Friday, March 24, 2006

I hadn't thought of it that way...

The other day Simon and Garfunkel's song "Scarborough Fair" came on the radio.

"I love this song," said I, turning it up.

"Me too," piped up MPC1 from the back.

"Eh," offered the wife. "Everyone thinks it's a romantic song. Most guys I know like it. But, I'm not sure they've listed to what it's about."

Being a smartass, I said, "Then I'd venture to guess it's not about spices."

"No, it's not."

It's kind of hard to get pick out the lyrics since they sing over each other throughout (thus I've provided them below), but basically he tasks a buddy who's going to Scarborough Fair to look up an old girlfriend and tell her to make a complicated shirt without using seams, buy some land, plant a crop, harvest it, bale it, and then he'll consider her his true love again.

Kinda funny when you take it literally. A great companion song would be "Don't Shoot the Messenger" for his buddy. And of course her answering song would be worth a listen, but you'd have to download it because they'd never play "Fuck You, You Lazy Bastard" on the radio.

Scarborough Fair

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
   On the side of a hill in the deep forest green
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
   Tracing a sparrow on snow-crested ground
Without no seam nor needlework
   Blankets and bedclothes a child of the mountain
Then she'll be a true love of mine
   Sleeps unaware of the clarion call

Tell her to find me an acre of land
   On the side of a hill, a sprinkling of leaves
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
   Washes the ground with silvery tears
Between the salt water and the sea strand
   A soldier cleans and polishes a gun
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Tell her to reap it in a sickle of leather
   War bellows, blazing in scarlet battalions
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
   Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to gather it all in a bunch of heather
   And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten
Then she'll be a true love of mine

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine


I checked the lyrics on the Simon and Garfunkel box set I have and home, and the original ones I posted were wrong. The ones here now are correct.

In trying to track down a good source for the lyrics, I came upon the Wikipedia article about it, worth reading. Also, the first two comments to this post are worth a look-see.


The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

"Scarborough Fair" is an adaptation of the Scots ballad "The Elfin Knight," which has dozens of variants, including Irish, English, and American ("Now you are going to Cape Ann..."). The premise, at least in the Scots variants, is that a maiden is lying in bed imagining her elfin knight, who then supernaturally appears and requires her to perform various impossible tasks before he'll marry her. It's related to the equally popular ballad "Riddles Wisely Expounded," in which the stakes are a little clearer: she's lost her maidenhood to the knight (that's why she's in bed), and can only be made an honest woman by answering correctly. The refrain is sometimes as in the S&G version, and sometimes the homophonic "Every rose grows merry in time."

Since it's the nature of ballads to be altered in word or meaning to the tastes of the musician and audience, it's perfectly feasible that your reading is the one that S&G had in mind; there's no "pure" version or meaning.

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Re: the Wikipedia article linked in your update. Interesting, but that bit about the Deeper Meaning of the "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" refrain is hooey. The phrase is just filler, and shows up as some form of "merry and time" or "merry antine" more frequently than as "rosemary and thyme." The briefest research turns up these refrains for variants on The Elfin Knight:

Whilst every grove rings with a merry antine
And every leaf grows merry in time
Every rose grows merry and fine
Parsley and sage, rosemary and thyme
Every rose is bonny in time
Every plant grows merry in time
Rue, parsley, rosemary and thyme
Every rose grows merry in time
Savory, sage, rosemary and thyme
Ivy leaf, sweet william and thyme
Every grave grows merry by time
Rozz-marrow and time
Rose de Marian time
Save rosemary and thyme
Every globe goes merry in time
So sav’ry was said come marry in time
Green grows the merry antine
A bunch of green holly and ivy
Shall I go whistling ivy
Sing holly, go whistle and ivy

I have no idea which form is the earliest, though I vote for some form of "merry antine," assuming "antine" to be a form of "antime," meaning an antiphon. Since the refrain is itself an antiphon, it would at least be less random than the other choices.

Yahmdallah said...

Ok, mang, how do you know so much about the history of this tune? Did I stumble upon the subject of an old college paper?

The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Homeschooling makes you an expert on everything that touches on early childhood education. A mile wide, an inch deep.

More specifically, being a literary snob, I mean purist, we did Robin Hood via the original ballads (check out "The Song of Robin Hood," illustrated fabulously by Virginia Lee Burton. Which got me into the Child Ballads. And so on. Check out .