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The Maid’s Lament / Maid Lamenting

[ Roud 1684 ; Master title: The Maid’s Lament ; Ballad Index ReSh233A ; VWML HAM/3/20/19 , HAM/3/12/24 ; trad.]

A.L. Lloyd sang The Maid’s Lament in 1956 on his Tradition album The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs. He noted:

Superior people incline to think folk songs are quaint harmless ditties, fragrant or comic, the amiable stammer of unlettered farmhands and servant girls. Popular folk song collections reflect this view. What then is to be made of such a song as this country girl’s lament, that suddenly jets like a fountain of agony, and in two brief stanzas cried such passion and heartbreak as would bring down the stars.

Eliza Carthy sang Maid Lamenting in 1996 on Waterson:Carthy’s second album Common Tongue. She also sang Maid Lamenting in an Andy Kershaw radio session on 3 March 1996 that was included in 2020 on her CD Live to Air. Martin Carthy noted on the original album:

Maid Lamenting is a piece of Yorkshire straightforwardness from the Frank Kidson collection, a song stripped right down and with absolutely no illusions.

George Sansome sang When Shall I Get Married? in 2020 on his eponymous album George Sansome. He noted:

I got this from Southern Harvest: The Constant Lovers & The Foggy Dew: English Folk Songs From the Hammond and Gardiner Manuscripts by Frank Purslow, edited by Steve Gardham.

Purslow assembled the song from a number of fragments including verses collected from Mrs Jane Hann (of Stoke Abbott, Dorset) [VWML HAM/3/20/19] and Mrs Webb (of King’s Norton, Worcestershire) [VWML HAM/3/12/24] by Henry Edward Denison Hammond, along with lines from an unidentified broadside to make sense of the incomplete collected verses.

The absence of a gendered narrative voice means a song like this is often heard as “a woman’s song”, even when sung by a man. I’ve often been told in folk clubs that it’s nice to hear me singing a song from a woman’s perspective; I’m sure this is the case with some singers, but I’m always a little confused by this interpretation. As I see it, it’s just a love song about a man—which could be sung by anyone.


Eliza Carthy sings Maid Lamenting

As I walked out one evening
Down by yon shady grove,
I heard a maid lamenting,
Lamenting for her love.

“He is cruel and hard-hearted,
Even now he’s false to me.
Oh I wish the day had never dawned
That he came following me.”

“If a young man has deceived you
Your tears they may well flow,
For men they are inconstant
That every girl should know.

“For their fancy’s like a feather
That is blown in every wind,
A man may’ve won a young lass’s heart
Yet often prove unkind.

“Go down to your father’s garden,
Sit down and cry your fill.
For when you gave your heart away
It was with your own good will.

“There’s a herb grows in your garden
And some do call it rue,
And swallows dive and fishes fly
And no man will prove true.”

(repeat last two verses)

And swallows dive and fishes fly
And no man will prove true.


Transcribed by Garry Gillard