Basic Poetics – Ballads – (Little Musgrave & Lady Barnard)

Allen continues with his survey of the English and Scottish ballad tradition

AG: There’s actually just a great mass of delightful material to cover with the ballads. And where we left off was with “the chanering worm doth chide”, I seem to remember, was that it? and Susan [sic] looked up the channerin’ worm” in the Old English Dictionary (OED) and it was what? muttering? mumbling worm?

Student (SE): Muttering

AG: What else?

Student: Grumbling.

AG: Grumbling. Do you remember any more of the words? Muttering, grumbling..

Student: Well, fretting.

AG: Fretting

Student: There was…

AG: But “muttering worm” is pretty good. The “muttering worm”. The “channerin’ worm” is a muttering worm. That’s.. That was in “The Wife of Usher’s Well –(page ninety-six, page ninety-six)

“The cock doth craw, the say doth daw/The channerin’ worm doth childe”

Then I went on to..did we do “Little Musgrave..”?

Students: No

AG: “Little Musgrave & Lady Barnard” – It’s a pretty funny line, because it kind of conjours up the picture of a nice-looking, but real small, guy, apparently – they call him “Little Musgrave” – and they get him naked in it, but.. We won’t have time to go over.. (except for some of the shorter ballads) go over the whole ballad, but there are a lot of high-spots I’d like to point out. Then, you’ve either read them already, or, go back and read them when you’ve got a chance. But, in stanza six of “Little Musgrave..” (page ninety-six) – “I have a bower at Buckelsfordbery” – (that’s pretty good, using that local place-name, very complicated local place-name, very English – “I have a bower at Buckelsfordbery” ..Buckles..? ? Who knows how to pronounce that? – “I have a bower at Buckelsfordbery”?

Student: Where are we?

AG: Oh, we’re on page ninety-six, “Little Musgrave”, stanza six – “I have a bower at Buckelsfordbery” – Who knew? Does anybody know? Anybody been to Buckelsfordbery? –

Full daintily it is dight – Full daintly it is dight – “If thou’lt wend thither, thou Little Musgrave,/Thou’s lig in my arms all night” (says the Lady) – So, the Page, who hears this (there’s a Lady, who’s already married), the Page who hears this, “With that beheard a little tiny page,/By his lady”s coach as he ran./ (Says) “Although I am my lady’’s foot-page/Yet I am Lord Barnard’s man”” – So he goes out and finks, and gets to Lord Barnard’s castle – “‘A sleepe or wake, then, Lord Barnard,/As thou art a man of life,/For Little Musgrave is at Bucklesfordbery/A bed with thy own wedded wife.””

So, the “Buckelsfordbery” comes in over and over again, in order to.. you know, as if you were to say, “I have a..” (you) write a ballad about Omaha City, or Jersey City, or Camden or.. what was it? – Rocky Flats?.. what is it up where the “Hard Rain” concert took place?

Student: Fort Collins

AG: Fort Collins, yeah. So, Buckelsford… Buckelsfordbery – five syllables – what’s that, like? – Cincinnati? – or, what would be a five-syllable town in America?

Student: Indianapolis

AG: Yeah, so, I have a…’d be pretty funny if you did that – So, “He called up his merry men all:/ “Come saddle me my steed; /This night must I go to Minneapolis/ For I never had greater need.”” !

So, imagine a great ballad with Minneapolis as the.. as the… even Dylan hasn’t done that! – even Dylan hasn’t put Minneapolis in his rhyme book – “I’d better call the police/When I get to Minneapolis”, or something. “I do not love you for that or this/But when I get home to Minneapolis”, or, whatever

Meanwhile, the lovers are in bed, and, as the men are coming up, the Lord is coming up, with his little army of knights – and, “some of them whistl’d…” (stanza fourteen) – “And some of them whistld, and some of them sung,/And some these words did say,/And ever when my lord Barnard’s horn blew,/”Away, Musgrave, away!” – “And some of them whistld, and some of them sung,/And some these words did say,/And ever when my lord Barnard’s horn blew,/”Away, Musgrave, away!”

Poor guy, he wants to stay in bed – (no,) he wants to get up and she wants him to stay –The guy… Lord Barnard comes in – “He lifted up the coverlet,/He lifted up the sheet:/”How now, how now, thou Littell Musgrave,/Doest thou find my lady sweet?”” – “Well I..” “”I find her sweet”, quoth Little Musgrave/‘The more ’tis to my paine;/I would gladly give three hundred pounds/That I were on yonder plaine.””

So..which is the stanza where he lifts up… ? – yeah.. before.. yeah… “He lifted up the coverlet,/He lifted up the sheet” – (So he found him naked! – which was funny)

At the end, however, though, he kills Musgrave, and then the lady curses her husband (and) says, “I’d rather have Musgrave’s ghost here than you alive”, or ” I’ll pray more for Musgrave here, a live ghost, than you”. And then, oddly enough, in this ballad, (as with a swift psychological jump-cut), the husband has a sudden turn-about of mind, having killed Musgrave, (and) cut off his wife’s “paps” (which I guess is the ..full breast? – I can’t tell – “He cut her paps from off her breast” – so I don’t know whether that’s the nipple or the whole breast there – but she died from it, I don’t imagine she would have died from just having the nipple cut off) – She’s dying.. but he changed his mind after he did it (which is a typical trick in ballads), having done the foul deed, and done the irrevocable murder, the prejudiced husband changes his mind and decides it was all a big mistake and he’s sorry he killed him and he’s sorry he got so hung-up. So – “”For I have slaine the bravest sir knight/That ever rode on steed;/So have I done the fairest lady/That ever did woman’s deed.”” – “”For I have slaine the bravest sir knight/That ever rode on steed;/So have I done the fairest lady/That ever did woman’s deed.”” – A funny end, you know, just signs off with this like very thoughtful note – who’ll be on top in the grave…

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at the beginning of the tape and concluding at approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in] –

Tomorrow – Bob Dylan’s (75th) birthday!

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