Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sweet William died for Love

Here is probably one of the most famous Appalachian folk ballads, Bar'bry Allen. Some say it as Bar'bry Ellen. I can't remember a time when I didn't hear someone singing this song, in part or in whole. The song, I've always heard, is hundreds of years old and was brought to America from Scotland. The song retained it's authenticity in the mountains of Appalachia, and was "rediscovered" in the early 1900's.

Bar'bry Allen

Twas in the merry month of May
When all greenbuds was swellin'
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For love of Barbry Allen

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was a dwellin'
Said my master's sick and he sends for you
If your name be Barbry Allen

Slowly, slowly, she got up
And slowly she drew beside him
And the only words she did say to him,
Was young man I think you're a-dyin'

O yes, I'm sick, and very sick
And death on me is dwellin'
And no better will I ever be
If I caint have Barbry Allen

O yes, you're sick and very sick
And death is on you dwellin'
No better will you ever be
For you cain't have Barbry Allen

Don't you remember in yonder town
When we were at the tavern
You drank a health to the ladies fair
But slighted Barbry Allen

O yes, I remember in yonder town
In yonders town a drinking
I gave a health to the ladies fair
But my heart to Barbry Allen

As she was on her highway home
The birds kept on a-singing
A sang so clear, that seemed to say
Hard hearted Barbry Allen

As she was walkin' o'er the field
She heard the death bells a-ringin'
With every stroke they seemed to say
Hard hearted Barbry Allen

She looked to the east and she looked to the west
And she saw his corpse a-comin'
Lay down, lay down, that corpse of clay
That I may look upon him

The more she looked, the more she mourned
Till she busted out a-cryin'
And said pick me up and carry me home
I feel like I'm a-dyin'

O Mother, O Mother, go make my bed
Go make it long and narrow
Sweet William died for pure, pure love
And I shall die for sorrow

O Father, O Father, go dig my grave
Go dig it long and narrow
Sweet William died for me today
I'll die for him tomorrow

They buried him in the ol' church yard
They buried her beside him
And from his heart grew a red, red rose
And from her heart a brier

They grew and grew up the old church tower
'Til they could reach no higher
Then wrapped and twined in a true loves knot
With the rose growed 'round the brier

Here's one of my favorite versions of the song, sung by Emmy Rossum of the "Songcather" movie. Click here to hear it.


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

I love, love, love this song! Love to hear it and to sing it. I remember my daddy singing a version of this song with his big, strong beautiful voice...a song handed down to him by his Stewart and Walker kin and handed to them from the highlands of Scotland.

Janet, said...

Hi Matthew, I went and listened to the song. I like it! She sounds pretty Appalachian to me. I guess my folks weren't much for singing, this is the first time I've heard it.

Granny Sue said...

It's one of my favorites too, Matthew, although I think they were both pretty spineless--can't imagine dying for love of someone. But then the ballads were all about people doing extreme things, weren't they? The tune of Barbary Ellen stays with you like a haunting whisper.

Jason Burns said...

The idea of "dying for love" reminds me of Alexander Pope's_The Rape of the Locke_. In that story, which was a satire on the royal courts, people were actually "killed with smiles" and other such nonsense.

Interesting read, though.

Tipper said...

One of my favorites!

Holly Martínez said...

I remember my momma singing this song. It always made me so sad. Unrequited love. She grew up on the tennessee / Georgia line ( Copperhill) and she said she remembered get grandfather singing it. Wow. That's history to me.