“Mother, Mother, Make My Bed”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1906 (Vaughan Williams/Lloyd)
Keywords: love death dying magic lover burial
Found in: Britain(England(South)) US(SE)

Description

A young woman, dying, sends for her true love. He hastens home, but finds her already dead. He kisses her, and dies the next day. They are buried side by side, and a rose and briar twine over their grave.

Supplemental text

Mother, Mother, Make My Bed
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

From Ralph Vaughan Williams and A. L. Lloyd, The Penguin Book of
English Folk Songs, p. 71. Collected in 1906 from "Mrs. Ford,"
in Blackham, Sussex.

'Mother, mother, make my bed,
And wrap me in a milk-white sheet,
And wrap me in a cloak of gold,
And see whether I can sleep. 

'And send me the two bailies,
Likewise my sister's son,
That they may fetch me my own true love,
Or I shall die before ever he can come.'

(10 additional stanzas)

          *** B ***

From Dorothy Scarborough, A Song Catcher in Southern Mountains,
pp. 138-139. Collected from Mrs. Charity Lovingood on Murphy,
North Carolina.

She called to her little page boy,
  Who was her brother's son.
She told him as quick as he could go
  To bring her lord safe home.

Now the very first mile he would walk,
  And the second he would run,
And when he came to a [broken] bridge
  He bent his breast and swum.

O no, your tower is not falling down,
  Nor does your bower burn,
But we are afraide ere you return
  Your lade will be dead and gone.

(Stanzas 1, 2, 5 of 10)

Notes

This ballad shares verses with the cross-referenced titles; it's essentially a composite of floating verses and plot elements. -PJS

The problems with this song are myriad, though enough versions exist that it must be treated as a separate piece (at least; *I* say so; Roud lumps it with "Lady Maisry"). It shares material with many ballads (MacColl & Seeger see contacts with no fewer than ten Child ballads in their version, though some of these are stretched or verses found floating in several Child ballads -- e.g. the contact with "Little Musgrave" is the stanza "The first two miles the little boy walked, and the next two miles he run," which is an element which can float easily).

The real difficulty is, every version seems fragmentary. We don't know why the young woman is dying. If the ultimate source were "Lady Maisry," she is to be executed; if "Lord Lovel," she is dying for love. But neither explanation gains any support from the extant texts, implying that the cause of death was never stated. Paul Stamler suggests the possibility of plague. I doubt we'll ever know.

It is worth noting that Bronson has thirteen tunes listed under "Lady Maisry," and that eight of them (#4-11) belong to his "C" group, and that *all* of the texts of "Mother, Mother" are in the C group, and *every* song in the C group is either "Mother Mother" or a fragment which could be either song. Thus "Mother Mother" in fact appears to have its own distinct tune group. - RBW

Cross references

References

  1. Bronson 65, "Lady Maisry" (13 versions, of which #4, #5, #7, #8, #10, and perhaps #9 and #11 are this piece)
  2. MacSeegTrav 22, "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" (2 texts, 1 tune)
  3. Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, p. 71, "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 137-139, "Laidy Maisry" (1 text, which despite the title appears closer to this than to "Lady Maisry," though it lacks the "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" verse)
  5. ST VWL071 (Partial)
  6. Roud #45
  7. BI, VWL071