“The Wife of Usher's Well”

Alternate titles: “The Dead Little Boys”; “The Wife of the Free”; “The Fine Lady Gay”; “The Cartin Wife”; “A Moravian Song”; “The Lady and the Children Three”; “The Three Pore Little Children”; “The Lone Widow”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1802 (Scott)
Keywords: ghost death mourning magic
Found in: US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So) Britain(England(West,South),Scotland)

Description

A mother sends her sons away to school, where they die. She swears not to believe in God until they return to her. Later, they do return, but as ghosts. At last they convince her (perhaps by means of the roasted cock crowing) to let them rest

Notes

Bronson makes the interesting observation that there is one Scottish tune for this song, unrelated to any other; two English tunes, related only to each other, and dozens of American collections, most of which (43 of them) have tunes related to each other but not to the Scottish or English forms.

It's hard to know what to do with Lena Bourne Fish's version (the "B" version in Flanders-Ancient2). The first lines are clearly part of this song; the ending is not. It belongs to the romances about a noble marrying a commoner. The tune is shared with Phyllis Burditt's version of "The Wife of Usher's Well," but Bronson finds that tune to be unique.

I'm lumping the two because there is still kinship, and I don't recognize the second half of Fish's song -- but I wouldn't be surprised if she has combined two songs.

The notion that excessive mourning (usually meaning mourning for more than a year and a day) results in the ghost being unable to rest is at least hinted at in several other songs, the most noteworthy being "The Unquiet Grave" [Child 78]. - RBW

Cross references

Recordings

References

  1. Child 79, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (3 texts)
  2. Bronson 79, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (58 versions)
  3. Leather, pp. 198-199, "There Was a Lady in Merry Scotland" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3}
  4. SharpAp 22 "The Wife of Usher's Well" (8 texts plus 9 fragments, 18 tunes){Bronson's #23, #18, #49, #20, #47, #4, #9, #50, #31, #5, #32, #43, #39, #40, #13, #14, #51, #7}
  5. Sharp/Karpeles-80E 17, "The Three Little Babes (The Wife of Usher's Well)" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
  6. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 449-451, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts derived from Cox)
  7. Belden, pp. 55-57, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
  8. Randolph 19, "The Three Little Babes" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #10, #8}
  9. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 39, "The Three Little Babes" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 19B) {Bronson's #8}
  10. Eddy 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #24}
  11. Flanders-Ancient2, pp. 187-194, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts, 2 tunes; the first version has textual but not melodic variants; the tunes are effectively the same, but the "B" text, while it starts with "Usher's Well" lyrics, is clearlly a rewrite; the boys go off to sea, return, and one marries a servant girl) {A=Bronson's #58}
  12. Flanders/Olney, pp. 64-66, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #58}
  13. Davis-Ballads 22, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (11 texts plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes entitled "The Three Little Babes," "Lady Gay"; 1 more version mentioned in Appendix A) {Bronson's #48, #33}
  14. Davis-More 23, pp. 161-169, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (5 texts, 4 tunes)
  15. BrownII 25, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (4 text plus 3 excerpts and mention of 2 more)
  16. Hudson 14, pp. 93-95, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
  17. Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 167-169, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text, locally titled "There Was a Lady, and a Lady Was She"; tune on p. 402) {Bronson's #57}
  18. Ritchie-Southern, p. 69, "The Miracle of Usher's Well" (1 text, 1 tune)
  19. Brewster 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  20. Leach, pp. 263-265, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
  21. McNeil-SFB2, pp. 134-135, "Mary Hebrew" (1 text, 1 tune)
  22. OBB 32, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  23. Friedman, p. 34, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (3 texts)
  24. PBB 24, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  25. Niles 33, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (4 texts, 4 tunes)
  26. Gummere, pp. 195-196+346-347, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  27. Fuson, pp. 59-60, "The Cruel Mother (Or Three Children)" (1 text)
  28. Lomax-FSNA 91, "Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #30, though in 4/4 where Bronson marks 3/2!}
  29. Chase, pp. 116-118, "Lady Gay" (1 text, 1 tune)
  30. Hodgart, p. 58, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  31. JHCox 14, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (5 texts plus mention of 2 more)
  32. LPound-ABS, 7, pp. 18-19, "Children's Song"; pp. 20-21, "Three Little Babes" (2 texts)
  33. Darling-NAS, pp. 32-33, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (2 texts)
  34. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 80-81, "The Wife of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  35. DT 79, LADYGAY* USHERWEL USHRWEL2*
  36. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #429, "The Wif of Usher's Well" (1 text)
  37. Roud #196
  38. BI, C079