A Noble Riddle Wisely Expounded

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is from a broadside of the seventeenth century from the press of Coles, Vere, Wright, and Clarke, now preserved in the Rawlinson collection in the Bodleian Library.


The Story of this ballad is one of the common class of riddle-ballads. Some of these riddles are found also in Captain Wedderburn.

It is not clear why in 18.1 'poyson is greener than the grass.' In Captain Wedderburn (17.1) it is 'death' that is greener than the grass, which is equally inexplicable. A variant of the latter gives 'virgus' [= verjuice], a kind of vinegar, which obviously means 'green juice.' It is possible that this might come to be regarded as a synonym for 'poyson'; and the next step is to substitute 'death' for 'poyson.'


A NOBLE RIDDLE WISELY EXPOUNDED

1.
There was a lady of the North Country,
Lay the bent to the bonny broom
And she had lovely daughters three.
Fa la la la, fa la la la ra re

2.
There was a knight of noble worth
Which also lived in the North.

3.
The knight, of courage stout and brave,
A wife he did desire to have.

4.
He knocked at the ladie's gate
One evening when it was late.

5.
The eldest sister let him in,
And pin'd the door with a silver pin.

6.
The second sister she made his bed,
And laid soft pillows under his head.

7.
The youngest daughter that same night,
She went to bed with this young knight.

8.
And in the morning, when it was day,
These words unto him she did say:

9.
'Now you have had your will,' quoth she,
'I pray, sir knight, will you marry me?'

10.
The young brave knight to her replyed,
'Thy suit, fair maid, shall not be deny'd:

11.
'If thou canst answer me questions three,
This very day will I marry thee.'

12.
'Kind sir, in love, O then,' quoth she,
'Tell me what your three questions be.'

13.
'O what is longer than the way,
Or what is deeper than the sea?

14.
'Or what is louder than the horn,
Or what is sharper than a thorn?

15.
'Or what is greener than the grass,
Or what is worse than a woman was?'

16.
'O love is longer than the way,
And hell is deeper than the sea.

17.
'And thunder is louder than the horn,
And hunger is sharper than a thorn.

18.
'And poyson is greener than the grass,
And the Devil is worse than woman was.'

19.
When she these questions answered had,
The knight became exceeding glad.

20.
And having truly try'd her wit,
He much commended her for it.

21.
And after, as it is verifi'd,
He made of her his lovely bride.

22.
So now, fair maidens all, adieu,
This song I dedicate to you.

23.
I wish that you may constant prove
Vnto the man that you do love.

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