The Twa Brothers (Two Brothers)

An absolutely gorgeous version of this old, old ballad recorded by the amazing Jean Redpath. It’s left up to the listener to decide whether it was indeed accident or not.  In another version (additional verses below), John asks his brother Willie to pass on to various family members words of comfort at his dying – all but his stepmother (John’s mother?), who wished Willie ill.  Many possibilities, and the possible origins, can be found on the Mainly Norfolk site. One of my favorite finds, however, is yet another recording from Mountain Home, Arkansas by Ollie Gilbert from 1969 in which he tune is different, but the story and lyrics largely remain the same. The Scottish song resource Tobar an Dualchais has a number of archival versions, including several by Sheila Stewart.

TWO BROTHERS

There were twa brothers at the school
And when they’d won awa’
It’s will ye play at the stane chucking
Or will ye play at ball
Or will ye gae up yon bonnie green hill
And there we’ll wrestle a fa’

Oh, I winnae play at the stane chucking
Nor will I play at the ba’
But I will gae up yon bonnie green hill
And there we’ll wrestle a fa’

They wrestled up, they wrestled down
Till John fell tae the ground
And a dirk fell oot o’ William’s pouch
Gi’ed John a deadly wound

“Oh, lift me, lift me on yer back
Tak’ me tae yon well sea fair
And wash the blood fae off my wound
That it may bleed nae mair”

He’s lifted him on tae his back
Ta’en him tae yon well sae fair
And he’s washed the blood fae off his wound
But aye it bled the mair

“It’s ye’ll tak’ off yer Holland sark
Rive it fae gare tae gare
An’ stap it on my bloody wound
That it may bleed nae mair”

So he’s ta’en off his Holland sark
Rived it fae gare tae gare
An’ he’s staped it in the bloody wound
But it bled mair and mair

“Oh, lift me, lift me on yer back
Tak’ me tae Kirklan’ fair
An’ dig my grave baith wide and deep
And lay my body there

Ye’ll lay my arrows at my head
My gude bow at my feet
My sword and buckler by my side
As I was wont tae sleep”

Alternate/additional verses:

Ah but what shall I tell to your father dear
This night when I go home
Tell him I’m away to a London school
And a good scholar I’ll come home,
a good scholar I’ll come home

Ah but what shall I tell to your sister dear
This night when I go home
Tell her I’m away to a London school
And the good books I’ll bring home,
the good books I’ll bring home

Ah but what shall I tell to your sweetheart dear
This night when I go home
Tell her I’m dead and in the grave laid
And the grass is growin’ green,
the grass is growin’ green

Ah but what shall I tell to your stepmother dear
This night when I go home
Tell her I’m dead and in the grave laid
For she prayed I might never come home,
she prayed I might never come home

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