Folksongs Blog


As written in Select English Classics: Old Ballads, by Q

ca. 1910

In the following text, the burden is indicated in italics in the first stanza.
The form of each individual chorus is a-1-a-b-2, where a is the first line of the couplet, b is the second, and 1 and 2 are the first and second lines of the burden.

There were twa sisters sat in a bour;
Binnorie, O Binnorie!
There cam a knight to be their wooer,
By the bonnie milldams o’ Binnorie.

He courted the eldest with glove and ring,
But he lo’ed the youngest abune a’ thing.

The eldest she was vexčd sair,
And sair envěed her sister fair.

Upon a morning fair and clear,
She cried upon her sister dear:

‘O sister, sister, tak my hand,
And let's go down to the river-strand.’

She’s ta’en her by the lily hand,
And led her down to the river-strand.

The youngest stood upon a stane,
The eldest cam and push’d her in.

‘O sister, sister, reach your hand!
And ye sall be heir o’ half my land:

‘O sister, reach me but your glove!
And sweet William sall be your love.’

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
Until she cam to the miller's dam.

Out then cam the miller’s son,
And saw the fair maid soummin’ in.

‘O father, father, draw your dam!
There’s either a mermaid or a milk-white swan.’

The miller hasted and drew his dam,
And there he found a drown’d womŕn.

You couldna see her middle sma,’
Her gowden girdle was sae braw.

You couldna see her lily feet,
Her gowden fringes were sae deep.

All amang her yellow hair
A string o’ pearls was twisted rare.

You couldna see her fingers sma,’
Wi’ diamond rings they were cover’d a’.

And by there cam a harper fine,
That harpit to the king at dine.

And when he look’d that lady on,
He sigh’d and made a heavy moan.

He’s made a harp of her breast-bane,
Whose sound wad melt a heart of stane.

He’s ta’en three locks o’ her yellow hair,
And wi’ them strung his harp sae rare.

He went into her father’s hall,
And there was the court assembled all.

He laid his harp upon a stane,
And straight it began to play by lane.

‘O yonder sits my father, the King,
And yonder sits my mother, the Queen;

‘And yonder stands my brother Hugh,
And by him my William, sweet and true.’

But the last tune that the harp play’d then—
Was, ‘Woe to my sister, false Helčn!’

Other versions Year
Francis Grove 1656 compare compare all
Brown 1783 compare
Kinloch 1820's compare
Quiller-Couch A 1910 compare
Ingenthron 1941 compare
Clannad 1976 compare