:26 PM
Uncle_DaveO 18 Apr 06 - 07:23 PM
GUEST,leeneia 18 Apr 06 - 09:28 AM
GUEST,Ian Pittaway 18 Apr 06 - 03:40 AM
Tootler 17 Apr 06 - 04:58 PM
Liath 17 Apr 06 - 04:02 PM
Little Robyn 17 Apr 06 - 03:47 PM
GUEST,tim 17 Apr 06 - 03:09 PM
Bob the Postman 17 Apr 06 - 01:05 PM
GUEST,leeneia 17 Apr 06 - 12:45 PM
GUEST,Lighter 17 Apr 06 - 09:56 AM
John Routledge 16 Apr 06 - 01:42 PM
GUEST,Ian Pittaway 16 Apr 06 - 01:33 PM
Malcolm Douglas 15 Apr 06 - 09:25 PM
GUEST,Tim 15 Apr 06 - 08:47 PM
Declan 15 Apr 06 - 08:20 PM
GUEST,Tim 15 Apr 06 - 08:20 PM
Malcolm Douglas 15 Apr 06 - 07:13 PM
GUEST,leeneia 15 Apr 06 - 06:38 PM
Anglo 15 Apr 06 - 02:06 PM
GUEST,Ian Pittaway 15 Apr 06 - 06:27 AM
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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 07:58 PM

Robert Graves was a British poet, an expert on Classical and Welsh literature, whose hobby was detecting in ancient cultural artifacts the "fossilised" relics of even more ancient cultures. If evidence was lacking, he would occasionally use his poetic intuition to reconstruct it--bad scholarship, perhaps, but good poetic practice, at least according to Graves. (By the way, if you want to get up the nose of a Spiritual Feminist you can try to tell her that Robert Graves, a man, thought up all this goddess fal-de-rol back in the thirties.) I'm not sure if Graves invented the concept of iconotropy, but he certainly made great play with it. The above riff on Three Ravens was perpetrated solely by me, following Graves' example. It's 99.9% BS, of course, but it points in the direction of one possible back-story for the ballad.
Like Liath, I think there must be folk-tales on this theme of the deer-bride. I half remember reading a story about a hunter who encounters a person who is his prey in human form. And I think she is a deer, or were-deer. This is a tale of magic and enchantment, not a vehicle for run-of-the-mill figures of speech. But what is the song as we have it now really about? I agree with Tim, it's about love, faith, and bereavement. Speculating on the back-story is fun, but the song speaks for itself.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 07:26 PM

Of course one has to make allowance for the talking ravens/corbies/crows. The only truly magical or otherworldly thing about the song. But a good romantic concept.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Uncle_DaveO
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 07:23 PM

I don't see that this song is mysterious at all. It's a rather straightforward tale.

The knight is slain; that we know. But by whom? Or in what circumstances?

His leman comes to his body. Someone above suggested that her family had killed him for his attentions to her. I can buy that. It would explain how she came to know where he was; she may not even have been very far away when the deed was done.

As to "fallow doe", it is, was, and has from time immemorial been common metaphor to refer to a woman as some female animal whose image might fit into the feeling of the story, poem, etc. Just as twentieth century slang often referred to "a chick", "a kitten" and so forth, and to an older woman as "an old hen". "Fallow" or "FALLOW doe" seems to admit of a variety of readings, but I'm inclined to believe in this case "a fallow doe" is, as referred to above, a pregnant woman, especially when she's described in the song as being "as great with young as she might go".

As to her ability to get him away from the death site, the song doesn't say with what difficulty, nor indeed how far she transported him. And the grave wouldn't have to be very deep, so despite her advanced pregnancy it's entirely believable that she could scratch out a shallow grave. It's even possible--not contradicted by the song--that she got someone else to dig the grave. Or, if she knew that her brothers or father???? were going to kill him, she may have personally or by agent had the grave dug before the event. The song does say, after all, that she "bore him to the earthen slack", not that she dug it in person.

And if one thinks of her ability to do the heavy work, she may indeed have died afterwards or sorrow or of the effects of the work, she being in what used to be called "a delicate condition". The song as we get it doesn't say.

But to take "doe" or "fallow doe" literally as a deer, picking him up and carrying him on her back, seems ludicrous to me.

Dave Oesterreich


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 09:28 AM

I've always thought that the dead knight was the magician who caused a woman's soul to be trapped in a deer's body. When he died, she could exist no longer. Obviously, other interpretations are just as feasible.

