Willie's Lady

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is from the lost Fraser-Tytler-Brown MS., this ballad luckily having been transcribed before the MS. disappeared. Mrs. Brown recited another and a fuller version to Jamieson.


The Story.--Willie's mother, a witch, displeased at her son's choice, maliciously arrests by witchcraft the birth of Willie's son. Willie's travailing wife sends him again and again to bribe the witch, who refuses cup, steed, and girdle. Here our version makes such abrupt transitions, that it will be well to explain what takes place. The Belly Blind or Billie Blin (see Young Bekie, First Series, pp. 6, 7) advises Willie to make a sham baby of wax, and invite his witch-mother to the christening. Willie does so (in stanzas lost between our 33 and 34); the witch, believing the wax-baby to be flesh and blood, betrays all her craft by asking who has loosed the knots, ta'en out the kaims, ta'en down the woodbine, etc., these being the magic rites by which she has suspended birth. Willie instantly looses the knots and takes out the kaims, and his wife presents him with a bonny young son.

The story is common in Danish ballads, and occasional in Swedish. In the classics, Juno (Hera) on two occasions delayed childbirth and cheated Ilithyia, the sufferers being Latona and Alcmene. But the latest version of the story is said to have occurred in Arran in the nineteenth century. A young man, forsaking his sweetheart, married another maiden, who when her time came suffered exceedingly. A packman who chanced to be passing heard the tale and suspected the cause. Going to the discarded sweetheart, he told her that her rival had given birth to a fine child; thereupon she sprang up, pulled a large nail out of the beam, and called to her mother, 'Muckle good your craft has done!' The labouring wife was delivered forthwith. (See The Folklore Record, vol. ii. p. 117.)


WILLIE'S LADY

1.
Willie has taen him o'er the fame,
He's woo'd a wife and brought her hame.

2.
He's woo'd her for her yellow hair,
But his mother wrought her mickle care,

3.
And mickle dolour gard her dree,
For lighter she can never be.

4.
But in her bower she sits wi' pain,
And Willie mourns o'er her in vain.

5.
And to his mother he has gone,
That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

6.
He says: 'My ladie has a cup
Wi' gowd and silver set about.

7.
'This goodlie gift shall be your ain,
And let her be lighter o' her young bairn.'

8.
'Of her young bairn she'll ne'er be lighter,
Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

9.
'But she shall die and turn to clay,
And you shall wed another may.'

10.
'Another may I'll never wed,
Another may I'll ne'er bring home.'

11.
But sighing says that weary wight,
'I wish my life were at an end.'

12.
'Ye doe [ye] unto your mother again,
That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

13.
'And say your ladie has a steed,
The like o' 'm's no in the lands of Leed.

14.
'For he's golden shod before,
And he's golden shod behind.

15.
'And at ilka tet of that horse's main
There's a golden chess and a bell ringing.

16.
'This goodlie gift shall be your ain,
And let me be lighter of my young bairn.'

17.
'O' her young bairn she'll ne'er be lighter,
Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

18.
'But she shall die and turn to clay,
And ye shall wed another may.'

19.
'Another may I'll never wed,
Another may I'll neer bring hame.'

20.
But sighing said that weary wight,
'I wish my life were at an end.'

21.
'Ye doe [ye] unto your mother again,
That vile rank witch of vilest kind.

22.
'And say your ladie has a girdle,
It's red gowd unto the middle.

23.
'And ay at every silver hem
Hangs fifty silver bells and ten.

24.
'That goodlie gift sall be her ain,
And let me be lighter of my young bairn.'

25.
'O' her young bairn she's ne'er be lighter,
Nor in her bower to shine the brighter.

26.
'But she shall die and turn to clay,
And you shall wed another may.'

27.
'Another may I'll never wed,
Another may I'll ne'er bring hame.'

28.
But sighing says that weary wight,
'I wish my life were at an end.'

29.
Then out and spake the Belly Blind;
He spake aye in good time.

30.
'Ye doe ye to the market place,
And there ye buy a loaf o' wax.

31.
'Ye shape it bairn and bairnly like,
And in twa glassen een ye pit;

32.
'And bid her come to your boy's christening;
Then notice weel what she shall do.

33.
'And do you stand a little forebye,
And listen weel what she shall say.'

*** *** ***

34.
'O wha has loosed the nine witch knots
That was amo' that ladie's locks?

35.
'And wha has taen out the kaims of care
That hangs amo' that ladie's hair?

36.
'And wha's taen down the bush o' woodbine
That hang atween her bower and mine?

37.
'And wha has kill'd the master kid
That ran beneath that ladie's bed?

38.
'And wha has loosed her left-foot shee,
And lotten that lady lighter be?'

39.
O Willie has loosed the nine witch knots
That was amo' that ladie's locks.

40.
And Willie's taen out the kaims o' care
That hang amo' that ladie's hair.

41.
And Willie's taen down the bush o' woodbine
That hang atween her bower and thine.

42.
And Willie has killed the master kid
That ran beneath that ladie's bed.

43.
And Willie has loosed her left-foot shee,
And letten his ladie lighter be.

44.
And now he's gotten a bonny young son,
And mickle grace be him upon.

Reader Comments

Tell us what you think of 'Willie's Lady' by Frank Sidgwick

comments powered by Disqus

Home | Search | About this website | Contact | Privacy Policy