“Green Gravel”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1894 (Gomme)
Keywords: courting death river playparty
Found in: US(MW,NE,SE,So) Ireland

Description

"Green gravel, green gravel, Your (bank/grass) is so green; The fairest young damsel I ever have seen." Usually a short lyric of praise for a girl, then a report that the girl's love is dead

Supplemental text

Green Gravel
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From Alice B. Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland,
and Ireland, Volume I, p. 171, text I. From Belfast.

Green gravel, greem gravel, your grass is so green,
The fairest young damsel that ever was seen;
We washed her, we dried her, we rolled her in silk,
And we wrote down her name with a glass pen and ink.
Dear Annie, dear Annie, your true love is dead,
And we sent you a letter to turn round your head.

          *** B ***

Also from Gomme, pp. 171-172, text III. From Derbyshire
and Worcestershire.

Around the green gravel the grass is so green,
All the pretty fair maids are plain to be seen;
Wash them in milk, and clothe them in silk,
Write down their names with a gold pen and ink.
All but Miss "Jenny," her sweetheart is dead;
She's off to her wedding to turn back her head.

O mother, O mother, do you think it is true?
O yes, child! O yes, child!
Then what shall I do?
We'll wash you in milk, and dress you in silk,
And write down your name with a gold pen and ink.

          *** C ***

Also from Gomme, pp. 174, text XIV. From Oxfordshire.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
The fairest young lady that ever was seen.
As I went up Miss Betsey's stairs to buy a frying-pan,
There sat Miss Betsey a-kissing her young man.

She pulled off her glove and showed me her ring,
And the very next morning the bells they did ring.
Dear Betsey, dear Betsey, your true love is dead,
He's sent you a letter to turn back your head.

          *** D ***

From Vance Randolph Ozark Folksongs, Volume III, p. 323,
text B. Collected 1930 from Elizabeth Waddell of Ash Grove,
Missouri.

Green gravel, green gravel,
How green the grass grows,
An' all the free masons
Are dressed in green clothes!

          *** E ***

From W. W. Newell, Games and Songs of American Children, item
#15, p. 71.

Green gravel, green gravel, the grass is so green,
And all the free masons (maidens) are ashamed (arrayed?) to be seen.
O Mary, O Mary, your true love is dead,
The king sends you a letter to turn back your head.

          *** F ***

The Beers family, of "The Seasons of Peace," sings a version
similar to the above, in which the King sends a letter (to
announce the lad's death, presumably in a war, likely the
Napoleonic wars); the girl is told to "bow down her head."
The key stanza runs,

Miss Martha, Miss Martha,
Your love has been found;
'Twas only his stallion
That fell to the ground.

Notes

Usually tells of a girl whose young man was slain (in the Napoleonic wars?), but in the Ozarks it's a playparty. The Beers Family sings a version in which the young man survives and returns to the girl -- but I wonder if they didn't write that.

Randolph was told that the song "reflects the Irish Catholic's hatred of the Masonic fraternity," but the only evidence I've seen for this is the mention of "free masons" (or corruptions thereof) in a few texts.

By the time Linscott picked it up, it had become a singing game -- and she reports that it wasn't very popular because "it called for little energy or imagination." She thought it described the process of laying out the dead, but there is no hint of that in her words.

The "Green gravel" refrain may perhaps be from a nursery rhyme from Halliwell (see Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #326, p.177):

Around the green gravel the grass grows green,

And all the pretty maids are plain to be seen;

Wash them with milk, and clothe them with silk,

And write their names with a pen and ink. - RBW

Also collected and sung by David Hammond, "Green Gravel" (on David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland," Tradition TCD1052 CD (1997) reissue of Tradition LP TLP 1028 (1959))

Sean O Boyle, notes to David Hammond, "I Am the Wee Falorie Man: Folk Songs of Ireland": "Irishmen like to think that the mysterious name ['Green Gravel'] is a folk rationalization of 'An Glas Gaibhlinn,' the name of a fabulous Irish cow whose milk never ran dry." - BS

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Randolph 532, "Green Gravel" (2 short texts plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
  2. SHenry H48b, p. 10, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Hammond-Belfast, p. 10, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Flanders/Brown, p. 188, "Green Gravel" (1 text)
  5. Linscott, pp. 10-11, "Green Gravel" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. DT, GRNGRAVL*
  7. ADDITIONAL: Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, p. 79
  8. ST R532 (Full)
  9. Roud #1368
  10. BI, R532