'It is silly sooth,
And dallies with the innocence of love,
Like the old age.'
--Twelfth Night, II. 4.
The Text.--This ballad, concluding a small class of three--Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, and Fair Margaret and Sweet William being the other two--is distinguished by the fact that the lady dies of hope deferred. It is a foolish ballad, at the opposite pole to Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, and is pre-eminently one of the class meant only to be sung, with an effective burden. The text given here, therefore, is that of a broadside of the year 1846.
The Story in outline is extremely popular in German and Scandinavian literature. Of the former the commonest is Der Ritter und die Maid, also found north of Germany; twenty-six different versions in all, in some of which lilies spring from the grave. In a Swedish ballad a linden-tree grows out of their bodies; in Danish ballads, roses, lilies, or lindens. This conclusion, a commonplace in folk-song, occurs also in a class of Romaic ballads, where a clump of reeds rises from one of the lovers, and a cypress or lemon-tree from the other, which bend to each other and mingle their leaves whenever the wind blows. Classical readers will recall the tale of Philemon and Baucis.
Various other versions of this ballad are named Lady Ouncebell, Lord Lavel, Lord Travell, and Lord Revel.
Lord Lovel he stood at his castle-gate,
Combing his milk-white steed,
When up came Lady Nancy Belle,
To wish her lover good speed, speed,
To wish her lover good speed.
'Where are you going, Lord Lovel?' she said,
'Oh where are you going?' said she;
'I'm going, my Lady Nancy Belle,
Strange countries for to see.'
'When will you be back, Lord Lovel?' she said,
'Oh when will you come back?' said she;
'In a year, or two, or three at the most,
I'll return to my fair Nancy.'
But he had not been gone a year and a day,
Strange countries for to see,
When languishing thoughts came into his head,
Lady Nancy Belle he would go see.
So he rode, and he rode, on his milk-white steed,
Till he came to London town,
And there he heard St. Pancras' bells,
And the people all mourning round.
'Oh what is the matter?' Lord Lovel he said,
'Oh what is the matter?' said he;
'A lord's lady is dead,' a woman replied,
'And some call her Lady Nancy.'
So he ordered the grave to be opened wide,
And the shroud he turned down,
And there he kissed her clay-cold lips,
Till the tears came trickling down.
Lady Nancy she died, as it might be, today,
Lord Lovel he died as tomorrow;
Lady Nancy she died out of pure, pure grief,
Lord Lovel he died out of sorrow.
Lady Nancy was laid in St. Pancras' Church,
Lord Lovel was laid in the choir;
And out of her bosom there grew a red rose,
And out of her lover's a briar.
They grew, and they grew, to the church-steeple too,
And then they could grow no higher;
So there they entwined in a true-lovers' knot,
For all lovers true to admire.