This poem was communicated to me by Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, Esq. jun. of Hoddom, as written down, from tradition, by a lady. It is a singular circumstance, that it should coincide so very nearly with the ancient dirge, called The Three Ravens, published by Mr Ritson, in his Ancient Songs; and that, at the same time, there should exist such a difference, as to make the one appear rather a counterpart than copy of the other. In order to enable the curious reader to contrast these two singular poems, and to form a judgment which may be the original, I take the liberty of copying the English ballad from Mr Ritson’s Collection, omitting only the burden and repetition of the first line. The learned editor states it to be given “From Ravencroft’s Metismata. Musical phansies, fitting the cittie and country, humours to 3, 4, and 5 voyces, London, 1611, 4to. It will be obvious (continues Mr Ritson) that this ballad is much older, not only than the date of the book, but most of the other pieces contained in it.” The music is given with the words, and is adapted to four voices:
There were three rauens sat on a tre,
They were as blacke as they might be:
The one of them said to his mate,
“Where shall we our breakfast take?”
“Downe in yonder greene field,
“There lies a knight slain under his shield;
“His hounds they lie downe at his feete,
“So well they their master keepe;
“His haukes they flie so eagerly,
“There’s no fowle dare come him nie.
“Down there comes a fallow doe,
“As great with yong as she might goe,
“She lift up his bloudy hed,
“And kist his wounds that were so red.
“She got him up upon her backe,
“And carried him to earthen lake.
“She buried him before the prime,
“She was dead her selfe ere euen song time.
“God send euery gentleman,
“Such haukes, such houndes, and such a leman.
Ancient Songs, 1792, p. 155.
I have seen a copy of this dirge much modernized.
As I was walking all alane,
I heard twa corbies making a mane;
The tane unto the t’other say,
“Where sall we gang and dine to-day?”
“In behint yon auld fail272 dyke,
“I wot there lies a new slain knight;
“And nae body kens that he lies there,
“But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.
“His hound is to the hunting gane,
“His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,
“His lady’s ta’en another mate,
“So we may mak our dinner sweet.
“Ye’ll sit on his white hause bane,
“And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een:
“Wi’ ae lock o’ his gowden hair,
“We’ll theek273 our nest when it grows bare.
“Mony a one for him makes mane,
“But nane sall ken whare he is gane:
“O’er his white banes, when they are bare,
“The wind sall blaw for evermair.”
272 Fail— Turf.]
273 Theek— Thatch.]
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00