I don't think the hawks and hounds represent humans, though. It was the privilege of the nobility to hunt with hawks (falconry) and with packs of hounds. These animals, being used to the knight as master, are staying by him, and the wild crows, being smaller animals, are kept away.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Ian Pittaway
Date: 18 Apr 06 - 03:40 AM

Bob the Postman, a very intriguing post. Is this a theory of your own or did you read this somewhere? Robert Graves (don't know who he is)? Tim, absolutely no need to apologise, as I didn't take you to be offhand at all. These posts are for discussion, so surely we should be able to rebutt each others' theories. And it's *so* good that you're concerned to do so politely (since I've had much of the other kind here for no apparent reason I really appreciate your concern for others' feelings). "I personally believe the song is about love and faithfulness". Wow. I'd got so hooked on the assumed supernatural elements I'd pretty much missed that. Tim, I think you've got to the heart of the song. When I sing it tonight I'll use that, thanks! Tootler, "I have heard the Twa Corbies is older than the Three Ravens." Everything I've read (and I forget all my sources, sorry - it was a long time ago) states the other way round. One source (I forget where) went to town pointing out how Twa Corbies was a later corruption of Three Ravens because of the total abandonment of the body and lack of mystery in Twa Corbies.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Tootler
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 04:58 PM

I have heard the Twa Corbies is older than the Three Ravens. However, my source for that, impeccable as it is, dates back to the '60s so it is likely more recent research has discovered otherwise.

Thomas Ravenscroft published Melismata in 1611 but the imagery in the Three Ravens suggests, to me, it is much older. The measuring of time by reference to the monastic offices would suggest a pre-reformation origin for a start.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Liath
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 04:02 PM

As far as I know, the Twa Corbies is later, penned by Walter Scott?

I love the Three Ravens, it's something I've sung for many years. I love the tune, and I love the mysterious, sombre imagery.

Metaphor or not, it's true to say that, aside from the dead knight, no humans appear in the tale. We hear of his hawk and hounds staying faithfully beside him, defending the body, and then the doe that gives her own life in burying his body.

It makes me wonder whether the song relates to a forgotten popular tale of the day. There are certainly tales in existence in which humans are transformed into deer. The story of Sadb and Fionn comes to mind, an equally sad tale.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Little Robyn
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:47 PM

Is it related to Twa Corbies?


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,tim
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 03:09 PM

In defence of my comment - "Let the words be what they are" -I am sorry I was so off hand. However, my meaning was that the song is still worthy of singing, even if you don't know that much about the origins.
I personnally believe the song is about love and faithfulness; it is very very sad, but in an odd way, still a celebration.
It must be said that most versions of the song collected in the more recent past (ie.. last 100 years) in both the UK and USA are nearly all devoid of the Fallow doe/love/selflessness aspects, and are more about the gory details eg. pecking out the eyes, etc..
I like the softer aspects.
Tim R.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Bob the Postman
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 01:05 PM

Pouring out a libation of mingled blood and wine upon the imaginary skull of Robert Graves, one might receive the following oracle:

Ravenscroft is an example of iconotropy, i. e., the misinterpretation of religious imagery when the image has outlived the cult which inspired it. In this case, in a series of rituals enacted annually:
1) the hero impregnates the priestess of the reindeer cult
2) the hero is sacrificed to the reindeer spirit
3) wolves and ravens accept the offering on behalf of the reindeer spirit
4) the spirit of the hero is saved by the reindeer-priestess

Some Scandinavian reindeer cultist inscribed these scenes on pottery where centuries later they were seen by a British bard and made into a song. The reindeer become fallow deer, because the bard has never seen reindeer, but the antlers in the picture remind him of those of fallow deer, both having flat blades instead of the tines characteristic of most other species of deer. The sacred victim becomes an ambushed knight. The ravens and wolves gathering to devour the offering become hawks and hounds protecting the corpse; except where the ravens, recognisable as such because they are shown actively devouring the victim, are cast as opportunistic scavengers rather than as embodiments of the reindeer spirit. The victim's spirit is reincarnated in the priestess's unborn child, as is shown in an image of a pregnant woman in reindeer costume carrying the victim; but the bard sees this as a scene of a magically transformed bereaved woman ministering to her lover's remains. (If the priestess's baby is a girl, she becomes a reindeer priestess too; if a boy, he's a future victim.) As for the earthen lake, perhaps it's a peat bog, where neolithic northerners habitually deposited the remains of sacrificed humans.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 12:45 PM

I agree, Ian. How can a person "let the words be what they are"? A deer cannot put a knight on her back and bury him.

When I think about it, it would be almost as unlikely for a pregnant woman to go onto a field, hoist up a dead knight, dig a big-enough grave and bury him, all by herself.

If he had been a wandering knight slain in single combat, then she wouldn't know where he was. If he had been slain in battle, the thought of a pregnant woman, presumably of the nobility, making her way through the bodies while avoiding the scavengers (animal and human) boggles the mind.

No, there is a hidden magic spell at the heart of this sing. That's why people are still singing it.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Lighter
Date: 17 Apr 06 - 09:56 AM

The Oxford English Dictionary gives several medieval examples of "lake" meaning "pit" or specifically, in at least one case, "grave." That explains the "earthen lake."

