Monday, May 16, 2016

Sir Patrick Spens - 2 (Child's Ballads & Percy's Reliques)

AG: Reed (Bye), I'm sorry?
Reed Bye [sitting in on the class] : This Oxford version [of  "Sir Patrick Spens"] has quite a few more verses.
AG: It does?
RB There's the whole sinking of the ship...
AG: Well, read it, then. Can you read this? You mean they left out verses here? - Yes - How many have they got?, they've got eleven
RB: Well, you have to read the whole thing, there's actually twenty-two. There's a verse number four, has a note, actually, from the King, saying "To Noroway, to Noroway/To Noroway o'er the faem/The King's daughter o' Noroway…"  

AG: Why don't we begin at the beginning? and hear the whole thing?
Reed Bye: The whole thing?
AG: Yes.. 
Then, actually, we have Percy's Reliques, and I bet they have.. do they have "Sir Patrick Spens in that? Probably another version there. But I'd like to hear the whole thing.

[Starting at approximately fifty-four minutes in, Reed Bye reads the entire poem, a considerably longer version than heard previously ("part 2 is the return") - 

AG: That fills it in.

Student; I know a version about the same length as the short one..
AG: Yes
Student: .. although the words are closer to that one. I could sing it.
AG: Yes. You know the tune?
Student: Yes
AG: Oh great! Do you play… do you play an instrument?
Student: Has anybody got a guitar here?
AG: Has anybody got a guitar? - Alright, well, acapella

[Student begins to sing - "Well the King sits in…"……"and there lies Sir Patrick Spens with the little lords at his feet"  (concluding approximately sixty-one-and-a-half minutes in]

AG: Where did you learn that?
Student: I  learned that from a singer named  Wendy Grossman
AG: Where?
Student: Connecticut Folk Festival
AG: What year?
Student; Wesleyan University Folk Festival in 1978, and she learned it from another, an English man, whose name I forget, and she said that she thought he had written that version
AG: Is the tune supposed to be old?
Student: I don't know. She said that she thought he had written the song and I don't know if she just meant the tune
AG: The..  I've never heard the tune before. Is it recorded, do you know? anywhere? - Must be, but , I've never run into it. It's got a good spare melody, just like the.. like the verse-form itself.

In case anybody's interested, the… apparently the first appearance of the words are from… it was first printed, actually, in 1765, when Bishop Percy printed it (Thomas Percy, DD, Bishop of Dromore),  in a collection called  "Reliques of Ancient English Poetry - Consisting of Old Heroic Ballads, Songs ,& Other Pieces of our Earlier Poets, (chiefly of the Lyric Kind) Together with Some Few of Later Date", which is now reprinted by Dover Publications,  [Editorial note - 1966 - and long out-of-print], and is a great handbook, or miscellany, of older poems, ballads, street ballads, fishermen's cries and vendor's cries, anonymous ballads, collected then, and Percy says - It's given from two manuscript copies transmitted from Scotland  (and, until that time, apparently, this ballad was never printed or heard of before). And then 
a modern commentator on Percy's work, says - some research has turned up a little bit of historical background for the story behind the ballad, (which might be interesting, to get, just to get that)

Scholars seem to agree that "the ballad refers to the fate of Scottish nobles who in 1281 conveyed Margaret, daughter of Alexander III to Norway on the occasion of her nuptials to King Eric. Fordun (sic) relates the incident as follows: "In the year of 1281, Margaret, daughter of Alexander III was married to the King of Norway, who, leaving Scotland on the last day of July, was conveyed thither in noble style in company with many knights and nobles. In returning home after the celebration of her nuptials, the Abbot of Balmerinoch, Bernard of Monte-alto, and many other persons were drowned". As to the scene of the disaster, Aytoun (another scholar) brings forward an interesting illustration of the expression "half over to Aberdour" in line forty-one. He says that in the little island of Papa Stronsay, one of the Orcadian group lying over against Norway, there is a large grave or tumulus which has been known to the inhabitants from time immemorial as "the grave of Sir Patrick Spens", and he adds, that as the Scottish ballads were not early current in Orkney, it is unlikely that the poem originated the name" - (it's unlikely the poem originated the name) - "It is also interesting to note, in illustration of line one, that the Scottisk kings chiefly resided in their palace in Dunfermline from the time of Malcolm Canmore to that of Alexander III".  So that's 1281.
And Percy was the first one to print the ballad, 1765, which means that, at least as far as this scholarship goes, it was transmitted orally or (via) manuscript (home-made manuscript) for five centuries (because it was such an important piece of imagery, or such a perfect piece of news reporting, so condensed. So, hope you can remember "Sir Patrick Spens" then, with the ladies with their fans in their hands, sitting "long, long" and standing with their gold combs in their hair, and the new moon in the old moon's arm, and the "eldern knight" (your version has a "young fellow", a young knight, a young kid, sitting at the King's right knee).

