Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brown-haired maiden

In the collection of 'random things I like' which is pretty much what this blog is composed of, there has so far been one large omission. I've sometimes posted about folk songs and ballads, which I love, and which I would probably be studying right now if there were any way to prove their medieval roots (mostly there isn't). However, I also have a very soft spot in my heart for what you might call Victorian 'faux-folk' (fauk?) songs - especially the so-called 'Scotch songs' which had a big surge in popularity in the 19th century, as part of the general enthusiasm for Scotland which was nurtured by Queen Victoria's fondness for the country and the popularity of Burns, Sir Walter Scott, etc.

The most famous of these 'Scotch songs' are compositions like The Skye Boat Song or Annie Laurie, which, although they may have been based on traditional songs, were essentially new compositions written in the idiom of Scottish folk song. I own a couple of wonderful books full of this stuff, with titles like The Lyric Gems of Scotland (available to read online here) and Songs of the North. Many are sentimental and some are silly; but the best have a particular quality of dignified tenderness which is utterly lacking from popular culture today. One of the many ways in which the Victorians were better than us.

Here's one I especially like. Songs of the North only tells me that it was translated from the Gaelic (from a song(?) called 'Gruagach Dhonn') by 'Professor Blackie', i.e. John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), poet and classical scholar. I'm pretty sure the tune in the book is a simplified version of this one (oddly), but I can't explain how or why... This is the sum total of my knowledge of this song.

Brown-haired maiden

Brown-haired maiden, fresh and fair,
Blithe and bright with lightsome air,
Tuesday when I trysted thee
All the week was worth to me.

Brown-haired maid with witching smile,
Full of love and free from guile,
Softly 'neath the hawthorn tree
Came thy whispered troth to me.

Young were we when first fond love
Found us in the hazel grove;
Sweet thy kisses were to me
And thy voice was melody.

God be with thee, brown-haired maid,
In the sunshine or the shade;
Every Tuesday saved for thee
Brings a year of bliss to me.

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