Tuesday, November 20, 2007

May Colvin

I was reading an old flea market book of poetry the other night and came upon this old ballad


False Sir John a-wooing came
To a maid of beauty fair;
May Colvin was this lady's name,
Her father's only heir.

He woo'd her but, he woo'd her ben,
He woo'd her in the ha';
Until he got the lady's consent
To mount and ride awa'.

"Go fetch me some of your father's gold,
And some of your mother's fee,
And I'll carry you into the north land,
And there I'll marry thee."

She's gane to her father's coffers
Where all his money lay,
And she's taken the red, and she's left the white,
And so lightly she's tripp'd away.

She's gane to her father's stable
Where all the steeds did stand,
And she's taken the best, and she's left the warst
That was in her father's land.

She's mounted on a milk-white steed,
And he on a dapple-grey,
And on they rade to a lonesome part,
A rock beside the sea.

"Loup off the steed," says false Sir John,
"Your bridal bed you see;
Seven ladies I have drown'd here,
And the eighth one you shall be.

"Cast off, cast off your silks so fine
And lay them on a stone,
For they are too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.

"Cast off, cast off your silken stays,
For and your broider'd shoon,
For they are too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam.

"Cast off, cast off your Holland smock
That's border'd with the lawn,
For it is too fine and costly
To rot in the salt sea foam."

"O turn about, thou false Sir John,
And look to the leaf o' the tree;
For it never became a gentleman
A naked woman to see."

He turn'd himself straight round about
To look to the leaf o' the tree;
She's twined her arms about his waist
And thrown him into the sea.

"O hold a grip o' me, May Colvin,
For fear that I should drown;
I'll take you home to your father's gates
And safe I'll set you down."

"No help, no help, thou false Sir John,
No help, no pity thee!
For you lie not in a caulder bed
Than you thought to lay me."

She mounted on her milk-white steed,
And led the dapple-grey,
And she rode till she reach'd her father's gates,
At the breakin' o' the day.

Up then spake the pretty parrot,
"May Colvin, where have you been?
What has become o' false Sir John
That went with you yestreen?" –

"O hold your tongue, my pretty parrot!
Nor tell no tales o' me;
Your cage shall be made o' the beaten gold
And the spokes o' ivorie."

Up then spake her father dear,
In the bed-chamber where he lay:
"What ails the pretty parrot,
That prattles so long ere day?" –

"There came a cat to my cage, master,
I thought 't would have worried me,
And I was calling to May Colvin
To take the cat from me."

It's quite an old ballad and reminds me of the Bluebeard fairy tale. But this heroine is resourceful and clever and carries out her own rescue. Interesting.

A daylily has been named after May Colvin, too.