Ballad #3 The Wife Of Usher's Well
Today I explain why ballads are important for everyone to read.
Our ballad today is a traditional one about an old peasant woman who sends her three sons all out to sea, and they all die. Then she curses the sea. The sons return for Martinmas (November 11th). Martinmas was a celebration of St Martin. On this day, the town would get together while they killed the animals needed to survive the winter. It was hard work and singing ballads made it more bearable. At this point of the year, the nights were lang and mirk (long and dark.)
Which is perfect for a good ghost story.
You can hear a modern rendition of this very old ballad sung by the UK rock band Steeleye Span: https://open.spotify.com/track/4fPaMYuy5KfwXiaKcNrLOz
There lived a wife at Usher’s Well, And a wealthy wife was she; She had three stout and stalwart sons, And sent them o’er the sea.
They hadna been a week from her, A week but barely ane, Whan word came to the carlin wife That her three sons were gane.
They hadna been a week from her, A week but barely three, Whan word came to the carlin wife That her sons she’d never see.
‘I wish the wind may never cease, Nor fashes in the flood, Till my three sons come hame to me, In earthly flesh and blood.’
It fell about the Martinmass, When nights are lang and mirk, The carlin wife’s three sons came hame, And their hats were o’ the birk.
It neither grew in skye nor ditch, Nor yet in any sheugh; But at the gates o’ Paradise, That birk grew fair eneugh.
‘Blow up the fire, my maidens, Bring water from the well; For a’ my house shall feast this night, Since my three sons are well.’
And she has made to them a bed, She’s made it large and wide, And she’s ta’en her mantle her about, Sat down at the bed-side.
Up then crew the red, red cock, And up and crew the gray; The eldest to the youngest said, ‘Tis time we were away.’
The cock he hadna crawd but once, And clapped his wings at a’, When the youngest to the eldest said, ‘Brother, we must awa.’
‘The cock doth craw, the day doth daw, The channerin’ worm doth chide; Gin we be mist out o’ our place, A sair pair we maun bide.’
‘Fare ye weel, my mother dear! Fareweel to barn and byre! And fare ye weel, the bonny lass That kindles my mother’s fire!’