Home  »  The Oxford Book of English Verse  »  731. The Which’s Ballad

Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. 1919. The Oxford Book of English Verse: 1250–1900.

William Bell Scott. 1812–1890

731. The Which’s Ballad

O, I hae come from far away, 
  From a warm land far away, 
A southern land across the sea, 
With sailor-lads about the mast, 
Merry and canny, and kind to me.         5
And I hae been to yon town 
  To try my luck in yon town; 
Nort, and Mysie, Elspie too. 
Right braw we were to pass the gate, 
Wi’ gowden clasps on girdles blue.  10
Mysie smiled wi’ miminy mouth, 
  Innocent mouth, miminy mouth; 
Elspie wore a scarlet gown, 
Nort’s grey eyes were unco’ gleg. 
My Castile comb was like a crown.  15
We walk’d abreast all up the street, 
  Into the market up the street; 
Our hair with marigolds was wound, 
Our bodices with love-knots laced, 
Our merchandise with tansy bound.  20
Nort had chickens, I had cocks, 
  Gamesome cocks, loud-crowing cocks; 
Mysie ducks, and Elspie drakes,— 
For a wee groat or a pound; 
We lost nae time wi’ gives and takes.  25
—Lost nae time, for well we knew, 
  In our sleeves full well we knew, 
When the gloaming came that night, 
Duck nor drake, nor hen nor cock 
Would be found by candle-light.  30
And when our chaffering all was done, 
  All was paid for, sold and done, 
We drew a glove on ilka hand, 
We sweetly curtsied, each to each, 
And deftly danced a saraband.  35
The market-lassies look’d and laugh’d, 
  Left their gear, and look’d and laugh’d; 
They made as they would join the game, 
But soon their mithers, wild and wud, 
With whack and screech they stopp’d the same.  40
Sae loud the tongues o’ randies grew, 
  The flytin’ and the skirlin’ grew, 
At all the windows in the place, 
Wi’ spoons or knives, wi’ needle or awl, 
Was thrust out every hand and face.  45
And down each stair they throng’d anon, 
  Gentle, semple, throng’d anon: 
Souter and tailor, frowsy Nan, 
The ancient widow young again, 
Simpering behind her fan.  50
Without a choice, against their will, 
  Doited, dazed, against their will, 
The market lassie and her mither, 
The farmer and his husbandman, 
Hand in hand dance a’ thegither.  55
Slow at first, but faster soon, 
  Still increasing, wild and fast, 
Hoods and mantles, hats and hose, 
Blindly doff’d and cast away, 
Left them naked, heads and toes.  60
They would have torn us limb from limb, 
  Dainty limb from dainty limb; 
But never one of them could win 
Across the line that I had drawn 
With bleeding thumb a-widdershin.  65
But there was Jeff the provost’s son, 
  Jeff the provost’s only son; 
There was Father Auld himsel’, 
The Lombard frae the hostelry, 
And the lawyer Peter Fell.  70
All goodly men we singled out, 
  Waled them well, and singled out, 
And drew them by the left hand in; 
Mysie the priest, and Elspie won 
The Lombard, Nort the lawyer carle,  75
I mysel’ the provost’s son. 
Then, with cantrip kisses seven, 
  Three times round with kisses seven, 
Warp’d and woven there spun we 
Arms and legs and flaming hair,  80
Like a whirlwind on the sea. 
Like a wind that sucks the sea, 
  Over and in and on the sea, 
Good sooth it was a mad delight; 
And every man of all the four  85
Shut his eyes and laugh’d outright. 
Laugh’d as long as they had breath, 
  Laugh’d while they had sense or breath; 
And close about us coil’d a mist 
Of gnats and midges, wasps and flies,  90
Like the whirlwind shaft it rist. 
Drawn up I was right off my feet, 
  Into the mist and off my feet; 
And, dancing on each chimney-top, 
I saw a thousand darling imps  95
Keeping time with skip and hop. 
And on the provost’s brave ridge-tile, 
  On the provost’s grand ridge-tile, 
The Blackamoor first to master me 
I saw, I saw that winsome smile, 100
The mouth that did my heart beguile, 
And spoke the great Word over me, 
In the land beyond the sea. 
I call’d his name, I call’d aloud, 
  Alas! I call’d on him aloud; 105
And then he fill’d his hand with stour, 
And threw it towards me in the air; 
My mouse flew out, I lost my pow’r! 
My lusty strength, my power were gone; 
  Power was gone, and all was gone. 110
He will not let me love him more! 
Of bell and whip and horse’s tail 
He cares not if I find a store. 
But I am proud if he is fierce! 
  I am as proud as he is fierce; 115
I’ll turn about and backward go, 
If I meet again that Blackamoor, 
And he’ll help us then, for he shall know 
I seek another paramour. 
And we’ll gang once more to yon town, 120
  Wi’ better luck to yon town; 
We’ll walk in silk and cramoisie, 
And I shall wed the provost’s son 
My lady of the town I’ll be! 
For I was born a crown’d king’s child, 125
  Born and nursed a king’s child, 
King o’ a land ayont the sea, 
Where the Blackamoor kiss’d me first, 
And taught me art and glamourie. 
Each one in her wame shall hide 130
  Her hairy mouse, her wary mouse, 
Fed on madwort and agramie,— 
Wear amber beads between her breasts, 
And blind-worm’s skin about her knee. 
The Lombard shall be Elspie’s man, 135
  Elspie’s gowden husband-man; 
Nort shall take the lawyer’s hand; 
The priest shall swear another vow: 
We’ll dance again the saraband! 
GLOSS:  miminy] prim, demure.  gleg] bright, sharp.  wud] mad.  randies] viragoes.  flytin’] scolding.  skirlin’] shrieking.  souter] cobbler.  doited] mazed.  a-widdershin] the wrong way of the sun: or E. to W. through N.  waled] chose.  cantrip] magic.  stour] dust.  cramoisie] crimson.  ayont] beyond.  glamourie] wizardry.