The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow

The Yarrow Valley

So I had a fantastic weekend at the St. Louis Tionól last weekend, including five hours in a room with singer/folklorist Ed Miller from Edinburgh (although now living in Austin, TX.) He spent the day talking with us about the rich tradition of song in the Scottish Lowlands and the Border country, both traditional and modern folk.

This song is one of the older ones he taught us. It’s the usual sad tale. Boy courts girl. Girl’s family doesn’t like boy. Girl’s family kills boy. Girl apparently learns her lesson. Here’s Ewan MacColl‘s version. The text below is one of the longer versions I have found and includes a bit more than what Ewan sings.

The Dowie Dens O’ Yarrow

There was a lady in the North,
I ne’er could find her marrow,
She was courted by nine gentlemen,
And a ploughboy lad frae Yarrow.

These nine sat drinking at the wine,
As oft they’d done afore, O;
They hae made a vow amang themselves
Tae fecht wi’ him on Yarrow.

She’s washed his face and kaimed his hair,
As aft she’s done afor, O,
She’s made him like a knight sae hright,
Tae fecht for her on Yarrow.

As he walked up yon high, high hill,
And doon by the holms o’ yarrow,
There he saw nine armed men,
Come to fecht wi’ him on Yarrow.

“There’s nine o’ you, there’s one o’ me,
It’s an unequal marrow,
But I’ll fecht you a’ one by one,
On the dowie dens o’ Yarrow.”

And there he flew and there he slew
And there he wounded sorely,
Till her brother John came in beyond,
And pierced his hairt most foully,

“O, father, dear, I dreamed a dream,
A dream o’ dule and sorrow;
I dreamed I was pu’in’ the heather bell
On the dowie dens o’ Yarrow.”

“O, dochter, dear, I read your dream,
I doubt it will bring sorrow,
For your ain true love lies pale and wan,
On the dowie dens o’ Yarrow.”

As she walked up yon high, high hill,
And doon by the holms o Yarrow,
There she saw her Willie dear,
Lying pale and dead on Yarrow.

Her hair it being three quarters lang,
The colour it was yellow;
She wrappit it round his middle sae sma’,
And bore him doon to Yarrow.

“O, faither dear, you’ve seiven sons,
You may wed them a’ tomorrow,
For the fairest flooer amang them a’,
Was the lad I lo’ed on Yarrow.”

This fair maid being big with child,
A fact which did cause sorrow,
She lay died in her lover’s airms,
Between that day and morrow.

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