Author Topic: Add: Babes in the Wood


Posted - 28 Apr 03 - 01:36 pm

Babes in the Wood

Oh, don't you remember, a long time ago,
When two little babies, their names I don't know,
Were stolen away one bright summer day,
And lost in the woods, I've heard people say.

And when it was night, oh, sad was their plight,
The moon had gone done, the stars gave no light;
They sobbed and they sighed, and bitterly cried,
Then the poor little babes, they lay down and died.

And when they were dead the robins so red,
Brought strawberry leaves and over them spread,
And sang them a song the whole summer long,
Poor babes in the woods, who never did wrong.

Source: Randolph, V, 1982. Ozark Folksongs, Illinois Press, Urbana


Collected by Vance Randolph from Marie Wilbur, Pineville, Mo., June 30, 1929.

Randolph wrote:

This old English piece was printed in Percy's Reliques, from a copy in the Pepys collection (Tolman and Eddy). In the original version, which Percy thought was written by Rob. Yarrington in 1601, the children's uncle hired two ruffians to murder the children, so that he might inherit their property. One of the scoundrels slew the other and ran away, leaving the children to die of starvation and exposure.

For texts from oral tradition in America see McGill; Pund; Scarborough; Sharp; Gardiner and Chickering; Belden; Brewster.

Compare with the Copper Family version.

Database entry is here.

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 29 Apr 03 - 06:01 pm

Roud 288 Laws Q34

Another song much found in tradition on both sides of the Atlantic. It was still being reported in versions beginning Now ponder well, as when the ballad was first licensed in 1595, well into the mid-20th century; though the set here belongs to the condensed version of the story, which was apparently written by the musician and composer William Gardiner (1770-1853) in the early 19th century, to a new tune which is still used, though in rather modified forms. (Ref. Steve Roud, notes, Come Write Me Down: Early Recordings of the Copper Family of Rottingdean, Topic TSCD534, 2001). Sheet music (without any writers credits) can be seen at  The Lester Levy Sheet Music Collection:

Sweet Babes in the Wood. A Ballad. Founded on the well known Legend. Philadelphia: B. Carr's Musical Repository, n.d.

Broadside editions of the earlier ballad at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads run from the 17th to the 19th centuries:

The children in the wood, or The Norfolk gentleman's last will and testament. A true story

The Norfolk gentleman his last will and testament

Babes in the Wood

17th century editions usually prescribe the tune Rogero; later it was most associated with the tune Now Ponder Well, which was quite widely used for other broadside songs and in nineteen ballad operas (including Gay's Beggar's Opera of 1728).

The "original version" to which Randolph refers was not the broadside ballad of 1595, but a play by Rob. Yarrington, first published in 1601 (but allegedly written some years earlier) entitled Two lamentable Tragedies: The one of the murder of Maister Beech, a chandler in Thames streete, &c. The other of a young child murthered in a wood by two ruffins, with the consent of his unkle.

It has occasionally been suggested that the wicked uncle was intended to represent Richard III, but this fanciful interpretation was no longer taken seriously by the end of the 19th century. Henry B. Wheatley, in his edition of Percy's Reliques (1887), adds:

"Wailing, or Wayland Wood, a large cover near Walton in Norfolk is the place which tradition assigns to the tragedy, but the people of Wood Dalling also claim the honour for their village."

Edited By Malcolm Douglas - 30/04/2003 12:12:05

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