The Ballad of Barbara Allen

There are many versions of this ballad. Joan Baez, Art Garfunkel, Dolly Parton and other artists have changed a word here and there, but the original is hundreds of years old; nobody knows who wrote it. If we reprint any of the recent adaptations here, we’ll probably get sued by some record company claiming to own the song. Ha! Just to be on the safe side, here’s a version from the 17th century (with modern spelling).

In Scarlet town, where I was born,
    There was a fair maid dwellin’,
Made every youth cry well-away!
    Her name was Barbara Allen.

All in the merry month of May,
    When green buds they were swellin’,
Young Jemmye Grove on his death-bed lay,
    For love of Barbara Allen.

He sent his man unto her then,
    To the town, where she was dwellin’;
“You must come to my master dear,
    If your name be Barbara Allen.

“For death is printed on his face,
    And ore his heart is stealin’:
Then haste away to comfort him,
    O lovely Barbara Allen.”

“Though death be printed on his face,
    And ore his heart is stealin’,
Yet little better shall he be,
    For bonny Barbara Allen.”

So slowly, slowly, she came up,
    And slowly she came nigh him;
And all she said, when there she came:
    “Young man, I think you’re dyin’.”

He turned his face unto her straight,
    With deadly sorrow sighin’;
“O lovely maid, come pity me,
    I’m on my death-bed lyin’.”

“If on your death-bed you do lie,
    What needs the tale you’re tellin’?
I cannot keep you from your death;
    Farewell,” said Barbara Allen.

He turned his face unto the wall,
    As deadly pangs he fell in:
“Adieu! adieu! adieu to you all,
    Adieu to Barbara Allen.”

As she was walking o’er the fields,
    She heard the bell a knellin’;
And every stroke did seem to say,
    “Unworthy Barbara Allen.”

She turned her body round about,
    And spied the corpse a comin’:
“Lay down, lay down the corpse,” she said,
    “That I may look upon him.”

With scornful eye she lookèd down,
    Her cheek with laughter swellin’;
That all her friends cried out amain,
    “Unworthy Barbara Allen.”

When he was dead, and laid in grave,
    Her heart was struck with sorrow,
“O mother, mother, make my bed,
    For I shall die tomorrow.

“Hard-hearted creature, him to slight,
    Who lovèd me so dearly;
O that I had been more kind to him,
    When he was live and near me!”

She, on her death-bed as she lay,
    Begged to be buried by him;
And sore repented of the day
    That she did ere deny him.

“Farewell,” she said, “ye virgins all,
    And shun the fault I fell in:
Henceforth take warning by the fall
    Of cruel Barbara Allen.”


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