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I must be going, no longer staying
The burning Thames I have to cross
Oh, I must be guided without a stumble
Into the arms of my dear lass

When he came to his true love's window
He knelt down gently on a stone
And it's through a pane he whispered slowly
My dear girl, are you alone?

She rose her head from her down-soft pillow
And snowy were her milk-white breasts
Saying: 'Who's there, who's there at my bedroom window
Disturbing me from my long night's rest?

Oh, I'm your love and don't discover
I pray you rise, love, and let me in
For I am fatigued from my long night's journey
Besides, I am wet into the skin

Now this young girl rose and put on her clothing
She quickly let her own true love in
Oh, they kissed, shook hands, and embraced together
Till that long night was near an end

O Willie dear, O dearest Willie,
Where is that colour you'd some time ago?
O Mary dear, the clay has changed me
I'm but the ghost of your Willie O

Then O cock, O cock, O handsome cockerel
I pray you not crow until it is day
For your wings I'll make of the very first beaten gold
And your comb I'll make of the silver grey

But the cock it crew, and it crew so fully
It crew three hours before it was day
And before it was day, my love had to go away
Not by the light of the moon or the light of day

Then it's Willie dear, O dearest Willie
Whenever shall I see you again?
When the fish they fly, love, and the sea runs dry, love
And the rocks they melt in the heat of the sun

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Source: The Penguin book of English Folk Songs

Sung by Mrs. Cecilia Costello, Birmingham, 1951

Notes from the Penguin book:
A number of lyrical folk songs present the situation of two lovers disturbed by the early crowing of a cock. Perhaps the origin of these songs is found in this supernatural ballad of the lover returned from the dead. The idea that such revenants must go again 'from the world of pity to the world without pity' when the birds cry at dawn is an ancient folklore notion that has spread from the Orient, through the Balkans, as far west as Ireland. Perhaps it is suprising to find such a rare ballad surviving as late as 1951, where it was recorded from an English-born singer of Irish descent. The Grey Cock appears as No. 248 in Child's collection, but not in as good shape as here.

Mrs. Costello's set was first printed in The Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol.VII no.2, 1953. It was recorded from her by Patrick Shuldham Shaw and Marie Slocombe.

The Grey Cock family is quite large and widespread in the usual countries. Most traditional forms contain no supernatural elements, however, being normal "night-visiting" songs. Some have argued that this is because the supernatural aspect has dropped off over time, but there is also a strong argument that -particularly since the discovery of Mrs. Costello's version- it has simply been assumed that the revenant sub-plot belongs to the song, whereas it may equally well be an inadvertent borrowing from Sweet William's Ghost or something similar. Hugh Shields (who has recorded a number of Grey Cock variants from tradition in Ireland) argues that point very convincingly in his paper The Grey Cock: Dawn Song or Revenant Ballad? (Ballad Studies, ed. Emily B. Lyle, 1976).

Roud: 179 (Search Roud index at VWML) Take Six
Child: 248

Related Songs:  Night Visit Song (thematic)

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