Young Bekie

A poem by Frank Sidgwick

The Text is that of the Jamieson-Brown MS., taken down from the recitation of Mrs. Brown about 1783. In printing the ballad, Jamieson collated with the above two other Scottish copies, one in MS., another a stall-copy, a third from recitation in the north of England, a fourth 'picked off an old wall in Piccadilly' by the editor.

The Story has several variations of detail in the numerous versions known (Young Bicham, Brechin, Bekie, Beachen, Beichan, Bichen, Lord Beichan, Lord Bateman, Young Bondwell, etc.), but the text here given is one of the most complete and vivid, and contains besides one feature (the 'Belly Blin') lost in all other versions but one.

A similar story is current in the ballad-literature of Scandinavia, Spain, and Italy; but the English tale has undoubtedly been affected by the charming legend of Gilbert Becket, the father of Saint Thomas, who, having been captured by Admiraud, a Saracen prince, and held in durance vile, was freed by Admiraud's daughter, who then followed him to England, knowing no English but 'London' and 'Gilbert'; and after much tribulation, found him and was married to him. 'Becket' is sufficiently near 'Bekie' to prove contamination, but not to prove that the legend is the origin of the ballad.

The Belly Blin (Billie Blin = billie, a man; blin', blind, and so Billie Blin = Blindman's Buff, formerly called Hoodman Blind) occurs in certain other ballads, such as Cospatrick, Willie's Lady, and the Knight and the Shepherd's Daughter; also in a mutilated ballad of the Percy Folio, King Arthur and King Cornwall, under the name Burlow Beanie. In the latter case he is described as 'a lodly feend, with seuen heads, and one body,' breathing fire; but in general he is a serviceable household demon. Cp. German bilwiz, and Dutch belewitte.


Young Bekie was as brave a knight
As ever sail'd the sea;
An' he's doen him to the court of France,
To serve for meat and fee.

He had nae been i' the court of France
A twelvemonth nor sae long,
Til he fell in love with the king's daughter,
An' was thrown in prison strong.

The king he had but ae daughter,
Burd Isbel was her name;
An' she has to the prison-house gane,
To hear the prisoner's mane.

'O gin a lady woud borrow me,
At her stirrup-foot I woud rin;
Or gin a widow wad borrow me,
I woud swear to be her son.

'Or gin a virgin woud borrow me,
I woud wed her wi' a ring;
I'd gi' her ha's, I'd gie her bowers,
The bonny tow'rs o' Linne.'

O barefoot, barefoot gaed she but,
An' barefoot came she ben;
It was no for want o' hose an' shoone,
Nor time to put them on;

But a' for fear that her father dear,
Had heard her making din:
She's stown the keys o' the prison-house dor
An' latten the prisoner gang.

O whan she saw him, Young Bekie,
Her heart was wondrous sair!
For the mice but an' the bold rottons
Had eaten his yallow hair.

She's gi'en him a shaver for his beard,
A comber till his hair,
Five hunder pound in his pocket,
To spen', and nae to spair.

She's gi'en him a steed was good in need,
An' a saddle o' royal bone,
A leash o' hounds o' ae litter,
An' Hector called one.

Atween this twa a vow was made,
'Twas made full solemnly,
That or three years was come and gane,
Well married they shoud be.

He had nae been in's ain country
A twelvemonth till an end,
Till he's forc'd to marry a duke's daughter,
Or than lose a' his land.

'Ohon, alas!' says Young Bekie,
'I know not what to dee;
For I canno win to Burd Isbel,
And she kensnae to come to me.'

O it fell once upon a day
Burd Isbel fell asleep,
An' up it starts the Belly Blin,
An' stood at her bed-feet.

'O waken, waken, Burd Isbel,
How [can] you sleep so soun',
Whan this is Bekie's wedding day,
An' the marriage gain' on?

'Ye do ye to your mither's bow'r,
Think neither sin nor shame;
An' ye tak twa o' your mither's marys,
To keep ye frae thinking lang.

'Ye dress yoursel' in the red scarlet,
An' your marys in dainty green,
An' ye pit girdles about your middles
Woud buy an earldome.

'O ye gang down by yon sea-side,
An' down by yon sea-stran';
Sae bonny will the Hollans boats
Come rowin' till your han'.

'Ye set your milk-white foot abord,
Cry, Hail ye, Domine!
An' I shal be the steerer o't,
To row you o'er the sea.'

She's tane her till her mither's bow'r,
Thought neither sin nor shame,
An' she took twa o' her mither's marys,
To keep her frae thinking lang.

She dress'd hersel' i' the red scarlet.
Her marys i' dainty green,
And they pat girdles about their middles
Woud buy an earldome.

An' they gid down by yon sea-side,
An' down by yon sea-stran';
Sae bonny did the Hollan boats
Come rowin' to their han'.

She set her milk-white foot on board,
Cried 'Hail ye, Domine!'
An' the Belly Blin was the steerer o't,
To row her o'er the sea.

Whan she came to Young Bekie's gate,
She heard the music play;
Sae well she kent frae a' she heard,
It was his wedding day.

She's pitten her han' in her pocket,
Gin the porter guineas three;
'Hae, tak ye that, ye proud porter,
Bid the bride-groom speake to me.'

O whan that he cam up the stair,
He fell low down on his knee:
He hail'd the king, an' he hail'd the queen,
An' he hail'd him, Young Bekie.

'O I've been porter at your gates
This thirty years an' three;
But there's three ladies at them now,
Their like I never did see.

'There's ane o' them dress'd in red scarlet,
And twa in dainty green,
An' they hae girdles about their middles
Woud buy an earldome.'

Then out it spake the bierly bride,
Was a' goud to the chin:
'Gin she be braw without,' she says,
'We's be as braw within.'

Then up it starts him, Young Bekie,
An' the tears was in his ee:
'I'll lay my life it's Burd Isbel,
Come o'er the sea to me.'

O quickly ran he down the stair,
An' whan he saw 'twas she,
He kindly took her in his arms,
And kiss'd her tenderly.

'O hae ye forgotten, Young Bekie
The vow ye made to me,
Whan I took ye out o' the prison strong
Whan ye was condemn'd to die?

'I gae you a steed was good in need,
An' a saddle o' royal bone,
A leash o' hounds o' ae litter,
An' Hector called one.'

It was well kent what the lady said,
That it wasnae a lee,
For at ilka word the lady spake,
The hound fell at her knee.

'Tak hame, tak hame your daughter dear,
A blessing gae her wi',
For I maun marry my Burd Isbel,
That's come o'er the sea to me.'

'Is this the custom o' your house,
Or the fashion o' your lan',
To marry a maid in a May mornin',
An' send her back at even?'

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