Traditional folk songs and heartbreak

 THIS song more or less sums up what I am going to write about

All through history men have broken women’s hearts and disrespected them (and yes I am sure it has happened the other way round too and no, I am definitely NOT a feminist)

But this blogpost covers folk songs and heartbreak

The song above, Let No Man Steal Your Thyme, is poignant – a warning to young ladies to not give away their virginity lightly (“thyme” being a metaphor here of course)

Another word for this used in the olden days was “maidenhead”

I rather like this archaic word and its use in the song Lovely Joan.  Joan is chatted up by a young man who offers her a bribe for her “maidenhead”

A fine young man it was indeed
Mounted on his milk-white steed
He rode, he rode, himself all alone
Until he came to lovely Joan

“Good morning to you, my pretty little maid”
“And twice good morning, sir,” she said
He gave her the wink, she rolled her eyes
Said he to himself, “I’ll be there by and by”

In this case the outcome of the song is not heartbreak at all but some cheeky revenge by the girl who tricks the “fine young man…. on his milk white steed”.  He ends up rather cross

He’s taken off his ring of gold
“My pretty little miss, do this behold
I’d freely give it for your maidenhead”
Her cheeks, they blushed like roses red

But back to the heartache… (Joan kind of won there – I doubt there was any heartbreak there just frustration on part of the man who go tricked)

But as he made for the pooks of hay
She leapt on his horse and tore away
He called, he called, but all in vain
Young Joan, she never looked back again

                    *****(footnnote – the melody from Lovely Joan was used in Vaughn Williams 

Fantasia on Greensleeves

 appears at 1 min 40 into this piece

Sad, sad, sad 😞

One Morning in May is possibly one of the saddest songs I have ever sung.  It’s about a young man proving “his deceit” saying “adieu pretty fair maid we shall never more meet” as he’s off round the world

I love this version by Niamh Parsons best

My heart goes out to the poor slighted girl

It actually made me really sad singing it that day or perhaps I was already in a melancholy state, even though it was such a beautiful day in May

On the other hand, we have Barbara Allen which is a song about sadness and death where the lady rejects the man, and he feels so forsaken that he dies.  Mutual sadness and death there

Of course, there are so many songs of death – lovers going away to war and possibly never coming back like Lowlands Away and Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

But here I am focussing on heartbreak….

In The Snow it melts the Soonest “when a young man tells me that me face, he’d soon forget”.  The song talks of parting and not being together and all the pain that that brings. 

“Oh the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing
And the corn it ripens fastest when the frosts are setting in
And when a young man tells me that my face he’ll soon forget
Before we part, I’d bet a crown, he’d be fain to follow it yet”

A foolish young maid built “a bower in (her) breast” for her love in My Bonny Boy 

“I once loved a boy and a bonny, bonny boy

Who would come and would go at request.

And this handsome young boy was my pride and my joy,

And I built him a bower in my breast”

until she spied him with another girl:

“Well, up the long alley and down the green valley,

Like one that was troubled in mind

I hollered and I whooped and I played upon my flute,

But no bonny boy could I find. 

The trouble, and sad thing, about this song is that the girl has such low self-esteem that despite what he has done she says she will still “go with him”

“Now, the girl who’s the joy of my own bonny boy

Let her make of him all that she can.And whether he loves me or whether he don’t,

I will go with that boy now and then.”

I learnt it from a recording by Anne Briggs

but here is an amazingly powerful, and rather unusual, version from an Irish singer 

Oh gosh I could write pages and pages of this stuff.  I promise this is the last one now!

The Bold Grenadier as featured on the classic film Far From the Madding Crowd

‘Tis rather sad that the “fair maid” whose “beauty shone clear” 

asked the “soldier, a bold grenadier” to marry her but he refused.  To be fair they probably had only just met and he said no because he already had a wife.  He perhaps gives her false hope in the first place by asking “O where are you going my pretty lady?

Oh, but I can’t end without just sharing “Bushes and Briars” – it broke my heart to sing this one.

“Sometimes I am uneasy and troubled in my mind….”

She is waiting for her love to come to her, she has been waiting a long time.   She often thinks she will just go and tell him what is on her mind, but she just knows he will never bother with her again if she does 

“If I show to him my boldness he will never see me again”

Such is the nature of many men unfortunately

Here are my versions of some of the songs mentioned in this blog:

Barbara Allen

The snow it melts the soonest

My Bonny Boy


One Morning in May

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