MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
Barbara Allen
Gerald Aylward NFLD 1 Tape 5 Track 6
Cape Broyle Audio:
Child Ballad / love tragedy Child 84 Musical notation available

It was early early in the spring
As the flowers they were budding
Young Jamie on his deathbed lay
For the love of Barbry Ellen

Slowly slowly as she went down
To the place where he was lying
She gently drew the curtains back
And she says, "Young man you're dying."

"A dying man I know I am
One kiss from you would cure me."
One kiss from me you will never more get
If your poor heart is breaking.''

"Don't you remember last Saturday night
All in that barroom drinking
Where you drank a health to all fair maids
And you slighted Barbry Ellen?"

"Yes I remember last Saturday night
All in that barroom drinking
When liquor and wine it had got my brain
And I slighted Barbry Ellen.''

"Now you go up to the foot of my bed
There is a basin standing
It's wet with tears that I've oftentimes shed
For the love of Barbry Ellen.''

"Now you go down to foot of my bed
There is a waistcoat hanging
There is my gold watch and my gold chain
Go take it Barbry Ellen."

He turned his back unto the wall
He turned his back upon her
Saying, "Here's adieu to all fair maids
And likewise Barbry Ellen."

She turned around for to go home
And her poor heart was breaking
And when she got one mile from town
She heard the death bell tolling

And every time that bell would toll
Hard-hearted Barbry Ellen
She looked to the east and she looked to the west
She saw the funeral coming

She begged his bearers to lay him down
Until she gazed upon him
Oh the more she gazed, oh the more she looked
Until she burst out crying

"Oh Father you go dig my grave
Go dig it long and narrow
Young Willie died for me today
And I'll die for him tomorrow."

They both were buried in the very same grave .

Young Willie was buried in the old church yard
And Ellen was buried beside him
Up from his grave there grew a rose
And up from hers a briar

It grew together in a true love's knot
In a true love's grave forever.

[Song is cut off as tape ends.]


Sources: Child ballad #84; Recorded by Gordon Pinsent for Arc (ACS 5027) in 1968; Taft 39;   Peacock 649; Henry 236; Roud 54.

History: The earliest reference to a performance of this ballad was in Samuel Pepys' diary of 1666. It has subsequently endured as the most widely known of the Child ballads.

Text notes: This song has been described as the story of "a spineless lover who gives up the ghost without a struggle, and of his spirited beloved who repents too late" (Bronson 1976: 221).   The image of the rose and the briar united over the graves of the couple has become part of its classic appeal.

Tune notes: Newfoundland tunes tend to be rare ones; Peacock collected at least five that are little known in other areas (Peacock 661). A wide range of tunes have been studied in Charles Seeger's "Versions and Variants of the Tunes of Barbara Allen" in Selected Reports in Ethnomusicology (1966), 120-67.

The Child ballads collected in Newfoundland often have rare tunes such as this one. This performance of Barbara Allen is predominantly in 5/4 time (with two measures that are "shortened"). The major (ionian) tune drops unexpectedly to the sixth degree of the scale in the first and third phrases.  

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