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Scarborough Fair

From Academic Kids

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Scarborough-Fair-Melody.png
An arrangement of the first verse of Scarborough Fair

"Scarborough Fair" is a traditional English ballad.

This song dates back to late medieval times, when the seaside resort of Scarborough was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England. It attracted jesters and jugglers and was a huge forty-five day trading event, starting August 15th, which was exceptionally long for a fair in those days. People from all over England, and even some from the continent, came to Scarborough to do their business.

The song is believed to have originated in the 16th or 17th century, and may have been adapted from an older ballad entitled "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad No. 2). As bards carried the song from one town to the next it was adapted, modified, and rewritten to the point that dozens of verses exist for the song, although only a few are typically sung. The arrangement made famous by musicians Simon and Garfunkel originated in the late 19th century.

The song tells the tale of a young man, jilted by his lover, who jokingly tells the listener to ask her to perform for him a series of impossible tasks, such as knitting him a shirt without a seam and then washing it in a dry well, adding that if she completes these tasks he will take her back. Often the song is sung as a duet, with the woman then giving her lover a series of equally impossible tasks, promising to give him his seamless shirt once he has finished.

Lyrics

Following is one version of the song, arranged as a duet:

              BOTH

Are you going to Scarborough Fair? 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Remember me to one who lives there, 
For she once was a true love of mine.

              MAN

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Without no seam nor fine needlework, 
And then she'll be a true love of mine.  

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell, 
And then she'll be a true love of mine. 

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born, 
And then she'll be a true love of mine. 

Ask her to do me this courtesy, 
Parsely, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
And ask for a like favor from me, 
And then she'll be a true love of mine. 

              BOTH

Have you been to Scarborough Fair? 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Remember me from one who lives there, 
For he once was a true love of mine. 

              WOMAN

Ask him to find me an acre of land, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Between the salt water and the sea-sand, 
For then he'll be a true love of mine. 

Ask him to plow it with a sheep's horn, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
And sow it all over with one peppercorn, 
For then he'll be a true love of mine. 

Ask him to reap it with a sickle of leather, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
And gather it up with a rope made of heather, 
For then he'll be a true love of mine. 

When he has done and finished his work, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Ask him to come for his cambric shirt, 
For then he'll be a true love of mine. 

              BOTH

If you say that you can't, then I shall reply, 
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, 
Oh, Let me know that at least you will try, 
Or you'll never be a true love of mine. 

The refrain of "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme", though obscure to modern listeners, is full of symbolism. Parsley, used to this day as a digestive aid, was said to take away the bitterness, and medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well. Sage has been known to symbolize strength for thousands of years. Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practiced in England and several other European countries today. Thyme symbolizes courage, and at the time this song was written, knights would often wear images of thyme on their shields when they went to combat. The speaker in the song, by mentioning these four herbs, wishes his true love mildness to soothe the bitterness which is between them, strength to stand firm in the time of their being apart from each other, faithfulness to stay with him during this period of loneliness and paradoxically courage to fulfill her impossible tasks and to come back to him by the time she can.

External links

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