The Unquiet Grave

The Unquiet Grave

Cold blows the wind o’er my true love
Cold blow the drops of rain
I never had but one true love
And in the green wood she lies slain
I’ll do as much for my true love
As any young man may
I’ll sit and weep down by her grave
For twelve months and one day

But when twelve months were come and gone
The dead girl she did speak
What makes you weep down by my grave
And will not let me sleep
One kiss of your clay-cold lips
One kiss is all I crave
One kiss of your clay-cold lips
And return back to your grave

My lips are cold as clay
My breath is earthy strong
If you kiss my clay-cold lips
Your days would not be long
Down in yonder garden green
Where we used to walk
The finest flower of them all
Is withered to a stalk

Ghosts do not appear that often in English folksong (although, of course, there is one in The Fowler). However, the belief that excessive grieving disturbs the dead is as old – and widespread – as the proverbial hills. Roud and Bishop make the entirely valid point in The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (2012) that just because a folkloric belief is old, and because that belief is featured in a song, we shouldn’t assume the song is likewise old. They suspect the song itself dates from the early nineteenth century.

One of the things I like about folksongs and folksingers is that the singer is gender-neutral, in so far as whether the narrator of the song is male or female, it may be sung by a man or a woman regardless. (One thinks of how the feminine-gendered ‘Then He Kissed Me’ by the Crystals was covered by The Beach Boys, but reworked to ‘Then I Kissed Her’, but I digress.) The Unquiet Grave (also known as ‘Cold Blows the Wind’) is found in tradition in both the masculine and feminine voice. So while Lucy Broadwood (English Traditional Songs and Carols, 1908) had three ‘masculine’ versions, Sabine Baring-Gould (Songs and Ballads of the West, 1891) and Cecil Sharp (100 English Folksongs, 1916) had ‘feminine’ versions. FJ Child (The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Vol. II, 1885) had both. So, on this occasion, I’m a man!

Now for my confession: I absolutely can’t remember, nor find, our version! It’s not in any of the books mentioned above (all on my bookshelf!), so maybe I put together a composite version – I really don’t know, it was a decade ago …

The Jones Boys play highly accomplished traditional music from Ireland, England, Scotland, Brittany, Sweden, Bulgaria …

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