Child's Ballads

Week 12: England - Assignments - Reading - Resources - Images

Fair Willie Drowned In Yarrow (Child 215)

Listening time: (3 minutes)

CHILD 215 versions A-H. To appreciate this ballad, pay careful attention to each and every detail that is included. It is an entire story told in a very few words, and it makes itself memorable with a few key details. To give you a sense of the dialect collect by Child, here are the opening lines of one of his other versions of the same song: Willy’s rare, and Willy’s fair, / And Willy’s wondrous bony, / And Willy heght to marry me, / Gin eer he marryd ony.


My Willie's rare and Willie's fair
And Willie's wonderous bonnie
My Willie has promised he'd marry with me
If he ever did marry with any

O, Sister dear, I've had this dream
And I fear it means sorrow
I dreamed I was pulling heather green
On th bonnie banks of the Yarrow

Sister dear, I tell your dream
An' it doth mean sorrow
You'll get letter -- rare it is in
Your lovers' drowned in th Yarrow

She searched for 'im up stream, searched for 'im down
With much distress an' sorrow
And found 'im where willows grew
On th bonnie banks of Yarrow

Her hair it being three quarters long
The color it was yellow
She tied it around his middle small
An' pulled 'im from th Yarrow

Last night my bed was made full wide
Tonight I'll make it narrow
No man shall ever sleep by my side
Since Willie's drowned in th yarrow

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • what plans did the lovers have for the future?
  • what sign did the woman receive that her lover was dead?
  • how did she pull his body from out of the water?

Source: From The Max Hunter Folksong Archive (weblink) and Lesley Nelson's Child Ballad website (weblink). See also Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882-1898). Weblink.

Modern Languages / Anthropology 3043: Folklore & Mythology. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:52 PM