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And ran to London, un-to seynt Poulés,
50 OLD ENGLISH BALLADS
The fifteenth century, so barren of great names in English poetry, was especially rich in the production of popular ballads. These were the poetry of the people, in part composed by wandering minstrels and sung by them at wakes, and fairs, and country holidays, in part the common property of the race and reaching back to old tradition and mythology. Their subjects embraced the whole range of common life. There were ballads on the stirring events of the time, the king's wars, the feuds of the great nobles, the lives and adventures of the beloved outlaws who defied the king's will and baffled the lordly rulers of the common people. There were songs of love, and hate, and jealousy, of battle, murder, and sudden death. And there were many songs of the great world of the supernatural that then lay so near the common life of man, of witches, of fairies, and of ghosts that returned to visit those that loved them.
In the sixteenth century many of these old songs were for the first time committed to writing, printed, and sold about the country by traveling peddlers. Many of them were spoiled in the process. The old simplicity, vigor, and passion were toned down by the pedantic scholars or half-educated printers who prepared them for the press. And so the English ballads, as a rule, are far inferior to those of Scotland, which lingered longer in the mouths
- unprinted many of them till Walter Scott, that famous lover of old tradition and romance, gave them to the world in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It is from this collection that four of the ballads here printed are chosen, and it is to this collection that every lover of the old songs of our ancestors is referred as to one of the fascinating books in English.
ROBIN HOOD'S DEATH AND BURIAL
When Robin Hood and Little John,
Down a down, a down, a down,
Hey down, a down, a down.
But I am not able to shoot one shot more,
My arrows will not fee;
Please God, she will bleed me.'
Now Robin is to fair Kirkley gone,
As fast as he can win;
He was taken very ill.
And when that he came to fair Kirkley-hall,
He knock'd all at the ring,
For to let bold Robin in.
Will you please to sit down, cousin Robin,' she said,
* And drink some beer with me?' “No, I will neither eat nor drink
Till I am blooded by thee.'
Well, I have a room, cousin Robin,' she said,
• Which you did never see, And if you please to walk therein,
You blooded by me shall be.'
She took him by the lily-white hand,
And led him to a private room,
Whilst one drop of blood would run.
She blooded him in the vein of the arm,
And locked him up in the room ; There did he bleed all the live-long day,
Until the next day at noon.
He then bethought him of a casement door,
Thinking for to be gone;
Nor he could not get down.
He then bethought him of his bugle-horn,
Which hung low down to his knee; He set his horn unto his mouth,
And blew out weak blasts three.
Then Little John, when hearing him,
As he sat under the tree,
He blows so wearily.'
Then Little John to fair Kirkley is gone,
As fast as he can dri'e ;
He broke locks two or three:
Until he came bold Robin to,
Then he fell on his knee: • A boon, a boon,' cries Little John,
• Master, I beg of thee.'
•What is that boon,' quoth Robin Hood,
• Little John, thou begs of me?' It is to burn fair Kirkley-hall,
And all their nunnery.'
Now nay, now nay,' quoth Robin Hood,
• That boon I 'll not grant thee; I never hurt woman in all my life,
Nor man in woman's company.
• I never hurt fair maid in all my time,
Nor at my end shall it be;
And a broad arrow I'll let flee,
There shall my grave digg'd be.
• Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet;
Which was my music sweet ;
Which is most right and meet.
Let me have length and breadth enough,
With a green sod under my head; That they may say, when I am dead,
Here lies bold Robin Hood.'
These words they readily promis'd him,
Which did bold Robin please;
Near to the fair Kirkleys.