Ballad #2: Proud Lady Margaret
At the end of Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister tells the council that the stories we tell unite us.
Is he correct? In this episode I argue that he is, and I give examples as to how stories we tell unite us as a country and they can unite us in our conception of our deepest values.
In this traditional Scottish ballad, a knight comes to a wistful young woman in a castle. He is there to woo her. But she sees him as beneath her, due to the clothes he wears. After asking him three riddles, she discovers that he is more than her match, so she agrees to be his. But then he reveals that he is actually her brother, who has been "beyond the sea." She wants to join him, but he tells her that she cannot, for he is dead. The knight is a ghost in disguise.
Lastly, he tells her that the reason for his journey from the land of the dead to her own land is to stop her from being so prideful. HEAR THE BALLAD SUNG:
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This is a different version of the same story. But this singer sings unaccompanied, as it was often done in traditional recitals hundreds of years ago.
'Twas on a night, an evening bright When the dew began to fa', Lady Margaret was walking up and down, Looking o'er her castle wa'.
She looked east, and she looked west, To see what she could spy, When a gallant knight came in her sight, And to the gate drew nigh.
"You seem to be no gentleman, You wear your boots so wide; But you seem to be some cunning hunter, You wear the horn so syde." -*
"I am no cunning hunter," he said, "Nor ne'er intend to be; But I am come to this castle To seek the love of thee; And if you do not grant me love, This night for thee I'll die." -
"If you should die for me, sir knight, There's few for you will mane, For mony a better has died for me, Whose graves are growing green.
"But ye maun read my riddle," she said, "And answer me questions three; And but ye read them right," she said, "Gae stretch ye out and die. -
"Now what is the flower, the ae first flower, Springs either on moor or dale; And what is the bird, the bonnie bonnie bird, Sings on the evenings gale?" -
"The primrose is the ae first flower Springs either on moor or dale; And the thistlecock is the bonniest bird, Sings on the evening gale." -
"But what's the little coin," she said, "Wald by my castle bound? And what's the little boat," she said, "Can sail the world all round?" -
"O hey, how many small pennies Make thrice three thousand pound? Or hey, how many small fishes Swin a' the salt sea round?" -
"I think ye maun be my match," she said, "My match and something mair, You are the first e'er got the grant Of love frae my father's heir.
"My father was lord of nine castles, My mother lady of three; My father was lord of nine castles, And there's nane to heir but me.
"And round about a' thae castles, You may baith plow and saw, And on the fifteenth day of May The meadows they will maw." -
"O hald your tongue, Lady Margaret," he said, "For loud I hear you lie! Your father was lord of nine castles, Your mother was lady of three; Your father was lord of nine castles, But ye fa' heir to but three.
"And round about a' thae castles, You may baith plow and saw; But on the fifteenth day of May The meadows will not maw.
"I am your brother Willie," he said, "I trow ye ken na me; I cam to humble your haughty heart, Has gar'd sae mony die." -
"If ye be my brother Willie," she said, "As I trow weel ye be, This night I'll neither eat nor drink, But gae alang with thee." -
"O hald your tongue, Lady Margaret," he said, "Again I hear you lie; For ye've unwashen hands, and ye've unwashen feet, ** To gae to clay wi' me.
"For the wee worms are my bedfellows, And cauld clay is my sheets; And when the stormy winds do blow, My body lies and sleeps."***
*Syde - Long or low. **Alluding to the custom of washing and dressing dead bodies. *** In Mr. Buchan's collection, vol i.,p. 31, there is a north country edition of this ballad, under the title of "The Courteous Knight." His is, as usual, a coarse and vulgar version; but it contains many more stanzas than that in the text; and the knight's farewell speech runs into an edifying lecture on his sister's vanity of dress: e.g.
"My body's buried in Dunfermline, And far beyont the sea, But day nor night nae rest could get All for the pride o' thee:
"When ye are in the gude kirk set, The gowd pins in your hair, Ye tak mair delight in your feckless dress Than ye do in the morning prayer." &c. - ED.