Popular Ballads of the Olden Time

The following is from Popular Ballads of the Olden Time: Third Series - Ballads of Scottish Tradition and Romance Selected and Edited by Frank Sidgwick:

Clyde's Water

The Text is from the Skene MS., but I have omitted the three final lines, which do not make a complete stanza, and, when compared with Scott's 'Old Lady's' version, are obviously corrupt. The last verse should signify that the mothers of Willie and Meggie went up and down the bank saying, 'Clyde's water has done us wrong!'

The ballad is better known as Willie and May Margaret.

The Story--Willie refuses his mother's request to stay at home, as he wishes to visit his true-love. The mother puts her malison, or curse, upon him, but he rides off. Clyde is roaring, but Willie says, 'Drown me as I come back, but spare me as I go,' which is Martial's

'Parcite dum propero, mergite cum redeo,'

and occurs in other English broadsides. Meggie will not admit Willie, and he rides away. Meggie awakes, and learns that she has dismissed her true-love in her sleep. Our ballad is deficient here, but it is obvious from st. 19 that both lovers are drowned. We must understand, therefore, that Meggie follows Willie across Clyde. A variant of the ballad explains that she found him 'in the deepest pot' in all Clyde's water, and drowned herself.

Child notes that there is a very popular Italian ballad of much the same story, except that the mother's curse is on the girl and not the man.

There is a curious change in the style of spelling from stanza 15 to the end.

'Ye gie corn unto my horse,
  An' meat unto my man,
For I will gae to my true-love's gates
  This night, gin that I can.'

'O stay at hame this ae night, Willie,
  This ae bare night wi' me;
The best bed in a' my house
  Sall be well made to thee.'

'I carena for your beds, mither,
  I carena ae pin,
For I'll gae to my love's gates
  This night, gin I can win.'

'O stay, my son Willie, this night,
  This ae night wi' me;
The best hen in a' my roost
  Sall be well made ready for thee.'

'I carena for your hens, mither,
  I carena ae pin;
I sall gae to my love's gates
  This night, gin I can win.'

'Gin ye winna stay, my son Willie,
  This ae bare night wi' me,
Gin Clyde's water be deep and fu' o' flood,
  My malisen drown ye!'                     ['malisen,' curse]

He rode up yon high hill,
  An' down yon dowie glen;
The roaring o' Clyde's water
  Wad hae fleyt ten thousand men.     ['fleyt,' frightened]

'O spare me, Clyde's water,
  O spare me as I gae!
Mak me your wrack as I come back,
  But spare me as I gae!'

He rade in, and farther in,
  Till he came to the chin;
And he rade in, and farther in,
  Till he came to dry lan'.

And whan he came to his love's gates,
  He tirled at the pin.
'Open your gates, Meggie,
  Open your gates to me,
For my beets are fu' o' Clyde's water,
  And the rain rains oure my chin.'

'I hae nae lovers therout,' she says,
  'I hae nae love within;
My true-love is in my arms twa,
  An' nane will I lat in.'

'Open your gates, Meggie, this ae night,
  Open your gates to me;
For Clyde's water is fu' o' flood,
  An' my mither's malison'll drown me.'

'Ane o' my chamers is fu' o' corn,' she says,
  'An' ane is fu' o' hay;
Anither is fu' o' gentlemen,
  An' they winna move till day.'

Out waked her May Meggie,
  Out o' her drousy dream:
'I dreamed a dream sin the yestreen,
  (God read a' dreams to guid!)           ['read,' interpret]
That my true-love Willie
  Was standing at my bed-feet.'          ['standing,' staring in manuscript]

'Now lay ye still, my ae dochter,
  An' keep my back fra the call',
For it's na the space of hafe an hour
  Sen he gad fra yer hall'.'

'An' hey, Willie, an' hoa, Willie,
  Winne ye turn agen?'
But ay the louder that she crayed
  He rod agenst the wind.

He rod up yon high hill,
  An' doun yon douey den;
The roring that was in Clide's water
  Wad ha' flayed ten thousand men.

He road in, an' farder in,
  Till he came to the chine;
An' he road in, an' farder in,
  Bat never mare was seen.

  ... ... ...

Ther was na mare seen of that guid lord
  Bat his hat frae his head;
There was na mare seen of that lady
  Bat her comb an' her sneed.  ['sneed,' snood, fillet]

  ... ... ...

Katharine Jaffray

Copyright Scotland from the Roadside 2016