1] In 1765, Thomas Percy, later Bishop of Dromore, published in three volumes his collection of "old heroic ballads, songs and other pieces of our earlier poets together with some few of later date," under the title Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, The edition contained, in addition to a dedication to the Countess of Northumberland and a preface, an "Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels" which was, in part, responsible for the increasing interest in the ballad and minstrel literature of the past. It encouraged one poet at least, James Beattie (1735-1803), to write one of the century's best poems in the Spenserian stanza, The Minstrel (1771-74). Percy collected his materials from old manuscripts, from English and Scottish correspondents, from earlier printings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ballads, from the archives of various antiquarian societies, and from earlier collections of ballads, especially the Pepys collection, "near 2000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio," in the Library of Magdalen College, Cambridge. The text of this ballad is based upon that of the first edition of the Reliques. According to Percy's description, the poem is "a Scottish ballad," and was obtained "from a MS. copy transmitted from Scotland." In a version recorded in Scotland some years later, and in an analogous Scandinavian ballad, a brother, not a father, has been murdered. Noteworthy in the version here given is the use of repetition to produce suspense, and the withholding of the mother's guilt until the close to effect surprise and shock.
"Why does your sword so drop with blood?"
4] gang: walk.
5] guid: good.
8] nae mair bot: no more but, none but.
16] erst: formerly.
17] auld: old.
20] "Some other grief you are enduring."
24] wae: woe.
25] whatten: what kind of.
33] ha': hall.
37] fa': fall.
40] maun: must.
45] The warldis room: the world's large.
late: let. thrae: through.
49] ain: own.
53] frae: from.
56] Sic: such.
Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department
of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.
Original text: Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
First publication date: 1765
Publication date note: (but much earlier)
RPO poem editor: G. G. Falle
RP edition: 3RP 2.231.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10
Other poems by Thomas Percy