Student: It's also Sir Patrick Spens, who talks about the meeting... 

AG: Yeah..yeah. Well, it's interesting - to shift to a younger knight (because this is, I guess, as you know, or will guess, standard for ballads, and, since they're passed on and adapted by singers, every singer will adapt it to his own fancy, to whatever chords he can play, for one thing!, whatever version he can remember, for another thing (you know, because it's in memory, maybe you forget a stanza so you make it up. maybe that's better than what you forgot, because it's the only thing you can remember, or maybe somebody picks it up from you). So, the ballad being an oral tradition, oral transmission, does change, and some of the changes are…All the varieties, in ballad scholarship, all the varieties, are considered equally authentic (which is great - you know, unlike most literary scholarship, all varients are considered authentic. Yeah - including (Bob) Dylan's, see. Yeah?

Student:  Is it the editing that makes the versions in these two books so different? Are they trying to leave the information intact so that the poem is still clear and you know what it's about but to condense it down for anthologies..

AG: Er.. I don't know. Now, in this case here…      
Anne Waldman: [also present] The longer one has the story of the daughter (the King's daughter) left out..
AG: That might have been made up by somebody...
AW: Yeah
AG: the twentieth-century. We don't know, I don't know. I don't know enough about it. I'm sure there are.. There's whole books about it - "The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens"

Student: The Oxford anthology is saying  basically the same thing  as yours
AG: Is there a note on that where they..where they got that text?
Student: No.
AG: In the back? There must be I think the Oxford books have notes in the back, giving the provenance, or something. Nothing?
Student: It's just a different version than Child.
AG: - Aha  - Childe has them?  
Student; Yeah,  he just gathered up everything he could find.. more-0r-less..
AG: On Sir Patrick Spens?
Student: ..on all the ballads, and printed it, indiscriminately, every version that he could lay hands on.

AG: You got all the variants.  Do you have the Child Ballads?

Student: They're out somewhere. Somebody has them.

AG: I've never..  I guess I'll get some..  maybe I'll get some.. buy 'em up. I always wanted to have a copy of that book and get interested.

Student: You'll see, like, about twenty versions of some of these things, with.. each one has its essential variants, and the editors, you know, when they pick one out for an anthology, they just

AG: Choose the one they like best, yeah...

Student: ..decide

Reed Bye: It says too that, "Child's method was to get ahold of every ballad in every extant version, good, bad, or indifferent, and print these versions side-by-side with a forward on the ballad's history, packed with every illustration that could be contributed out of his immense knowledge of the folk-poetry of every race and country.."

AG: Yeah I think I'll get that.

Reed Bye: And then he says, "My reader does not require "Sir Patrick Spens" or "May Colvin" in a dozen or twenty versions, he wanted one ballad, one "Sir Patrick Spens"..and that the best," …So he was..

AG: Who edited that?  The Oxford Book of Ballads?

Reed Bye: Arthur Quiller-Couch

AG: A gentleman of letters!

So any of you who are involved with folk music, or singing, or songs, might just as well get their copy of Child Ballads and Percy's Reliques and stock up on all the songs of history. Then  you can now take them apart or reuse them, or find versions. And I think there is a companion volume that was made. Child just collected the verses, then, later on, another scholar went around it and collected the music that goes to it (I've forgotten who that is. 
Do you know? - There is actually.. because I've seen some reference before..well, I don't know.. There is someone, there is a book that has the music to all the Child versions that could be gathered around. [Editorial note - Bertrand Harris Bronson - The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads] - So, for those of you who are into music and words, that would be the great treasury, one of the great treasuries, to get ahold of.
I imagine that's probably what Joan Baez, and  Joni Mitchell, and Pete Seeger, and various other modern minstrals have, in their own houses and libraries, and probably use it and trade it a lot, and trade the information around a lot. So that's the whole professional secret of all that balladry. It's that there are just a couple of books that are really very good. One, also, again, the one that Pat has is, Percy's Reliques, which is really terrific for variants on.. also it would give variants on different themes, not all the variants but, some history of old ones, plus a history of the old minstrels. So it's a.. And it's Dover, they're cheap, three volumes when they were put out - $6.75 - are they still available (1980) in paperback?

Student (Pat): Yeah, but I think the price has gone up [now out-of-print]

AG:: I bought a copy of the Percy's Reliques in San Francisco in 1954. I think I got the three volumes in hard cover for about six bucks. It was a real great find. Then I loaned it to… years later I loaned it to Philip Whalen, who had it about five years (or, maybe I, in the (19)50's, late (19)50's, I loaned it to Philip and he had it..I think I got it back from him.. I loaned it tohim (19)58 or so, and I think I got it back in (19)68, or (19)67. Long time. So it's a great handbook - Bishop Percy's Relics -  R-E-L-I-C-S (actually) R-E-L-I-Q-U-E-S.

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-three-and-a-half minutes in and continuing till approximately  seventy-three minutes in]

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