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Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Without no seam or fine needlework
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Between the salt water and the sea strand
And then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to plough it with a lamb's horn
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
And to sow it all o'er with one peppercorn
And then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
And to thrash it out with a bunch of heather
For once she was a true love of mine

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Source: Martin Carthy - A Guitar in Folk Music

This is the well known Martin Carthy version.

On the sleeve notes of his eponymous debut album (1965), Carthy noted:

Folklorists and students of plant mythology are well aware that certain herbs were held to have magical significance - that they were used by sorcerers in their spells and conversely as counter-spells by those that wished to outwit them. The herbs mentioned in the refrain of "Scarborough Fair" (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme) are all known to have been closely associated with death and also as charms against the evil eye. The characters in the "The Elfin Knight" (of which Scarboro' Fair is a version) are a demon and a maid. The demon sets impossible tasks and on the maid's replies depends whether she will fall into his clutches or not. Child believed that elf to be an interloper from another ballad ("Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" ) and that he should rightly be mortal, but as Ann Gilchrist points out "why the use of the herb refrain except as an indication of something more than mortal combat ?" Sir Walter Scott in his notes to Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border recalled hearing a ballad of "a fiend ... paying his addresses to a maid but being disconcerted by the holy herbs she wore in her bosom" and Lucy Broadwood goes as far as to suggest that the refrain might be the survival of an incantation against such a suitor.

Further notes from 'The Carthy Chronicles' CD Boxed Set (2001):

"The source version of the song can be found in Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger's folksong collection The Singing Island. Although Martin's version closely resembles one collected in Whitby by Frank Kitson in the late 19th century, the song is clearly much more ancient than that. It presumably predates 1790 when the last Scarborough Fair took place. There has been much conjecture as to [the refrain's] true meaning. The refrain [may be] a spell in itself - "Parsel, sage, rose marry in time."

Roud: 12 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Child: 2

Related Songs:  Acre of Land (My father had an) (thematic) Scarborough Fair (Singing Together version) (thematic) The Lovers' Tasks (thematic)

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