A little friar walk'd on the strand,
(Hey 'twas in the May!),
His dearest one holding by the hand,
Hey, 'twas in the May so gay,
(Hey, 'twas in the May!
And so gay,
Then were they,
And so gay,
Then were they!)
abc | midi | pdf
Source: Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, Dec 1936
This Dutch song is given in English, having been collected by Anne G. Gilchrist from Miss Alice Brown, c 1900, "who lived as a child in Holland."
Anne Gilchrist wrote:
"GOOD KING WENCESLAS" is popularly supposed to be, and often printed as an "Old English Carol" Some time ago Messrs. Novello, in answer to an enquiry, informed me that "Good King Wenceslas" was first published by them in Carols for Christmas Tide [of which there were twelve] set to ancient melodies by the Rev. T. Helmore, M.A., the words principally in imitation of the original by the Rev. J. M. Neale, D.D. .
"Good King Wenceslas" was certainly not in imitation of the original. The tune was taken from an ancient Swedish collection of Latin hymns and school-songs, the Piae Cantiones, 1582, compiled by Theodoric Petri, and the "Wenceslas" words were written to it by Dr. Neale. But No. LII of the Piae Cantiones" is a spring carol of four verses whose first stanza runs :
Tempus adest floridum, surgent namque flores,
Vernalis in omnibus imitantur mores.
Hoc quod frigus laeserat reparant colores,
Cernimus hoc fieri per multos labores.
A very free English rendering "Spring has now unwrapped her flowers" is given. in the Oxford Book of Carols. Dr. Neale, having Christmas-tide in view, evidently preferred "frigus" to "flores," and turned to a saintly Bohemian King for a seasonable legend embedded in snow. But there seems good reason to think that the Swedish tune had already been taken from a secular May-song of the sixteenth century or earlier, which has come down in Holland in the form of the singing-game "Het Patertje" (The Little Friar), of which Dr. D. J. Van der Ven gives the tune and a verse in his "Dutch Traditional Dances," etc., in the International Festival Number (1935) of this Journal. This singing-game dramatizes the love-making of a "little friar" and a "holy nun," in a naughty fashion still surviving in the children's games and songs of France and other mainly Catholic countries, and even in England. One verse of the game tells the friar to spread his black cowl on the ground for his "holy nun" to step on it, and the usual kiss, which may if wished be repeated "six times," follows.
But the special interest lies in the recurring refrain "Hei, 'twas in de Mei!" In the version obtained a good many years ago from Holland, a longer refrain, literally "And so blithe were they, And so blithe were they!" ends each verse. Now if the tune of "Good King Wenceslas" (which is unaltered from that of the Latin carol) be compared with the melody of this old May-game the resemblance is at once apparant, the second, fourth, and sixth lines of "Wenceslas" corresponding to the "Hei! 'twas in de Mei!" refrain, with a longer chorus for the eighth line. Neither the (probably) monkish writer of the spiritualized spring carol nor Dr. Neale has paid any attention whatever to the little refrain so plainly suggested by the tune - the first-named, no doubt deliberately, discarding any reference to pagan May-day custom (though he rhymes his second, fourth, sixth, and eighth, i.e. the refrain, lines, all on "ores," to match each other)?and the second adaptor being by this time unaware of any sort of refrain at all belonging to the carol in its original form.