The Twa Brothers

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is from Sharpe's Ballad Book (1823). Scott included no version of this ballad in his Minstrelsy; but Motherwell and Jamieson both had traditional versions. Motherwell considered it essential that the deadly wound should be accidental; but it is far more typical of a ballad-hero that he should lose his temper and kill his brother; and, as Child points out, it adds to the pathetic generosity of the slain brother in providing excuses for his absence to be made to his father, mother, and sister.


The Story.--Motherwell and Sharpe were more or less convinced that the ballad was founded on an accident that happened in 1589 to a Somerville, who was killed by his brother's pistol going off.

This ballad is still in circulation in the form of a game amongst American children--the last state of more than one old ballad otherwise extinct.


THE TWA BROTHERS

1.
There were twa brethren in the north,
They went to the school thegither;
The one unto the other said,
'Will you try a warsle afore?'

2.
They warsled up, they warsled down,
Till Sir John fell to the ground,
And there was a knife in Sir Willie's pouch,
Gied him a deadlie wound.

3.
'Oh brither dear, take me on your back,
Carry me to yon burn clear,
And wash the blood from off my wound,
And it will bleed nae mair.'

4.
He took him up upon his back,
Carried him to yon burn clear,
And washd the blood from off his wound,
But aye it bled the mair.

5.
'Oh brither dear, take me on your back,
Carry me to yon kirk-yard,
And dig a grave baith wide and deep,
And lay my body there.'

6.
He's taen him up upon his back,
Carried him to yon kirk-yard,
And dug a grave baith deep and wide,
And laid his body there.

7.
'But what will I say to my father dear,
Gin he chance to say, Willie, whar's John?'
'Oh say that he's to England gone,
To buy him a cask of wine.'

8.
'And what will I say to my mother dear,
Gin she chance to say, Willie, whar's John?'
'Oh say that he's to England gone,
To buy her a new silk gown.'

9.
'And what will I say to my sister dear,
Gin she chance to say, Willie, whar's John?'
'Oh say that he's to England gone,
To buy her a wedding ring.'

10.
'But what will I say to her you lo'e dear,
Gin she cry, Why tarries my John?'
'Oh tell her I lie in Kirk-land fair,
And home again will never come.'

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