Author Topic: Add: Three little Babes [Wife of Usher's Well]


Posted - 22 Feb 03 - 02:30 pm

Three little Babes [Wife of Usher's Well]

A woman lived in a far country,
And she had children three;
She sent 'em away to a far-off town
For to learn their grammary.

They hadn't been gone but a week or two,
In fact it was not three,
Till death came a-walking o'er the land
And took her babes away.

It being close to old Christmas time
And the nights being long and cold,
She dreampt she saw her three little babes
Come a-running down the hall.

"Lay my table white, lay my table fair
For my three little babes to dine."
"Oh mother, we can eat none of your bread,
Neither can we drink your wine.

"We cannopt sleep on your golden sheets.
Neither can eat your bread and wine,
For tomorrow morn at eight o'clock
With our Saviour we must dine.

"On a frozen pillow we must sleep
With the cold clods at our feet.
ANd the tears that you will shed for us
Will wet our winding sheet"

Source: Randolph V,1982, Ozark Folksongs, University of Illinois


Vance Randolph wrote:

This is an abbreviated version of "The Wife of Usher's Well" (Child 79). For American references, see Campbell and Sharp, no 19; Kittredge (1917), 305; Pound (1922), 18; Cox (1925), 888 and A.K. Davis (1929), 278-88

Expanding these references, we have:
Campbell and Sharp, English Folk songs from the Appalachians, New York and London: G.P. Putnam's sons, 1917

Kittredge (1917), Ballads and Songs, Journal of American Folklore, 30 (July-Sept, 1917)

Pound (1922), American Ballads and Songs, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922

Cox, John Harrison, Folk Songs of the South, 1925, Rpt. Hatboro, Pa.: Folklore Associates, 1963

Davis, Arthr Kyle, Jr. Traditional Ballads of Virginia, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1929

Resuming Randolphs notes:

Sung by May Kennedy McCord, Springfield, Mo., Oct 21, 1941. Learned about 1900 in Galena, Mo. Mrs McCord says that the singers in Galena always called it "A woman lived in a far country,"

Database entry is here.

masato sakurai

Posted - 22 Feb 03 - 02:47 pm

There're four versions at the Max Hunter Folk Song Collection:

Child No. 79: The Wife of Usher's Well
Hunter #30 The Woman That Lived in the West Countree - As sung by Fred High in High, Arkansas on February 12, 1958
Hunter #270 The Lady From the North Country - As sung by Allie Long Parker, Eureka Springs, Arkansas on November 5, 1958
Hunter #585 Lady Gay - As sung by Almeda Riddle, Heber Springs, Arkansas on October 23, 1965
Hunter #768 Three Little Babes - As sung by Ollie Gilbert, Mountain View, Arkansas on May 26, 1969

One version at the Wolf Folklore Collection:

Sung by: Mrs. Mattie James; Recorded in Miller, AR, 6/25/53

masato sakurai

Posted - 23 Feb 03 - 02:05 am

Bronson writes in The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads, vol. II (p. 246):
The ballad appears to have all but died out in Scotland and England, and, so far as I know, has not been recorded in Ireland. The one musical record which antedates the opening of the present [i.e., the 20th] century--a Scottish variant printed in 1833 [Sir Walter Scott's version]--has no perceptible relation with later records; nor have the two recorded English variants (themselves representing a distinct line) any resemblance to the Scottish or to the American branches.
According to W.K. McNeil (in notes to "Mary Hebrew" in Southern Folk Ballads, vol. II, p. 135):
American versions generally differ from British ones in the following ways: (1) the revenants are children, frequently girls, rather than grown boys (2) the curisng of the waters episode is omitted, but the mother usually prays for the return of her children; (3) the ghosts refuse earthly pleasures in many cases because the Savior stands yonder; (4) the ghosts are not recalled at the crowing of the cocks; (5) the children leave home to learn their grammarie; and (6) the folk belief that tears for the dead wet the winding sheets and disturb the peace is present. "Grammarie" is an obsolete word meaning either general knowledge or magic. The ghostly nature of the children is frequently assumed without actually being stated.

Edited By masato sakurai - 23/02/2003 02:11:02

masato sakurai

Posted - 23 Feb 03 - 01:44 pm

The six points above were listed originally by H.M. Belden in his Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society (University of Missouri Press, 1940, 1955, pp. 55-56):

1. The revenants are children (most often 'babes') not the 'stalwart sons' of Child A.
2. There is no cursing of the waters; but the mother often prays for the return of her babes.
3. The children decline earthly food and drink because 'yonder stands our Savior dear, to him we must resign.' And commonly, too, the splendor of the golden spread the mother lays upon their bed is rebuked as evidence of worldly pride.
4. The children are sent away at the beginning to 'learn their grammarye', a feature not found in Child A B C.
5. The recall of ghosts by cock-crow is either changed to the crowing of 'chickens' (except in BBM B*, which is Irish)--this looks like a case of American bowdlerizing--or is omitted altogether, the children refusing the fine bed their mother has prepared for them or simply waking one another at the proper time.
6. Use of the folk-belief that tears shed for the dead disturb their rest in the grave by wetting their winding-sheet. This is a not unfailing but a very common feature of the American texts and does not appear in Child A B C.

*Phillips Barry et al., British Ballads from Maine (Yale University Press, 1929), version B (pp. 450-51).

Edited By masato sakurai - 23/02/2003 13:50:22

Edited By masato sakurai - 23/02/2003 13:51:00


Posted - 29 Jul 12 - 05:03 am

This song was recorded by Joanna Newsom on the Milk-Eyed Mender in 2004.

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