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There was an old woman in our town,
In our town did dwell,
And she loved her old husband dearly,
But another man twice as well.

Sing whip she la-rey, tid-i-foo la-rey,
Whip she la-rey O.

Now she went and got six marrow-bones
And she made him suck them all,
And that made the old man blind
Till he couldn't see any at all.

The old man said he'd drown himself
If he could find the way.
The old woman quickly answered:
O I'll show you the way.

She led him to the water
And took him to the brim.
And he said he'd drown himself
If she would push him in.

The old woman she went to give a run
To push the old man in,
And he popped to the one side,
And the woman went tumbling in.

She plunged about in the water
A-thinking she could swim
But the old man went and got a puthering prop
And he propped her further in.

So now my song is ended,
You may pen it down in ink,
I won't bother my head to sing any more
If you don't give me some drink.

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Source: Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Dec 1959

Collected by Cecil Sharp from Thomas Taylor, Ross Workhouse, 10 Sep 1921.

The Journal entry reads:

Cecil Sharp noted only one other version of this song in England, but six in the Appalachian Mountains (see English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians, I, 348) - M. K.

A very widely known song that, for some reason, has rarely found its way into printed collections in Britain. It is known in Scotland as 'The Wily Auld Carle' (see Gavin Grieg, Folk-Song of the North East, XIII), or 'The Wife of Kelso'. In Ireland it is sometimes called 'The Old Woman of Wexford' (some English versions, perhaps by adoption from Ireland, give Oxford as her dwelling-place). Herbert Hughes prints a version called 'Tigaree Torum Orum' in Irish Country Songs, Vol. IV. He says the song 'must have come to us from England generations ago, in spite of the Irish tang that is an essential ingredient'. H. M. Belden (Ballads and Songs collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society, 1955) notes two forms of the song in America - an older one with the 'marrowbones' motif, and a more recent version spread by the 19th-century stage performers, from which the marrowbones are missing (insteads the wife ties the husband's hands; he tricks her; she drowns; he protests that he is unable to help because his hands are tied). The marrowbone-less version is often known by its stage-name, 'Johnny Sands'. In Grieg's version the marrowbones have become 'marble balls'.

Some sets of the song make the 'marrowbones' joke clearer. The wife goes to a doctor and asks him to prescribe something that will make her husband blind. She is advised to boil some marrowbones, "and when he's sucked all the marrow out, he won't see any more". The tune of the present version is clearly Irish - A. L. L.

Roud: 183 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six

Related Songs:  Marrowbones (thematic)

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