The Dowie Dens o Yarrow

On Springthyme SPRCD 1038
Jane Turriff - Singin is Ma Life

Jane Turriff: vocal, self-accompanied on pedal organ.

The Yarrow valley runs from the Border hills south of Edinburgh to join the river Tweed near Selkirk. Although this is a genuine Border Ballad, James Duncan calls it 'unquestionably the most widely known of our old ballads in the North East.' Greig-Duncan has eleven texts, none with Jane's distinctive opening verse. There is much similarity, however, when it comes to the combat verses. It is not clear in Jane's version who the murderer is, but she has her own ideas: Jane: He wis goin for them aa, bit een o them came at him fae the back. It must have been his brither-in-law.
On one occasion, Jane sang this song to a different melody, unusual for a traditional singer and she sometimes begins with two extra verses which do help clarify the motive. These lines also appear as verses two and three in Agnes Lyle of Kilbarchan's version, noted by William Motherwell in 1825 (Child C). Tennies Bank probably refers the Tinnis Burn near Newcastleton in the Scottish borders (Greig Duncan 215, Child 214, Ord 426).

1: "You took my sister to be your wife
And you thought not her marrow;
You rook her frae her father's side,
When she was a rose on Yarrow."
2: "I took your sister to be my wife
And I made her my marrow;
I took her frae her father's side
And she's still the rose o Yarrow."
3: He's gaen tae his lady gan,
As he had done before o,
Sayin, "Madam I maun keep a tryst
On the dowie dens o Yarrow."
4: "O bide at hame ma lord," she said,
"O bide at hame my marrow,
For my three brothers, they will slay thee,
In the dowie dens o Yarrow."
5: "Hold yer tongue, ma lady dear
What's aa this strife and sorrow? [grief and
For I'll come back to thee again,
In the dowie dens o Yarrow."
6: She kissed his cheeks, she kissed his hair,
As she had done before o
And gied him a brand doon by his side
An he's awa tae Yarrow.
7: So he's gan up yon Tennies Bank
A wite he gaed wi sorrow [i.e. I know he gaed
An there he met nine armed men [spied nine
In the dowie dens o Yarrow.
8: O come ye here tae howk or hound, [i.e. hawk
Or drink the wine sae clear o,
Or come ye here tae pairt yer land
On the dowie dens o Yarrow?"
9: "I come not here tae howk or hound,
Or drink the wine sae clear o,
Nor come I here tae pairt ma land,
But I'll fight wi you in Yarrow."
10: So four he's hurt an five he's slain
In the bloody dens o Yarrow,
Till a cowardly man cam him behind
An he's pierced his body through o.
11: "Oh gae hame, gae hame, ma brither John,
Whit's aa this grief and sorrow? [dule and
Gae hame an tell ma lady dear
That I sleep sound in Yarrow."
12: So he's gane up yon high, high hill
As he had done before o
An there he met his sister dear,
She wis comin fast tae Yarrow.
13: "Oh I dreamt a dreary dream yestreen,
God keep us aa fae sorrow!
I dreamt I pulled the birk sae green,
(or: I dreamt that I wis pu'in heather bells)
On the dowie dens o Yarrow."
14: "O sister I will read yer dream
And oh it has come sorrow:
Your true love he lies dead an gone,
He was killed, was killed in Yarrow."

Jane: Ye jist think that quine's tellin him for his ain good. Sad an aa, is it? "Nor come I here tae pairt ma land." I put action in't, 'at's the wey it should be! A good song that; you niver hear that songs nowadays. I won with singin it at Kinross (TMSA, Kinross Traditional Music Festival, 1977).

Recorded by Peter Cooke and Akiko Takamatsu, Mintlaw 1987 and by Allan Palmer, Mintlaw 1979.

Traditional arranged Jane Turriff
Springthyme Records © 1996.