Monday, October 24, 2011

Ghostly Songs for the Ghostly Season

It's the time for softly haunting old songs, isn't it? The night creeps slowly in, reminding me of this ballad about something else that creeps slowly in:

Sweet William's Ghost (Child Ballad #77)

There came a ghost to Margaret’s door,
With many a grievous groan,
And long he twirled at the pin,
But answer made she none.

‘Is that my father Philip,
Or is’t my brother John?
Or is’t my true-love, Willy,
From Scotland new come home?’

'Tis not thy father Philip,
Nor yet thy brother John;
But ’tis thy true-love, Willy,
From Scotland new come home.

‘O sweet Margret, O dear Margret,
I pray thee speak to me;
Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
As I gave it to thee.’

'Thy faith and troth thou’s never get,
Nor yet will I thee lend,
Till that thou come within my bower,
And kiss my cheek and chin.’

‘If I shoud come within thy bower,
I am no earthly man;
And shoud I kiss thy rosy lips,
Thy days will not be lang.

‘O sweet Margret, O dear Margret,
I pray thee speak to me;
Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
As I gave it to thee.’

'Thy faith and troth thou’s never get,
Nor yet will I thee lend,
Till you take me to yon kirk,
And wed me with a ring.’

‘My bones are buried in yon kirk-yard,
Afar beyond the sea,
And it is but my spirit, Margret,
That’s now speaking to thee.’

She stretchd out her lilly-white hand,
And, for to do her best,
‘Hae, there’s your faith and troth, Willy,
God send your soul good rest.’

Now she has kilted her robes of green
A piece below her knee,
And a’ the live-lang winter night
The dead corpse followed she.

‘Is there any room at your head, Willy?
Or any room at your feet?
Or any room at your side, Willy,
Wherein that I may creep?’

‘There’s no room at my head, Margret,
There’s no room at my feet;
There’s no room at my side, Margret,
My coffin’s made so meet.’

Then up and crew the red, red cock,
And up then crew the gray:
‘Tis time, tis time, my dear Margret,
That you were going away.’

No more the ghost to Margret said,
But, with a grievous groan,
He vanishd in a cloud of mist,
And left her all alone.

‘O stay, my only true-love, stay,’
The constant Margret cry’d;
Wan grew her cheeks, she closd her een,
Stretchd her soft limbs, and dy’d.

There is another version which I like very well; same story, slightly differently told:


As Mary lay asleeping slowly there came a-creeping
and said so soft and low
Mary dear come open your door
I am your darling Willie-O

So she got up put on her clothing
and opened up her door
and there she saw her true love standing
his face as white as any snow

Willie dear where are your blushes
that I knew some years ago?
Mary dear, the clay has changed them;
I am the ghost of your Willie-O.

They spent the night in deep conversation
about their courtship years ago.
They kissed shook hands and then they parted
just as the cock began to crow.

As they ended their conversation
the tears all down her cheeks did flow.
Mary dear now I must leave you,
for I am the ghost of your Willie-O.

Willie dear when will I see you again?
When the fishes they do fly
and the sea run dry
and the rocks melt in the sun.

Such sad, tender lyrics! There are many other versions of this ballad, and of course many different melodies and titles. That's the fun of ballads, so many choices and ways to sing them.

And for this time of year, so many with a ghostly theme.

Here are some others:

Molly Vaunder: in this ballad, a ghost comes back to save her lover from the scaffold.

The Unquiet Grave: begging a lover to return from the grave doesn't usually have good results.

The Holland Handkerchief: I have found this as both story and ballad; I believe it to be the original vanishing hitchhiker story!

The Cruel Ship's Carpenter: the ghost comes back and revenges her death on her murderer. This is the early basis for Pretty Polly.

And many more! You can find many of this on YouTube. You can also find Pretty Polly and The Cruel Blacksmith, my original ballad based on the story of the Greenbrier Ghost, on my CD Beyond the Grave, available from me or from CD Baby or WV Book Company. And you can also get them as mp3's by clicking here.

Happy listening!


John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Great old songs - they don't write 'em like that any more!

Granny Sue said...

I agree, John. There is a lot of emotion in these.

Char5 said...

I love the old Scottish balads. My husband has a cd that he plays when he is working in his basement wood shop. Our favorite is Matty Groves.

Granny Sue said...

I agree John. Except of course for the one I wrote. But even there, I stole the melody from. Barbara Ellen.

Granny Sue said...

That's a tale for today, isn't it, Char? A cheating wife, a young lover, an enraged husband. But today they'd have guns instead of swords and daggers.

Marie said...

I adore these old ballads! So few people sing them anymore. I am glad you are helping to keep them alive!

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