“I'll Hang My Harp on a Willow Tree”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: c. 1846 (sheet music)
Keywords: war infidelity wedding music harp
Found in: US(SE) Ireland Britain(England,Scotland)

Description

"I'll hang my harp on a willow tree, I'm off to the wars again." The singer's love is to be wed to one of higher degree. For her sake he gave up soldiering and became a minstrel, but after her wedding he will resume soldiering, hoping to die in battle

Supplemental text

I'll Hang My Harp on a Willow Tree
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

I'll Hang My Harp

From John Ord, Ord's Bothy Songs and Ballads, pp. 56-57,
from the singing of Mrs. D. S. Allen.

I'll hang my harp on a willow tree,
  And I'll off to the wars again;
My peaceful home has no charms for me,
  The battlefield no pain.
For the lady I love will soon be a bride,
  With a diadem on her brow,
Oh! why did she flatter my boyish pride?
  She's going to leave me now.

She took me away from my war-like lord,
  And she gave me a silken suit;
I thought no more of my master's sword
  When I played on my lady's lute.
She seemed to think me a boy above
  Her pages of low degree,
Oh! had I but loved with a boyish love
  It would have been better for me.

Then I'll hide in my breast every selfish care,
  And I'll flush my pale cheek with wine,
When smiles awaken the bridal pair
  I'll hasten to give them mine.
I'll laugh and I'll sing though my heart my bleed,
  And I'll walk in the festive train,
And if I survive I'll mount my steed
  And I'll off to the wars again.

But one golden tress of her hair I'll twine
  In my helmet's sable plume,
And then on the field of Palestine
  I'll seek an early doom.
And if by the Saracen's hand I fall,
  'Mid the noble and the brace,
A tear from my lady-love is all
  I seek for the warrior's grave.

Notes

The earliest references to this piece seem to be from American sheet music: A copy of c. 1846 was printed in Philadelphia with an arrangement credited to Leopold Meignen. In 1848/9 it was published in Louisville, Kentucky and credited to Wellington Guernsey. A 1909 American text is effectively identical to the Sam Henry text of 1926, but with a noticeably different tune. Given that the song was found both in Ulster by Henry and in England by Ord, one must suspect British origin, but the matter is uncertain.

Ord heard a report that the singer in this song was involved with Queen Victoria before her marriage (allegedly at 17, i.e. in 1836/37, shortly before she took the throne). There is no external confirmation of this, and does not match his text of the song, since in the text, the love has golden hair. Also, he speaks of fighting the Saracen -- but by Victoria's time, the Saracen was replaced by the Turk, and the English were generally supporting the Turks against Russia. - RBW

Broadside LOCSinging as201530: H. De Marsan dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Cross references

Broadsides

References

  1. McNeil-SFB1, pp. 113-115, "I'll Hang My Harp on a Willow Tree" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  2. SHenry H155, p. 366, "I'll Hang My Harp on a Willow Tree" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. Ord, pp. 56-57, "I'll Hang My Harp" (I text, 1 tune)
  4. ST MN1113 (Full)
  5. Roud #1444
  6. BI, MN1113