The Maid And The Palmer

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is from the Percy Folio MS. The only other known text is a fragment from Sir Walter Scott's recollection, printed in C. K. Sharpe's Ballad Book.

The Story is well known in the folklore of Europe, and is especially common in the Scandinavian languages. As a rule, however, all these ballads blend the story of the woman of Samaria with the traditions concerning Mary Magdalen that were extant in mediƦval times.

From the present ballad it could hardly be gathered (except, perhaps, from stanza 11) that the old palmer represents Christ. This point is at once obvious in the Scandinavian and other ballads.

The extraordinary burden in the English ballad is one of the most elaborate in existence, and is quite as inexplicable as any.

The expression 'to lead an ape in hell' (14.2) occurs constantly in Elizabethan and later literature, always in connection with women who die, or expect to die, unmarried. Dyce says the expression 'never has been (and never will be) satisfactorily explained'; but it was suggested by Steevens that women who had no mate on earth should adopt in hell an ape as a substitute.


The maid shee went to the well to washe,
Lillumwham, Lillumwham
The mayd shee went to the well to washe,
Whatt then, what then?
The maid shee went to the well to washe,
Dew ffell of her lilly white fleshe.
Grandam boy, grandam boy, heye!
Leg a derry Leg a merry mett mer whoope whir
Drivance, Larumben, Grandam boy, heye!

White shee washed & white shee ronge,
White shee hang'd o' the hazle wand.

There came an old palmer by the way,
Sais, 'God speed thee well, thou faire maid.

'Hast either cupp or can,
To give an old palmer drinke therin?'

Sayes, 'I have neither cupp nor cann,
To give an old palmer drinke therin.'

'But an thy lemman came from Roome,
Cuppes & cannes thou wold ffind soone.'

Shee sware by God & good St. John,
Lemman had shee never none.

Saies, 'Peace, ffaire mayd, you are fforsworne;
Nine children you have borne.

'Three were buryed under thy bed's head;
Other three under thy brewing leade;

'Other three on yon play greene;
Count, maide, & there be nine.'

'But I hope you are the good old man
That all the world beleeves upon.

'Old palmer, I pray thee,
Pennaunce that thou wilt give to me.'

'Penance I can give thee none,
But seven yeere to be a stepping-stone.

'Other seaven a clapper in a bell;
Other seven to lead an ape in hell.

'When thou hast thy penance done,
Then thou'st come a mayden home.'

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