Basic Poetics – Ballads ( Lord Thomas and Fair Annet & The Unquiet Grave)

Illustration by Vernon Hill for “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet” from Ballads Weird and Wonderful by Richard Pearse Chope (1912)

AG: Then, the next one [the next ballad] in our book, “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet” – “Lord Thomas and Fair Annet/ Sate a’ day on a hill” (sat all day upon a hill) –  (that’s (page) ninety-one). In a way, it’s like, you know, “…the princess and the prince/ Discuss what’s real and what is not“, just a setting of that (but I think that’s where (Bob) Dylan got that particular image. There’s one funny line in that – (You’ve) got to choose between a “nut-browne bride” and “Fair Annet”, and “the nut-browne bride”, apparently, has a great deal of cows in the farm and a dowry, and “Fair Annet” doesn’t, apparently, and so the fellow asks his brother who he should marry (on page ninety-two, stanza seven), and his brother says, “the nut-browne bride has oxen, brother,/ The nut-brown bride has kye, I wad have ye marry the nut-browne bride,/ And cast Fair Annet by” – So the answer there, he thinks twice about it, the fellow was going to choose who to marry. “Her oxen may dye i’ the house, billie,/(And) her kye into the byre/ And I sall hae nothing to mysell/ Bot a fat fadge by the fyre” – (mere) baggage – That’s pretty good. It reminds (me of)..  This kind of talk still continues in English poetry, in the work of a Northumbrian poet, Tom Pickard, who still writes like this – that directly, that bluntly, with that much demotic folk common-sense.

So, we move on to…  oh, and then we get (to) the rose or the briar and the.. willow – willow and a briar is it? at the very end of that (twenty-nine and thirty, page ninety-four, lines twenty-nine and thirty  -‘Lord Thomas was buried without kirkwa’/Fair Annet within the quiere /And o’er the twine, thair grew a birk,/the other, a bonny briere” “An ay they grew, and ay they threw/As they wad faine be neare/And by this ye may ken right well/ (That) they were twa luvers deare” -“An ay they grew, and ay they threw/As they wad faine be neare/And by this ye may ken right well/ (That) they were twa luvers deare”
– So this time it’s a briar and a..willow.. (no,)  a birch (“a birk”).

What else is of interest? – Ah, yeah, “The Unquiet Grave” next, is interesting because it’s a little bit like the.. Two Crows, the Two Ravens (“Twa Corbies”) in the implacability of the wisdom of the end, moral, of it, which is that even love dies. It’s sort of the opposite of the rose and the briar, or the birch and the briar, because, in the end, someone’s sitting mourning at a grave, and the dead begins to speak and says, “..”Who sits weeping on my grave/ And will not let me sleep?”/”‘Tis I, my love, sits on your grave/ And will not let you sleep/ For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips/ (And) that is all I seek” – (Bob) Dylan has had “clay-cold lips” abounding in his poems, (and/) or various modern ballad-makers have come back to that – “”You crave one kiss of my clay cold lips,/ But my breath smells earthy strong /If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips/ Your time will not be long/”‘T is  down in yonder garden green,/ Love, where  we used to walk/The finest flower that e’er was seen/Is withered to a stalk./”The stalk is withered dry, my love/So will our hearts decay/So make yourself content, my love/ Till God calls you away” –  Now there’s no perpetual romance going on here. It’s more of… But, instead, there this earthy strong smell of the corpse-breath and bare bones (wind blowing over bare bones evermore), which is, like, I think, the best part of the ballad, when it gets down to the bones like that.

Audio for the above can be heard here  beginning at approximately seventy-three minutes in, and concluding at approximately seventy-eight minutes in


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