Thursday, June 6, 2013

Barbara Allen's Cruelty, or the Young Man's Tragedy

In Scarlet Town where I was bound,
There was a fair Maid dwelling,
Whom I had choosd to be my own,
Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry Month of May,
When green leaves were a springing
This young Man on his Death-bed lay,
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his Man unto her then,
To Town where she was dwelling,
You must come to my Master dear,
If you be Barbara Allen.

For Death is painted in his Face,
Sorrows in him are dwelling;
Thou must come to my Master dear,
If you be Barbara Allen.

If Death be painted in his Face,
And Sorrows in him dwelling;
Then little better shall he be,
For bonny Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly, she came to him,
So slowly she came to him,
And all she said when she came there,
Young Man I think youre dying.

He turned his Face unto her then,
If you be Barbara Allen;
My Dear, said he, come pity me,
On my Death-bed Im lying.

If on your Death-bed you be lying,
Whats that to Barbara Allen;
I cannot keep you from grim Death,
So farewel Barbara Allen.

He turnd his Face unto the Wall,
And Death came creeping to him,
Adieu, adieu, and adieu to all,
Adieu to Barbara Allen.

And as she was walking one Day,
She heard the Bells a ringing,
And they did seem to ring to her,
Unworthy Barbara Allen.

She turnd herself round about,
And spyd the Corpse a coming,
Lay down, lay down the corpse, she said
That I may look upon him.

And all the while she looked on,
So loudly she lay laughing;
While all her Friends cryd out amain,
Unworthy Barbara Allen.

When he was dead and laid in grave,
Then Death came creeping to her.
Oh Mother! Mother! make my Bed,
His Death doth quite undo me.

Hard hearted Creature that I was,
To slight one that lovd dearly;
I wish Id been more kind to him,
In Time of his Life when near me.

So this maid at last she did die,
Who would be buried by him;
Repented herself before she dyd,
That eer she did deny him.

As she was lying down to die,
A sad feud then she fell in;
She said, I pray take warning by
Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

 - Anonymous broadsheet, Newcastle, ca. 1690. (Child 84, Roud 54)

One of the oldest ballads narrating a love story, and also one of the most widespread, "Barbara Allen" is first known from a mention in Pepys, who heard it sung on New Year's Day of 1666. (Pepys regarded it as a Scottish song, though it is primarily known from English sources.) This version, several decades later, is the earliest set of lyrics known to us today.

"Barbara Allen" continues to be well-known in English-language folk contexts today, with notable performances by Joan Baez, Art Garfunkel, and others. Johnny Cash also wrote a variant, entitled "The Ballad of Barbara."

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