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Jolly Old Hawk

[ Roud 1048 ; Ballad Index K298 ; VWML CJS2/9/1243 , SBG/1/1/323 ; Mudcat 126026 ; trad.]

Sabine Baring-Gould, H. Fleetwood Sheppard: Songs of the West James Reeves: The Idiom of the People James Reeves: The Everlasting Circle

The Watersons sang Jolly Old Hawk in 1965 on their LP Frost and Fire and in their BBC TV documentary Travelling for a Living. Waterson:Carthy with Norma Waterson in lead recorded it again in 2006 for their album Holy Heathens and the Old Green Man. A.L. Lloyd noted on the earlier album:

The twelve days following Christmas were among the most critical of the year, when the sun was at its feeblest and, it was thought, all manner of demons were abroad. Certain ceremonies had to be observed and it was important to make no mistake in carrying them out, or penalties would be incurred. This may be the origin of the many forfeit games played in the season ending with Twelfth Night. The games were accompanied with cumulative songs involving the litany-like recitation of formulas. The Twelve Days of Christmas is perhaps the best known of these. Jolly Old Hawk is another such. The tune may have come to us from France or Flanders in the Middle Ages; it has close relatives over the Channel. Cecil Sharp found the song at Bridgwater in Somerset.

and Martin Carthy on the newer one:

Jolly Old Hawk is an Epiphany or Twelfth Night carol. Cecil Sharp found it with a gentleman called William Chorley in Bridgwater [VWML CJS2/9/1243] and James Reeves printed it in his ground breaking book called The Idiom of the People: ground breaking because it was the first publication which devoted itself entirely to the words of songs treating them as seriously as had been the music hitherto. But then Reeves was a poet with a proper understanding of the way language works in a narrative song. In doing so he joined W.H. Auden who for several years had been a voice in the wilderness and who earlier had included several traditional lyrics—unadorned—in anthologies of poetry which he himself had edited. Reeves suggests that “fif and a fairy” is a fieldfare, that “four-feeted pig” is a fittering (struggling) pig and that “fistle cock” is a “thristle cock”—a thrush.

Canterbury Fair sang Jolly Old Hawk on their eponymous 1977 album Canterbury Fair. They noted:

This song appears to have been published only in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society, No. 20, 1916, and is related to The Twelve Days of Christmas. The goshawk is a symbol for an inconstant mistress. The song is very different, however, to The Gay Goshawk which appears in the Child Collection (No. 96). The theme is the well-known one of winning favours by giving gifts. Though the gifts here may appear grotesque at times, they are probably deeply bound up in the yearly cycle of survival paramount in the lives of the old English peasants.

Jim Causley sang Jolly Goss Hawk on his 2021 CD Devonia. He noted:

Traditional, Baring-Gould Collection. Collected from Harry Westaway of Belstone [VWML SBG/1/1/323] .


The Watersons sing Jolly Old Hawk

Jolly old hawk and his wings were grey;
Now let us sing.
Who’s going to win the girl but me?
Jolly old hawk and his wings were grey
Sent to my love on the twelfth-most day.

Twelve old bears and they was a-roaring,
Eleven old mares and they was a-brawling,
Ten old cocks crawl out in the morning,
Nine old boars and they was a-quarrelling.

Jolly old hawk and his wings were grey
Sent to my love on the twelfth most day.

Eight old bulls and they was a-blaring
Seven old calves and they ran before ’em
Six old cows and they was a-bellowing,
Five for fif and a fairy.

Jolly old hawk and his wings were grey
Sent to my love on the twelfth most day.

A four-feeted pig and a three-fistle cock,
And two little birds and a jolly old hawk.

Jolly old hawk and his wings were grey;
Now let us sing.
Who’s going to win the girl but me?


Transcribed from the singing of the Watersons by Garry Gillard