Malcolm, we have "dry lakes," especially out west, the kind that sometimes fill (or used to fill) with rainwater, but I've never encountered the phrase "earthen lake" outside of Ravenscroft.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: John Routledge
Date: 16 Apr 06 - 01:42 PM

I regard it as a story of a pregnant woman whose "family" killed the knight who made her pregnant. Not uncommon in earlier times.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Ian Pittaway
Date: 16 Apr 06 - 01:33 PM

Thanks for all your posts, folks. Anglo, your posting isn't very helpful! The point of my posting is: a. it may *not* be metaphor, so if not, what is the story behind the song?; b. if it *is* metaphor, what's it a metaphor *for*? This isn't obvious in the song. Tim, I cannot, therefore, "Let the words be what they are" if I don't don't know what they are intended to mean! A song isn't meaningful if it doesn't have any meaning - if you follow my tautology! But I certainly agree that singing it transports me into another time and place. Malcolm, you're erudite and helpful as usual. I'm not sure I'm convinced by the Corpus Christi argument myself (why does the fallow doe die, after all?), but I will certainly seek out your references. Thank you all. Anyone else?


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 09:25 PM

Malinky didn't record an arrangement of the Ravenscroft set, but a relatively modern collation made from a 19th century Scottish fragment and (probably) part of a Derbyshire text, together with some modernised and Scotticised verses from elsewhere. Very good, I expect, but not much help for Ian.

Tim's recording is an arrangement of Ravenscroft. The song has been interpreted by a great many people over the years, in all manner of styles. As a rule, it's a good idea to have some understanding of what you are singing; so I can't agree entirely with Tim's first post.

Meaning, though, is often subjective (and particularly in cases like this) so the important thing is to arrive at a personal understanding, and I expect that we would all agree on that as a general principle; though we might not agree on details of interpretation.

I certainly doubt that Ian is right about the song, but that doesn't matter if it makes it meaningful for him. Do check those references I gave, though, if you have access to a good library; you really will find them illuminating.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Tim
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 08:47 PM

Also recorded by me on CD Home From Home - www.ianrobb.com or www.timradford.com

Tim R


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Declan
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 08:20 PM

Recorded quite recently by Malinky. Title track of their penultimate Album. I hear there's a new one out since but I haven't heard it yet.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Tim
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 08:20 PM

It is just a great song that is a wonderful experience to sing - be transported into another time and place. Let the words be what they are.
Tim R.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 07:13 PM

Metaphor again: glossed in some commentaries as "the grave" (cf late Latin "lacus", pit). "Earthen lake" also has a specific physical meaning: it is a body of water fed by rainwater rather than by springs or watercourses, having an earthen rather than clay bed. I think that the term is used mostly in America these days. Both senses may perhaps be implicit: the song has every appearance of a literary origin, and complex metaphor is not unlikely.

Bronson (Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, 1959, I, 308) follows earlier scholars in suggesting that The Three Ravens is descended from the same ancestral song as The Corpus Christi Carol, the latter being a "pious adaptation" of it. David Fowler, by contrast (Literary History of the Popular Ballad, Durham NC: Duke University, 1968, 58-64) sees Three Ravens as "a secularised, chivalric Pieta" based on Corpus Christi.

There is no final word on that subject, so far as I know, and there probably never will be; for all the romantic ideas (full of Grail Knights and the like) that have been put about on the subject of both songs over the years. Fowler's explanation of Corpus Christi, taking into account the mediaeval "figurative imagination", is elegantly simple (though not easy to summarise adequately) and well worth looking at. How far it might also apply to Three Ravens is moot, of course.


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 06:38 PM

Probably not. A fallow deer (scientific name Dama dama) is simply a kind of deer which occurs in Europe.

My dictionary tells me that "fallow" can be a red-yellow color, and that that is where the name of the deer comes from.

(Before now, I had only heard the word fallow used to describe fields which have no crop planted on them.)

Positing the "fallow doe" is slang for a pregnant woman takes the romance & mystery out of the song. The expression probably doesn't occur anywhere else in literature, otherwise someone would have written a dissertation on it.
-----------
I want to know about these two lines of the song:

She got him up and upon her back
and buried him in earthen lake.

Earthen lake?


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Subject: RE: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: Anglo
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 02:06 PM

It's called metaphor.


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Subject: 3 Ravens (Ravenscroft) what's it about?
From: GUEST,Ian Pittaway
Date: 15 Apr 06 - 06:27 AM

In the early 17th century the song collector Thomas Ravenscroft published 'Three Ravens' - 'There were three ravens sat on a tree, downe a downe hay downe hay downe' etc. In it three ravens looking for breakfast spy a slain knight guarded by his hawks and hounds. So far so good. His leman (old English for lover) turns out to be a 'fallow doe' - pregnant deer - who carries him on her back, buries him then dies herself. Puzzling. I have long presumed this to therefore be a fragment of a much longer song, in which perhaps some malevalent force kills the knight and turns his true love into an animal, or perhaps a song in a play where the rest of the plot is explained, but I have no evidence whatever for this. The other night I sang it, said all this, and someone came up with a much simpler solution: perhaps 'fallow doe' is just an old English term for a pregnant woman and not yer actual animal at all. Does anyone know or have any clues?


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