Child 16: Sheath and Knife

It is talked about the warld  all over,

The brume blooms bonnie and says it is fair

The king’s dochter gaes wi child to her brither.

And we’ll never gang doun to the brume onie mair

Here is a happy little ballad about incest and… murder?  suicide?  death by childbirth?  (Whichever it is, for some reason I feel that I have a better understanding of this ballad since I started watching Game of Thrones.)  You can read the lyrics here.

Version A is the only complete version of this ballad that Child collected, versions C and D are just fragments and version B, which is from Sharpe’s Ballad Book, is missing half the story.  In a footnote for this version, Sir Walter Scott is quoted as saying:

I have heard the ‘Broom Blooms bonnie’ sung by our poor old nursery-maid as often as I have teeth on my head, but after cudgelling my memory I can make no more than the following stanzas.

In this ballad, a princess or high-ranking lady gets pregnant by her brother, he takes her to his father’s “deer park” or some remote area and she gives him this instruction:

‘Now when that ye hear me gie a loud cry,

Shoot frae thy bow an arrow and there let me lye.

‘And when that ye see I am lying dead,

Then ye’ll put me in a grave, wi a turf at my head’

The first time I read this I assumed that she was giving him instructions to shoot her, but then in the notes Child compares it to a passage in “Robin Hood’s Death and Burial” where Robin Hood shoots a bow as he is dying and asks to be buried wherever the arrow lands.

 ‘But give me my bent bow in my hand,

And a broad arrow I’ll let flee,

And where this arrow is taken up,

There shall my grave diggd be.

If the arrow is just to determine where she will be buried, that means she either knows she is about to die in childbirth or she is about to kill herself noisily.  I think it makes more sense that this is about him shooting her.

Her brother buries her, “wi her babe at her feet.”

He goes back to his father’s court where there is a party happening.   From there it end the same way as version B of Leesome Brand.

 ‘O Willie, O Willie, what makes thee in pain?’

‘I have lost a sheath and knife that I’ll never see again’

‘There is ships o your father’s sailing on the sea

That will bring as good a sheath and a knife unto thee’

‘There is ships o my father’s sailing on the sea,

But sic a sheath and knife they can never bring to me.’

Child only wrote two paragraphs of notes for this ballad.  I’m guessing that he thought that related ballads were covered well enough in the notes for Leesome Brand.  The other ballads covered in those notes have similar plot points, such as a couple going to the forest where the woman gives birth, and instructions for the man to do something when the woman. “give(s) a loud cry.”

I still wonder why version B of “Leesome Brand” was not listed as a version of “Sheath and Knife.”  Probably the lack of incest.

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4 Responses to Child 16: Sheath and Knife

  1. Tim Chesterton says:

    I’ve never noticed this one before – thanks. Who are those young folks who are playing with Maddy Prior?

  2. djiril says:

    I’m not sure who the people in Maddy Prior’s band are. Her website lists some of the people she has been playing with, but I can’t pick out which ones are in this band.

  3. ninjanurse says:

    I had an old book with Child ballads, gave it to a musician. I’m glad for Maddy Prior and others keeping it going.

    • djiril says:

      Yes. I am continually amazed by just how many people are keeping these ballads alive in their own ways. I certainly found many more recordings of this one than I expected.

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