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And ran to London, un-to seynt Poulés,
Ne of his speché daungerous ne digné,
He taughte, but first he folwed it him-selvé.
OLD ENGLISH BALLADS
THE fifteenth century, so barren of great names in English poetry, was especially rich in the production of popular ballads. These were the poetry of the people, in part composed by wandering minstrels and sung by them at wakes, and fairs, and country holidays, in part the common property of the race and reaching back to old tradition and mythology. Their subjects embraced the whole range of common life. There were ballads on the stirring events of the time, the king's wars, the feuds of the great nobles, the lives and adventures of the beloved outlaws who defied the king's will and baffled the lordly rulers of the common people. There were songs of love, and hate, and jealousy, of battle, murder, and sudden death. And there were many songs of the great world of the supernatural that then lay so near the common life of man, of witches, of fairies, and of ghosts that returned to visit those that loved them.
In the sixteenth century many of these old songs were for the first time committed to writing, printed, and sold about the country by traveling peddlers. Many of them were spoiled in the process. The old simplicity, vigor, and passion were toned down by the pedantic scholars or half-educated printers who prepared them for the press. And so the English ballads, as a rule, are far inferior to those of Scotland, which lingered longer in the mouths of men, - unprinted many of them till Walter Scott, that famous lover of old tradition and romance, gave them to the world in the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It is from this collection that four of the ballads here printed are chosen, and it is to this collection that every lover of the old songs of our ancestors is referred as to one of the fascinating books in English.
ROBIN HOOD'S DEATH AND BURIAL
WHEN Robin Hood and Little John,
Down a down, a down, a down,
Went o'er yon bank of broom,
Said Robin Hood to Little John,
'We have shot for many a pound:
Hey down, a down, a down.
But I am not able to shoot one shot more,
My arrows will not flee;
But I have a cousin lives down below,
Please God, she will bleed me.'
Now Robin is to fair Kirkley gone,
As fast as he can win;
But before he came there, as we do hear,
He was taken very ill.
And when that he came to fair Kirkley-hall,
He knock'd all at the ring,
But none was so ready as his cousin herself
For to let bold Robin in.
'Will you please to sit down, cousin Robin,' she said,
'And drink some beer with me?'
'No, I will neither eat nor drink
Till I am blooded by thee.'
'Well, I have a room, cousin Robin,' she said,
Which you did never see,
And if you please to walk therein,
You blooded by me shall be.'
She took him by the lily-white hand,
And led him to a private room,
And there she blooded bold Robin Hood,
She blooded him in the vein of the arm,
He then bethought him of his bugle-horn,
Which hung low down to his knee;
He set his horn unto his mouth,
And blew out weak blasts three.
Then Little John, when hearing him,
As he sat under the tree,
'I fear my master is near dead,
He blows so wearily.'
Then Little John to fair Kirkley is gone,
As fast as he can dri'e;
But when he came to Kirkley-hall,
He broke locks two or three:
Until he came bold Robin to,
Then he fell on his knee:
'A boon, a boon,' cries Little John, 'Master, I beg of thee.'
'What is that boon,' quoth Robin Hood,
'Now nay, now nay,' quoth Robin Hood,
I never hurt woman in all my life,
'I never hurt fair maid in all my time, Nor at my end shall it be;
But give me my bent bow in my hand,
And make my grave of gravel and green,
'Let me have length and breadth enough,
These words they readily promis'd him,
And there they buried bold Robin Hood,