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The Half-Hitch

[ Roud 1887 ; Laws N23 ; Ballad Index LN23 ; trad.]

Peggy Seeger sang The Half-Hitch in 1982 on her and Ewan MacColl's Blackthorne album Blood & Roses Volume 2. They noted:

Child gives the title of this ballad as The Marriage of Sir Gawain [Child 31], but the poetry of his sets has little in common with that of The Half-Hitch, or The Loathly Bride as it is sometimes called. The themes, on the other hand, are consistent right back through a whole series of songs and stories from the Middle Ages: that a vow once given must be kept, and that a courteous knight is wed (by his vow) to a repulsive bride. The use of the cante-fable form (not mentioned in Child) adds to the local humour of our set, which comes from Maine.

Lyrics

Peggy Seeger sings The Half-Hitch

It's of a rich merchant in Plymouth did dwell,
He had a fine daughter, most beautiful girl;
A young man of honour and riches supplied,
He courted this young girl to be his bride,
O, to be his bride.

He's courted her long till he gained her love,
At length she intended her young man to prove;
Once more he asked her, once more she denied,
She told him down plainly she would not be his bride,
She would not be his bride.

Of all the sad oaths that he to her did swear,
Saying, “Straight home I quickly will steer;
I'll have the first woman who says she'll have me
Though she be as mean as the beggar can be,
As the beggar can be.”

She's ordered her servants her love to delay,
Her rings and her jewels she quick laid away;
She put on all the old rags she could find,
She looked like the beggar before and behind,
Before and behind.

She blacked up her hands on the chimney back,
Her face likewise from corner to crack;
Then away down the road she flew like a witch,
With her petticoat hoisted all on her ‘half-hitch’
All on her ‘half-hitch’.

See now he comes a-riding, in haste he drew near,
He cried out, “Alas! For my vow I do fear!”
For she stubbed along with her shoe-heels askew,
He soon overtook her and said, “Who be you?”
And said. “Who be you?”

(spoken) I'm a woman, I guess.

This answer it struck him with fear to the heart,
He wished from his life that he soon might depart.
“O heavens!” cried he, “But I wished I'd been buried!”
And quickly he asked he, he says. “Are you married?”
He says. “Are you married?”

(spoken) No I ain't!

This answer it struck him unto a dead man,
He stumbled, he staggered, he hardly could stand.
“O, how can I bear my hard burden?” thought he,
So quickly he asked her, says, “Will you have me?”
Says, “Will you have me?”

(spoken) Well—yes, I guess I will if I have to.

This answer it suited as bad as the rest,
His heart it lay heavy in this young man's breast;
His courage near failed him, he durst not go home
His parents would think he was surely undone,
Surely undone.

His father said, Son you are sure for to rue,
But let's clean her up and it's maybe she'll do.
So published they were and invited the guests,
And soon it was time for the bride to be dressed,
For the bride to be dressed.

(spoken) No, I guess I'll just get married in my old dirty clothes, I s'pose.

When the wedding was over, they sat down to eat,
With her hands she grabbed hold of the cabbage and meat,
Her fingers was burned and the tongues they did wag
As she licked them and wiped them all on her old rags,
All on her old rags.

Some laughed in their sleeves till their sides was bust in;
But fiercer than ever she at it again,
And as she sat grabbing they to her replied,
“Go sit yourself down by your true lover's side,
By your true lover's side.”

(spoken) No, I guess I'll just sit away in the dirty old chimney corner, I s'pose.

Some laughed in their sleeves till their sides they did ache,
And others with sorrow, right ready to break;
“Come, give me a candle and I'll go to bed,
For I mean to go all by myself,” she said,
“By myself,” she said.

(spoken) Husband! When you hear my old shoe go ‘clong’ then you may come up to me.

So upstairs she went and a-thrashing about.
His mother said, “Son what's all this about?”
“O mother, dear mother, pray say not one word,
No comfort to me can this whole world afford,
This whole world afford.”

(spoken) Husband! My old shoe done gone ‘clong’ a long time ago. Ain't you comin'?

So up he arose and he staggered along,
But they give him a candle and they bid him go on.
“I'd rather to go in the darkness,” he said,
“For I very well know how to get to my bed,
How to get to my bed.”

He launched into bed with his back to his bride,
But she rolled and she tumbled from side unto side;
She rolled till the bed-legs did holler and squeal,
He says, “Dear what ails you? Why can't you lie still?
Why can't you lie still?”

(spoken) My shins are sore. Can't you get a candle to grease 'em by, dear?

So up he arose for to grease his wife's shins.
Behold, she lay dressed in the finest of things;
He says, “Is it you, my dear jewel, at last?”
She says, “Yes it is, and our troubles are past,
Our troubles are past.”

So downstairs they went and a frolic they had
And all them sad hearts was merry and glad;
She looked like a picture, right pleasing to spy
With many full glasses, we bid them good-bye.
We bid them good-bye.