Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Devil’s Nine Questions


Child #1
(a variant of Riddles Wisely Expounded)




This is the latest ballad I've learned. The Devil says he has nine questions. What's the ninth one?


You must answer my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
Or you’re not God’s, you’re one of mine
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

What is whiter than the milk?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is softer than the silk?
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

Snow is whiter than the milk,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And down is softer than the silk,
And I’m the weaver’s bonnie.

What is higher than a tree?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is deeper than the sea?
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

Heaven is higher than a tree,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And Hell is deeper than the sea,
And I’m the weaver’s bonnie.

What is louder than a horn?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is sharper than a thorn?
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

Thunder is louder than a horn,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And Death is sharper than a thorn,
And I’m the weaver’s bonnie.

What is more innocent than a lamb?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is meaner than womankind?
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

A babe is more innocent than a lamb,
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And the Devil is meaner than womankind,
And I’m the weaver’s bonnie.

You have answered my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And you are God’s, you’re not one of mine
And you’re the weaver’s bonnie.

For more about the Francis James Child and the Child Ballads, or just ballads in general:


Leslie Nelson’s site Contemplator is one of the very best. She offers lyrics, a bit of history and background, and a midi file of the melody. Her site includes Child ballads as well as songs of the sea and American folksongs.


The Book of Old Ballads selected by Beverly Nichols was published in 1934. Like many other out-of-print titles, it is available online on many sites. This site seemed more accessible than most.


Ancient poems, ballads, and songs: Of the peasantry of England, taken down from oral recitation, and transcribed from private manuscripts, rare broadsides and scarce publications by James Henry Dixon. Ah, to be able to own the real thing! However, this rare book is available to us online.


The Child Ballads offers information about recorded versions of a large number of Child ballads.

4 comments:

City Mouse said...

That is a really beautiful ballad. I'm going to have to look up some info on these and find some reading - you've got me hooked. I was saying earlier today how fond I am of the mountain traditions here, and how similar I find the Irish/English folks traditions to ours.

Any suggestions for online reading?

Granny Sue said...

Citymouse, the links I provided at the end of the ballad provide a lot of starting places. Read also about Francis James Child and about Cecil Sharp, two early songcatchers.

I did a quick search online and found the following for your region;

http://www.umaine.edu/folklife//women_folklorists_intro.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Hartness_Flanders

http://books.google.com/books?id=1LS_iV78AG8C&pg=PA160&lpg=PA160&dq=%2BBritish+%2B%22New+York+state%22+%2Bballads&source=web&ots=7ckwrG__Cb&sig=0uYcyCgB1aehk1Z0ahROdhXEpmY&hl=en

I am sure there is a rich store of New England folk music, just as there is here. I recently sent a book of Vermont ballads that I'd found in a book sale to a friend in that state, and there were several in that book that I recognized as Child ballads.

The problem of online searching for New york, of course, is that so many publishers are there that it skews the results and doesn't return what I want. I used delimiters such as plus signs and quotes to get a better list of possibilities.

I hope these are useful to you. Such great stories in ballads!

City Mouse said...

Thanks! That all will be awesome reading for this week.

City Mouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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