Monday 25 October 2010

The Border Widow's Lament


A Scottish-English Border Ballad - Anon.


My love he built me a bonny bower,
And clad it a’ wi’ lilye flour
A brawer bower ye ne’er did see,
Than my true love he built for me.

There came a man, by middle day,
He spied his sport and went away;
And brought the king that very night,
Who brake my bower, and slew my knight.

He slew my knight, to me sae dear;
He slew my knight and poin’d his gear;
My servants all did life for flee,
And left me in extremitie.

I sew’d his sheet, making my mane,
I watch’d the corpse myself alane
I watch’d his body night and day;
No living creature came that way.

I took his body on my back,
And whiles I gaed and whiles I sat;
I digged a grave, and laid him in,
And happ’d him with the sod sae green.

But think not ye my heart was sair,
When I laid the moule on his yellow hair?
O think na ye my heart was wae
When I turn’d about, away to gae?

Nae living man I’ll love again,
Since that my lovely knight was slain,
Wi’ a lock of his yellow hair,
I’ll chain my heart for evermair.



Anon was one of the best of poets, better than any now alive and writing in English it seems.

This ballad poem is almost unbearably moving, each stanza contains a superb phrase or more than one.

Like the greatest ballads, and presumably as a consequence of being honed through oral transmission, there is no padding: the story is told with extraordinary concision and lack of elaboration, assembled mostly from traditional lines, I guess.

But I wonder where that remarkable section came from "I took his body on my back,/ And whiles I gaed and whiles I sat."

It sounds horribly like personal experience.


No comments: