Monday, July 25, 2011

Clerk Colvill: A Mermaid Ballad

Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales From Around the World 

There are many ballads to be found in Mermaid and Other Water Spirit Tales From Around the World, including some Child Ballad variants of a few types. Today I wanted to focus on Clerk Colvill, a ballad with a few variants. In this one, the man is not an innocent victim, the following is from an introduction in a 1904 edition of Child's Ballads:
All the English versions are deplorably imperfect. Clerk Colvill is not, as his representative is or may be in other ballads, the guiltless and guileless object of the love or envy of a water-sprite or elf. It is clear that before his marriage with his gay lady he had been in the habit of resorting to this mermaid, and equally clear, from the impatient answer which he renders his dame, that he means to visit her again. His death is the natural penalty of his desertion of the water-nymph; for no point is better established than the fatal consequences of inconstancy in such connections. His history, were it fully told, would closely resemble that of the Knight of Staufenberg, as narrated in a German poem of about the year 1310. Clerk Colvill and the mermaid are represented by Sir Oluf and an elf in Scandinavian ballads to the number of about seventy. The oldest of these is derived from a Danish manuscript of 1550, two centuries and a half later than the Staufenberg poem, but two earlier than Clerk Colvill, the oldest ballad outside of the Scandinavian series (see Grundtvig, No. 47). The Breton ‘Seigneur Nann’ is closely akin to the Scandinavian versions, and the ballad has spread, apparently from Brittany, over all France (‘Jean Renaud’).

Clerk Colvill by Arthur Rackham

And now for one version of the ballad, Child 42B, Clerk Colvill:

1. CLERK COLVILL and his lusty dame
Were walking in the garden green;
The belt around her stately waist
Cost Clerk Colvill of pounds fifteen.

2. “O promise me now, Clerk Colvill,
Or it will cost ye muckle strife,
Ride never by the wells of Slane,
If ye wad live and brook your life.”

3. “Now speak nae mair, my lusty dame,
Now speak nae mair of that to me;
Did I neer see a fair woman,
But I wad sin with her body?”

4. He’s taen leave o his gay lady,
Nought minding what his lady said,
And he’s rode by the wells of Slane,
Where washing was a bonny maid.

5. “Wash on, wash on, my bonny maid,
That wash sae clean your sark of silk;”
“And weel fa you, fair gentleman,
Your body whiter than the milk.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

6. Then loud, loud cry’d the Clerk Colvill,
“O my head it pains me sair;”
“Then take, then take,” the maiden said,
“And frae my sark you’ll cut a gare.”

7. Then she’s gied him a little bane-knife,
And frae her sark he cut a share;
She’s ty’d it round his whey-white face,
But ay his head it aked mair.

8. Then louder cry’d the Clerk Colvill,
“O sairer, sairer akes my head;”
“And sairer, sairer ever will,”
The maiden crys, “Till you be dead.”

9. Out then he drew his shining blade,
Thinking to stick her where she stood,
But she was vanishd to a fish,
And swam far off, a fair mermaid.

10. “O mother, mother, braid my hair;
My lusty lady, make my bed;
O brother, take my sword and spear,
For I have seen the false mermaid.”

Clerk Colvill by Henry Matthew Brock from Darvill's Rare Prints

Clerk Colvill by Henry Matthew Brock

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