The Text is given from Motherwell's Minstrelsy, earlier versions being only fragmentary.
The Story has a close parallel in a Danish ballad; and another, popular all over Germany, is a variation of the same theme, but in place of the mother's final doom being merely mentioned, in the German ballad she is actually carried away by the devil.
In a small group of ballads, the penknife appears to be the ideal weapon for murder or suicide. See the Twa Brothers and the Bonny Hind.
THE CRUEL MOTHER
She leaned her back unto a thorn;
Three, three, and three by three
And there she has her two babes born.
Three, three, and thirty-three.
She took frae 'bout her ribbon-belt,
And there she bound them hand and foot.
She has ta'en out her wee pen-knife,
And there she ended baith their life.
She has howked a hole baith deep and wide,
She has put them in baith side by side.
She has covered them o'er wi' a marble stane,
Thinking she would gang maiden hame.
As she was walking by her father's castle wa',
She saw twa pretty babes playing at the ba'.
'O bonnie babes, gin ye were mine,
I would dress you up in satin fine.
'O I would dress you in the silk,
And wash you ay in morning milk.'
'O cruel mother, we were thine,
And thou made us to wear the twine.
'O cursed mother, heaven's high,
And that's where thou will ne'er win nigh.
'O cursed mother, hell is deep,
And there thou'll enter step by step.'