Folk Music in The United States


Home Main Menu | Singing & playing Contents Page | <Previous Next> Search Voucher Codes

Share page  Visit Us On FB

The British Tradition                                                               41

by swimming under it and boring holes in the hull. His captain, who has oflFered him great rewards in advance, now refuses to let him come aboard again, and the cabin-boy drowns. In some versions, however, the cabin-boy is allowed to return on board and then marries the captain's daughter despite parental objections. In "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter," also knovrai in America as "Pretty Polly," a man murders his fiancee as they are out for a stroll and puts her in a grave which he has already prepared.

Sometimes the diflPerences between the English and the American versions are considerable and reflect some essential traits of the two cultures.' In the British version of "The House Carpenter," a man leaves his fiancee to go to sea, and drowns. His ghost returns years later and persuades the girl, who by now has married a house carpenter, to leave her husband and child and elope with him. At sea, when she begins to weep for her child, the demon in anger destroys the ship. But in most American versions, the supernatural elements are eliminated: the man simply returns from sea, finds his fiancee married, persuades her to go with him, and their ship sinks from ordinary causes. In "Sir Hugh," the basis of the plot is a medieval superstition dealing with the alleged killing of gentile children by Jews. A small boy is enticed into the Jew's garden' and is murdered by the Jew's daughter. It is interesting that this superstition has disappeared in some versions, evidently because it meant nothing to the singers and listeners, and the Jew's daughter became the "duke's daughter."

Many British ballads also have happy endings. Lord Bateman, for instance, is rescued from prison by a Turkish lady, who finds him seven years later and marries him. In "The Gypsy Laddie," a woman leaves her aristocrat husband and elopes witih a gypsy. The husband tries to persuade her to return, but she is adamant and presumably finds happiness in her new life. I suppose it is a matter of opinion whether this ballad is comic or tragic, depending on whose side one takes.

There are also some genuine humorous British ballads. In "The Wife Wrapped in Wether's Skin," a man who does not want to beat his shrewish wife finds a solution by putting his sheep skin on her and beating that. In "The Farmer's Curst Wife," the wife

Previous Contents Next