The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, by Walter Scott

Clerk Saunders.

Never Before Published.

This romantic ballad is taken from Mr Herd’s MSS., with several corrections from a shorter and more imperfect copy, in the same volume, and one or two conjectural emendations in the arrangement of the stanzas. The resemblance of the conclusion to the ballad, beginning, “There came a ghost to Margaret’s door,” will strike every reader. — The tale is uncommonly wild and beautiful, and apparently very ancient. The custom of the passing bell is still kept up in many villages of Scotland. The sexton goes through the town, ringing a small bell, and announcing the death of the departed, and the time of the funeral. — The three concluding verses have been recovered since the first edition of this work; and I am informed by the reciter, that it was usual to separate from the rest, that part of the ballad which follows the death of the lovers, as belonging to another story. For this, however, there seems no necessity, as other authorities give the whole as a complete tale.

Clerk Saunders.

Never Before Published.

Clerk Saunders and may Margaret

Walked ower yon garden green;

And sad and heavy was the love

That fell thir twa between.

“A bed, a bed,” Clerk Saunders said,

“A bed for you and me!”

“Fye na, fye na,” said may Margaret,

“Till anes we married be.

“For in may come my seven bauld brothers,

“Wi’ torches burning bright;

“They’ll say —‘We hae but ae sister,

“And behold she’s wi’ a knight!’

“Then take the sword frae my scabbard,

“And slowly lift the pin;

“And you may swear, and safe your aith,

“Ye never let Clerk Saunders in.

“And take a napkin in your hand,

“And tie up baith your bonny een;

“And you may swear, and safe your aith,

“Ye saw me na since late yestreen.”

It was about the midnight hour,

When they asleep were laid,

When in and came her seven brothers,

Wi’ torches burning red.

When in and came her seven brothers,

Wi’ torches shining bright;

They said, “We hae but ae sister,

“And behold her lying with a knight!”

Then out and spake the first o’ them,

“I bear the sword shall gar him die!”

And out and spake the second o’ them,

“His father has nae mair than he!”

And out and spake the third o’ them,

“I wot that they are lovers dear!”

And out and spake the fourth o’ them,

“They hae been in love this mony a year!”

Then out and spake the fifth o’ them,

“It were great sin true love to twain!”

And out and spake the sixth o’ them,

“It were shame to slay a sleeping man!”

Then up and gat the seventh o’ them,

And never a word spake he;

But he has striped324 his bright brown brand

Out through Clerk Saunders’ fair bodye.

Clerk Saunders he started, and Margaret she turned

Into his arms as asleep she lay;

And sad and silent was the night

That was atween thir twae.

And they lay still and sleeped sound,

Until the day began to daw;

And kindly to him she did say,

“It is time, true love, you were awa’.”

But he lay still, and sleeped sound,

Albeit the sun began to sheen;

She looked atween her and the wa’,

And dull and drowsie were his een.

Then in and came her father dear,

Said —“Let a’ your mourning be:

“I’ll carry the dead corpse to the clay,

“And I’ll come back and comfort thee.”

“Comfort weel your seven sons;

“For comforted will I never be:

“I ween ’twas neither knave nor lown

“Was in the bower last night wi’ me.”

The clinking bell gaed through the town,

To carry the dead corse to the clay;

And Clerk Saunders stood at may Margaret’s window,

I wot, an hour before the day.

“Are ye sleeping, Margaret?” he says,

“Or are ye waking presentlie?

“Give me my faith and troth again,

“I wot, true love, I gied to thee.”

“Your faith and troth ye sall never get,

“Nor our true love sall never twin,

“Until ye come within my bower,

“And kiss me cheik and chin.”

“My mouth it is full cold, Margaret,

“It has the smell, now, of the ground;

“And if I kiss thy comely mouth,

“Thy days of life will not be lang.

“O, cocks are crowing a merry midnight,

“I wot the wild fowls are boding day;

“Give me my faith and troth again,

“And let me fare me on my way.”

“Thy faith and troth thou sall na get,

“And our true love sall never twin,

“Until ye tell what comes of women,

“I wot, who die in strong traivelling?”325

“Their beds are made in the heavens high,

“Down at the foot of our good lord’s knee,

“Weel set about wi’ gillyflowers:

“I wot sweet company for to see.

“O cocks are crowing a merry mid-night,

“I wot the wild fowl are boding day;

“The psalms of heaven will soon be sung,

“And I, ere now, will be missed away.”

Then she has ta’en a crystal wand,

And she has stroken her troth thereon;

She has given it him out at the shot-window,

Wi’ mony a sad sigh, and heavy groan.

“I thank ye, Marg’ret; I thank ye, Marg’ret;

“And aye I thank ye heartilie;

“Gin ever the dead come for the quick,

“Be sure, Marg’ret, I’ll come for thee.”

Its hosen and shoon, and gown alone,

She climbed the wall, and followed him,

Until she came to the green forest,

And there she lost the sight o’ him.

“Is there ony room at your head, Saunders?

“Is there ony room at your feet?

“Or ony room at your side, Saunders,

“Where fain, fain, I wad sleep?”

“There’s nae room at my head, Marg’ret,

“There’s nae room at my feet;

“My bed it is full lowly now:

“Amang the hungry worms I sleep.

“Cauld mould is my covering now,

“But and my winding-sheet;

“The dew it falls nae sooner down,

“Than my resting-place is weet.

“But plait a wand o’ bonnie birk,

“And lay it on my breast;

“And shed a tear upon my grave,

“And wish my saul gude rest.

“And fair Marg’ret, and rare Marg’ret,

“And Marg’ret o’ veritie,

“Gin ere ye love another man,

“Ne’er love him as ye did me.”

Then up and crew the milk-white cock,

And up and crew the gray;

Her lover vanish’d in the air,

And she gaed weeping away.

324 Striped— Thrust.]

325 Traivelling— Child-birth.]

Notes on Clerk Saunders.

Weel set about wi’ gillyflowers.— P. 394. v. 5.

From whatever source the popular ideas of heaven be derived, the mention of gillyflowers is not uncommon. Thus, in the Dead Men’s Song —

The fields about this city faire

Were all with roses set;

Gillyflowers, and carnations faire,

Which canker could not fret.

RITSON’S Ancient Songs, p. 288.

The description, given in the legend of Sir Owain, of the terrestrial paradise, at which the blessed arrive, after passing through purgatory, omits gillyflowers, though it mentions many others. As the passage is curious, and the legend has never been published, many persons may not be displeased to see it extracted —

Fair were her erbers with flowres,

Rose and lili divers colours,

Primrol and parvink;

Mint, feverfoy, and eglenterre

Colombin, and mo ther wer

Than ani man mai bithenke.

It berth erbes of other maner,

Than ani in erth groweth here,

Tho that is lest of priis;

Evermore thai grene springeth,

For winter no somer it no clingeth,

And sweeter than licorice.

But plait a wand o’ bonnie birk, &c. — P. 396. v. 3.

The custom of binding the new-laid sod of the church-yard with osiers, or other saplings, prevailed both in England and Scotland, and served to protect the turf from injury by cattle, or otherwise. It is alluded to by Gay, in the What d’ye call it

Stay, let me pledge, ’tis my last earthly liquor,

When I am dead you’ll bind my grave with wicker.

In the Shepherd’s Week, the same custom is alluded to, and the cause explained:—

With wicker rods we fenced her tomb around,

To ward, from man and beast, the hallowed ground,

Lest her new grave the parson’s cattle raze,

For both his horse and cow the church-yard graze.

Fifth Pastoral.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00