> June Tabor > Songs > Maybe Then I’ll Be a Rose

Maybe Then I’ll Be a Rose

[words Les Barker, music Savourna Stevenson]

June Tabor sang Les Barker’s poem to Savourna Stevenson’s music in 1996 on their and Danny Thompson’s CD Singing the Storm. She also recorded it in 2001 for her Topic CD Rosa Mundi. This track was also include on her anthologies The Definite Collection and Always. June Tabor commented in the latter album’s notes:

Les Barker was one of the poets that Savourna Stevenson got in touch with to write songs for the Borders Festival project. I remember Les saying he sent Savourna a note which said that he hadn’t quite finished the first song so he was sending the second one. That was Maybe Then I’ll Be A Rose. It’s a poet’s response with a little bit of tongue-in-cheek to all the traditional ballads in which true love only gets worked out by people dying and then roses emerging from their graves. The roses eventually get to embrace each other, but it’s far too late for the people who should have done it. It says, “Seize the moment!”

And Les Barker commented:

The original idea came from Savourna Stevenson. It was a project of updated border ballads. I think I did about five of which three went on Singing the Storm. I knew the basic ballad story of this one with two lovers dying and the rose and briar entwining on the grave. It just seemed a silly way round to do things! So I wrote a sensible version of the ballad.

Pilgrims’ Way sang Maybe Then I’ll Be a Rose in 2010 on their eponymous debut EP, Pilgrims’ Way, and in 2016 on their Fellside CD Red Diesel. They commented in their EP’s sleeve notes:

Not so much as a single occasional table in sight in this beautiful song from Les Barker. A realist’s love song!

and on their CD:

Les Barker’s repertoire doesn’t contain many love songs, except that one about the Dachshunds. This is a beautiful exception.


June Tabor sings Maybe Then I’ll Be a Rose

I’ve heard of all those sad songs where he and she are parted,
And she dies for the love of him and he dies broken-hearted.

He lies in St. Mary’s kirk and she lies in the choir,
And out of her grave grows a rose and out of his a briar.

So at last their souls entwine and now as one are climbing;
Ten out of ten for true, true love, nought out of ten for timing.

I don’t want that kind of love that grows so high on sorrow,
I want you today my love and I want you tomorrow.

Here and now let’s drink the wine of life while life is ours.
Here and now my love entwine; it’s not just for the flowers.

And when time takes all away and death snuffs out this fire
Maybe then I’ll be a rose and you, my love, a briar.