Monday, November 10, 2008

The Farmer's Old Wife

Recently I've been looking at folktales, rhymes and ballads from the Old Country where my people came from hundreds of years ago. "Over the Water" is the way my granny referred to the Old Country. I think I have connections to most countries of Europe: Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, Sweden, France and I'm sure I'm leaving out some of them. For the most part, my people were weathly and from priminent families, but that has since went the way of the weasel in this country. I guess I descend from too many "Seventh Sons of the Seventh Son" to have inherited anything except a pride in my heritage and all of the old stories. Of course, to me, those are worth more than gold. Anyway, for some reason I've been in search of the old stories from over there, and I'm finding many variations of stories that I grew up with on a mountain in Pendleton County, WV. I'll be posting one's that I find of special interest over the next several months. I'll try not to bombard you with these stories, songs, etc, since I don't know how much you all find them of interest. If anyone out there knows of any good books of these stories, songs, ballads, etc, please let me know.

With that said, today I'm going to post an old "whistling song" from Sussex, England titled "The Farmer's Old Wife". It was called a whistling song because all the listeners were expected to whistle between every verse. I can just imagine how much joy this song must have brought to my people over the generations. I remember hearing this one growing up, although it was a slightly different version than this.

The Farmer's Old Wife.

There was an old farmer in Sussex did dwell,

[Chorus of whistlers.]

There was an old farmer in Sussex did dwell,
And he had a bad wife, as many knew well.

[Chorus of whistlers.]

Then Satan came to the old man at the plough, -
‘One of your family I must have now.

‘It is not your eldest son that I crave,
But it is your old wife, and she I will have.’

‘O, welcome! good Satan, with all my heart,
I hope you and she will never more part.’

Now Satan has got the old wife on his back,
And he lugged her along, like a pedlar’s pack.

He trudged away till they came to his hall-gate,
Says he, ‘Here! take in an old Sussex chap’s mate!’

O! then she did kick the young imps about, -
Says one to the other, ‘Let’s try turn her out.’

She spied thirteen imps all dancing in chains,
She up with her pattens, and beat out their brains.

She knocked the old Satan against the wall, -
‘Let’s try turn her out, or she’ll murder us all!’

Now he’s bundled her up on his back amain,
And to her old husband he took her again.

‘I have been a tormenter the whole of my life,
But I ne’er was tormenter till I met with your wife.’


Shirley Stewart Burns, Ph.D. said...

Still, tis nteresting to read these old songs. I can only imagine how your folks altered them. :-)

The Tile Lady said...

Oh, that's such a good one! I love it. I've never heard it before, but I bet it was amusing for a group to respond with the whistles so long ago while all the goodwives were having fun poked at them!

Granny Sue said...

Marie, I have met Sheila Kay, and have heard her singing. She's a great ballad singer as well as storyteller. Her family kept the ballads alive. For me, finding ballads was a revelation, a coming home feeling. I love to sing them.

I like this one too, Matthew. I've heard both Appalachian and English versions, and there's not too much difference. There are so many sad ballads that these comic ones are a good change of pace.