“I have a young sister”/The Riddle Song

AG: “I have a young sister” (page  63). Oh yeah, everybody knows this one. Joan Baez sings it, I don’t know…does anybody know the Joan Baez song, “I sent my love a cherry, without any stone..” Do you know that?  [Allen starts singing] – “I gave my love a cherry, da-da, da-da..” – Does anybody know that?  heard it? – Anybody remember what the first line is in the modern version?  – Ah well, let’s see what it is here [Allen turns to book] –

“I have a yong suster/ Fer beyonde the see/Manye be the drueries/That she sent to me”  – (“which she sente me”,  which is fine). My automatic thing was “sent-to-me” (it’s actually, “sente me”) “I have a yong suster/ Fer beyonde the see/Manye be the drueries/That she sente me” – “She sente me the cherye/Wythouten any stoon/And so she did the >dowse/Wythouten any boon/She sente me the brere/Wythouten any rinde/She bad me love my lemman/Wythoute longynge” – [well, that’s a funny part, “Wythoute longing” – he cuts it] – She sente me the brere/Wythouten any rinde/She bad me love my lemman/Wythoute longing  – [wow! – that’s really amazing! – you know, the big hole in that, the big rhythmic hole that’s left there. That’s like .. like what we were talking about ..”What I was and what I am”, cut short, cut it down, you know, just the minimum number of syllables – but here it’s almost like under the minimum number of syllables!  – so that you have to..  It comes from singing, obviously – ” She bad me love my lemman/Wyth-oute long-ing” (as the song does go) –  “How sholde..” [Allen begins singing again] “How sholde any cherye/Be without…”, no, “”How sholde any cherye/Be wythouten stoon?/And how sholde any dowse/Ben wythouten boon?/How sholde any brere/Ben wythouten rinde?/How sholde I love my lemman/Wythoute longing?” “When the cherye was a flowr/Thanne hadde it non stoon/When the dowve was an ey,/Than hadde it non boon./When the brere was unbred,/Thanne hadde it non rinde/When the mayden hadde that she loveth,/She is without longing .” – (I don’t know if that’s in the modern version) – “>When the brere was unbred” – (What is “unbred” here? – “still in the sea”) – “When the brere was unbred,/Thanne hadde it non rinde/When the mayden hadde that she loveth,/She is without longing .” – “When the brere was unbred,/Thanne hadde it non rinde/When the mayden hadde that she loveth..”, “When the mayden hadde that she loveth”, probably “When the mayden hadde that she loveth” (that was probably the rhythm), When the brere was unbred,/Thanne hadde it non rinde/ When the mayden hadde that she loveth,/She is without longing.” (so the “that” would be emphasized there, that would make that trip properly). Is that making sense now?. In other words, I misread rhythmically first time – “When the mayden hadde that she loveth” – it doesn’t trip properly – “When the mayden hadde that she loveth” – When the maiden hadde that she loveth/ She is without longing”, then there is some kind of parallelism between those, the last lines. It’s really interesting to pronounce these aloud, because, unless you pronounce them aloud, you don’t see the actual physical beauty of the rhythm. And as it is, they were songs. How many know that song the…  How many have heard that?  And how many have not? It’s a real.. it’s actually a big modern pop piece – “I gave my love a..” – I don’t remember the words, has anybody.. [Allen begins singing again] – “I gave my love a cherry, that has no stone, I gave her a… a baby?

Student: A baby,  a baby that doesn’t grow old, yeah..

AG: No, “I gave my love a baby, without crying” That’s it. Yes, “I gave my love a baby with..”, “How can there be a baby without cry-ing, how can there be a…”

Student: Chicken, chicken without a bone

AG: Without a bone. Yeah, dove

Student: No, that’s a chicken

AG: Whoever said it, “I gave my love a baby, without crying”. That’s almost as good as the original. Whoever added that was a genius. So the genius isn’t over,

Student: So what was the answer to that?

Student (2): Yeah..

AG: When the cherry was a flower it had no stone. Well, when the dove was an egg it had no bone – I gave my love a baby without crying? – Either she didn’t weep when they were making love or the baby’s still in the womb. I don’t know. What was the answer? Does anybody remember? It’s probably given in the song. I forgot. Does anybody know folk music well enough to look that up and find out, know where to look that up? – Is anybody familiar with folk music that would have the Joan Baez Songbook and know where to find it?

Student: I don’t think she ever recorded it?

AG: Who did then?

Student: A whole bunch of people from that time..

AG: Peggy Seeger?  Pete Seeger?… Peggy Seeger?.. someone like that…


Student: There’s a whole bunch of people…

AG: Judy Collins? – I’ve heard it a million times but I wonder who?

Student: Joan Baez certainly recorded another one, page ninety-six……

AG: Yeah, and there’s “Mary Hamilton” too …

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately forty-eight minutes in, and concluding at approximately fifty-four minutes in]

I have a young sister
Far beyond the sea;
Many are the gifts
That she sent to me.

She sent me the cherry
Without any stone
And the dove
Without any bone.

She sent me the briar
Without any bark,
She bade me love my lover
Without longing

How should any cherry
Be without a stone?
And how should any dove
Be without bones?

How should any briar
Be without a rind?
How should I love my lover
Without longing?

Whan the cherry was a flower
then had it no stone;
When the dove was an egg,
Then had it no bone.

When the briar was a seed,
Then had it no bark;
When the maiden has her love,
She is without longing

One comment

  1. What amazes me is the change and growth of one language across time even within the confines of its own country's borders. Even Chaucer, being the extremely clever guy that he was, would take a while to understand the 'English' spoken today

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