The Wandering Ballad – Song no. 9: Sweet William

December 2, 2014

This is the nineth in a series of blogs about the songs on our new CD “The Wandering Ballad”. 

 

Sweet William is basically the same song as Wake up, it is just a different melody variant, and when we told the story of the runaway couple we used it to begin and end the show.

 

Here the couple is called William and Ellen and the weaponry has changed as William now wields a pistol rather than bow and arrow or sword.

 

Sweet William down from the highlands rode.

It was all by the light of the moon.

He rode till he came to fair Ellen’s gate

and there he lighted down.

 

“Get you up you seven brothers

and guard your sister around,

for it never shall be said that a steward’s son

has taken her out of town”

 

“I thank you sir and its very kind,

but I am no steward’s son.

My father was a regal king

my mother a Quaker’s queen.”

 

She mounted on a milk white steed.

He rode a dappled gray.

He drew his pistol all down by his side

and they went riding away.

 

They had not come more than three miles out of town

when he looked back again

and saw her father and seven brothers

come rippling over the plain.

 

“Get you down sweet Ellinor”, he said,

“and hold my horse by the rains

while I play a while with your father

and your seven brethren”.

 

She mounted on a milk white steed.

He rode a dappled gray.

He drew his pistol all down by his side

and they went riding away.

 

The haunting melody of the song gives a premonition of a bad ending. According to the ballad the seven brothers and the father catches up with the runaway couple and in the ensuing fight, Sweet William, the brothers and the father all die, soon followed by Ellen who dies of a broken heart. Or maybe this couple, whose story has traveled from Punjab, to Europe, to Scandinavia, to the U.S, got away once more? Maybe, if you listen carefully you might hear them, still galloping over the plain …

 

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