Author Topic: Add: The False Knight on the Road


Posted - 13 Mar 04 - 03:48 pm

"O whare are ye gaun?"
Quo the fause knicht upon the road:
"I'm gaun to the scule."
Quo the wee boy, and still he stood.

Source: Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Dec 1958


This is taken from a review written by Wm. Montgomerie of the book "English and Scottish Ballads" by Robert Graves, London, Heinemann, 1957.

I quote the review in full:

After a careful classification of the contents of this anthology, and after reading Mr Graves's introduction and notes several times, I feel that the reader of this review will learn more about this book by a detailed analysis of the first stanza of the first ballad printed in it. Mr Graves calls it 'The False Knight on the Road'. which is not quite correct. Firstly I print this first stanza as written down by William Motherwell, addinf the tune to which Miss M. Macmath sang it:

(tune as quoted in folkinfo database)

Mr Graves prints this first stanza thus:

'O where are you going?'
Quoth the false knight on the road,
'I'm going to the school'.
Quoth the wee boy, and still he stood

Mr Graves knows that the ballads were sung. He is not aware that they are still sung. I could take him a few miles from where I am writing this and introduce him to several ballad singers. An editor of ballads in the 20th century must have the fact clear in his mind that ballads are songs even if. as in this case, he is making an anthology of ballad verse. Having detached the verse from the music, he alters the words to something which does not have any music in the rhythm. But it is the music in the rhythm which gives the ballad stanza its unique quality, seldom captured in imitation ballad verse not written to music. Also 'whare' becomes 'where', 'gaun' becomes 'going', 'quo' becomes 'quoth' and 'scule' becomes 'school'. All these changes, made by Mr Graves, are away from Scottish song to English verse from which the poetry has evaporated.

This reference to language brings us to another important point in the language of folk song, especially if the song is in dialect at this one is. After music, dialect is the second element in a ballad which gives it uniqueness in time and place. Mr Graves translates the verse with results that show all the weaknesses of verse translation. "The Fause Knicht upon the Road" which began as a folk song has become an imitation ballad, and the imitation ballad, with very few exceptions, has been one of the least rewarding types of verse.

Mr Graves may be interested in the fact that the peat the small boy carried is for the classroom fire, and is his school fee for the day. By folk tradition, his answers to the Devil keep him from the destruction that would follow if he failed to answer.

Turning to the other ballads, nine of them (Nos 12, 13, 24, 30, 32, 35, 36, 37 and 38) are not ballds by definition of modern authorities on the subject. With these nine exceptions, this book is an anthology of traditional ballads, but in the Introduction nearly every kind of folk song is called a ballad and on page xv are two four-line ballds, whatever they are. Actually, they are folk rhymes, and folk rhymes are not ballads.


Posted - 13 Mar 04 - 03:54 pm

I don't think William Montgomerie was over-impressed with Robert Graves book, somehow!

I don't think many people would take as strong a line against removing dialect from songs these days, but I think it is still a valid discussion point. I would want to distinguish between what was published (which I would like to be as close to whatever was collected as possible) and what I choose to sing, which is generally modernised without dialect. However, I do retain the dialect when singing where I feel it appropriate for the rhythm or rhyming of the song.

I do agree with his stand on balladry, though. While classifying songs as ballads or not-ballads can obviously be splitting hairs sometimes, calling everything a ballad simply makes the term irrelevant.

Edited By dmcg - 13-Mar-2004 03:57:52 PM

Jon Freeman

Posted - 13 Mar 04 - 04:00 pm

We have several "False Knights" as part of the Bronson set we once tried to work on. They can be found here



Posted - 13 Mar 04 - 04:09 pm

So that's where they are; I did database searches and nothing appeared, so I put this in. In any case, since it is so clearly just a fragment of the ballad, I wondered about posting this at all. On balance, I thought the review was interesting enough in its own right to justify it.

I have added a link to the Bronson sets to the database entry. The Macmath version is number 8 in the Bronson set.

Edited By dmcg - 13-Mar-2004 04:14:32 PM

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