30 – THE BARBARA ALLEN SONG

This week I have been working on my new book and, as usual, research is an important part of this work. The novel entitled “Remembrance Man” is about the cholera epidemic in 1832. Most of us don’t remember the great pandemics of previous centuries and how awful they were. For those of you living in Quebec, the ‘blue death’ as it was called killed some 3,000 people during the summer of 1832 in Quebec City. The population at the time was only about 20,000 people so 15% of the population fell victim to cholera in a very short period from June to September. A lot of them were immigrants arriving by the boatload (50,000 people arrived in the city that summer). Imagine the fear and the housing chaos.

A moving song

I recently discovered this wonderful song interpreted by Joan Baez entitled “Barbara Allen”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NqHJ4V893e0

“Barbara Allen” is a traditional Scottish ballad that later travelled to America where it became a popular folk song. It is referred to in the diary of Samuel Pepys in 1666 and is by far the most widely collected song in the English language with hundreds of versions sung over the years. The lyrics are as follows:

“Twas in the merry month of May
When green buds all were swelling,
Sweet William on his death bed lay
For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his servant to the town
To the place where she was dwelling,
Saying you must come, to my master dear
If your name be Barbara Allen.

So slowly, slowly she got up
And slowly she drew nigh him,
And the only words to him did say
Young man I think you’re dying.

He turned his face unto the wall
And death was in him welling,
Goodbye, goodbye, to my friends all
Be good to Barbara Allen.

When he was dead and laid in grave
She heard the death bells knelling
And every stroke to her did say
Hard hearted Barbara Allen.

Oh mother, oh mother, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died of love for me
And I will die of sorrow.

And father, oh father, go dig my grave
Make it both long and narrow,
Sweet William died on yesterday
And I will die tomorrow.

Barbara Allen was buried in the old churchyard
Sweet William was buried beside her,
Out of sweet William’s heart, there grew a rose
Out of Barbara Allen’s a briar.

They grew and grew in the old churchyard
Till they could grow no higher
At the end they formed, a true lover’s knot
And the rose grew round the briar.”

I was moved by this song as I am sure you will be too. Imagine two young people cut down by the ‘black death’ in the 17th century or by some other awful scourge.

 

Have a nice week.

 

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