Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Devil's Nine Questions

If you don't answer my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
I'll take you off to Hell alive
And sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Tell me, what is whiter than milk?
Sing ninety nine and ninety
And tell me, what is softer than silk?
And sing I'm the weaver's bonny
 
Tell me, what's louder than a horn?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is sharper than a thorn?
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Tell me, what's higher than a tree?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is deeper than the sea?
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

What's innocenter than a lamb?
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And what is worse than any woman?
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Well, snow it is much whiter than milk
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And down is softer than any silk
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Now, thunder's louder than a horn
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And death is sharper than any thorn
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Now, Heaven is higher than a tree
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And Hell is deeper than the sea
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

A baby's more innocent than a lamb
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
And the Devil is worse than any woman!
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

Well, you have answered my questions nine
Sing ninety-nine and ninety
So go with God; you're none of mine
Sing I'm the weaver's bonny

 - Traditional Appalachian ballad, late 20th c. This is a modern example of Child #1 / Roud 161, "Riddles Wisely Expounded," and the specific words given here are as I remember them from having learned it orally sometime ca. 2000. Although the text is thoroughly modern (indeed, no form of "The Devil's Nine Questions" was known to Child), the family to which it belongs is among the very oldest in the English ballad tradition.

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