Author Topic: Add: The Suffolk Miracle


Posted - 14 Oct 03 - 10:10 am

It's of a farmer all in the town [The Suffolk Miracle][The Holland Handkerchief]

It's of a farmer all in this town,
His name was up through the country round;
He had a daughter, a beauty bright,
And she alone was his heart's delight.

Many a noble lord came this dame to see,
But still she could fancy none of these;
But of late came one of low degree,
He came of late, so she fancied he.

When her father came of this to hear,
He separated her from her dear;
Three score miles he did her send
To her uncle's house, to her discontent.

One night as she was for her bed bound,
She heard a noise and a {dismal/deadly} sound;
Saying "Mary dear, rise from your bed
[I've come, at last, so we can wed."]

"Here is a token, my heart's delight
Your father's steed to ride home this night;
Another token I've brought to you,
Your mother's cloak, and her silk coat too."

They rode more quickly than the wind,
But still he minded his love behind.
He heaved a sigh, and thus did say,
"O my dearest dear, how my head does ache."

Until they came to her father's gate,
And there few words to his love did say,
"Alight, my love, and go to your bed,
Your father's steed I'll see combed and fed."

A white holland handkerchief she drew
And bound it round his head, and tightly too
She went up to her father's hall
Loudly for her father she did call.

"O father dear, did you send for me,
By my loved Jimmy, kind sir?" said she;
It's well he knew this young man was dead,
Which made every hair stand up on his head.

This young man's darling cried more and more,
The young man was dead just nine months and more;
The grave was opened, where he was laid,
With his love's holland handkerchief bound round his head.

Source: M Dawney, The Ploughboy's Glory, EFDSS, 1977

Collected by Frances Jekyll and George Butterworth from Mr Smith, Stoke Lacey, Hereford, Sept, 1907.

Database entry is here.

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 14 Oct 03 - 06:44 pm

Child 272 Roud 246

Also found under a variety of other titles, most frequently The Holland Handkerchief.

Professor Child was less than impressed by The Suffolk Miracle, and included it in his canon only because it was the sole British representative in ballad form of the widespread Spectre Bridegroom story, in which the intention of the mysterious horseman is generally to take his promised bride down with him into the grave. In some examples, he succeeds; in some she is saved, or escapes unaided, but often dies soon after. Sometimes torn fragments of her dress, or a handkerchief, are subsequently found buried with the corpse.

Child describes a Cornish folktale which tells essentially the same story, but in which the girl performs a summoning ritual to bring her lover, three years abroad, to her; his spirit appears, but looking so angry (he is not at that point dead) that she shrieks and breaks the spell. Later, he is shipwrecked and is saved; he expresses a wish to marry her before he dies, but there is no time. The story then proceeds as in the ballad, until she realises that he is dead, and calls out for help; she is saved by a blacksmith, and the following day a piece of her dress is found on the grave. She dies soon after, and it subsequently emerges that, at the time of the aborted conjuration, the young man had raved as if mad, and then lain for hours in a deathlike trance; on regaining consciousness, he had "declared that if he ever married the woman who had cast the spell, he would make her suffer for drawing his soul out of his body."

Child also refers to a French ballad noted in 1879, Les Deux Fiancés, which is almost identical to the English one, though more coherent as a narrative. By comparison with some of the many Slavic and German analogues, he concludes, "...we may quite reasonably suppose that the headache in The Suffolk Miracle, utterly absurd to all appearances, was in fact occasioned by a spell which has dropped away from the Suffolk story, but is retained" [in a corrupted form, as the spell the girl recites there is only the familiar Hallowe'en charm which young girls used to catch a glimpse of the face of the man who would be their true-love] "in the Cornish."

Outside England, versions of the ballad have been found in Ireland, the USA and Canada. Roud lists no Scottish variants at present, but the basic story has been found as a folk narrative in the West of Scotland (for example, The Weeping Lass at the Dancing Place, in Sorche nic Leodhas, Twelve Great Black Cats, 1972).

Broadside editions of the late 17th and early 18th centuries can be seen at  Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

The Suffolk miracle or A relation of a young man who a month after his death appeared to his sweetheart

The tune prescribed, My bleeding heart, has not been identified.

Michael Dawney's Ploughboys Glory is still available from the English Folk Dance and Song Society, but stocks are low. At present, old stock is being cleared, and the book can be had at a reduced price of £3.25.


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Edited By Malcolm Douglas - 14-Oct-2003 06:46:02 PM

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