Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Riddle Song, Folksong for February, 2018

Here are the lyrics to the Doc Watson version on this youtube video:
 I gave my love a cherry that has no stone.
I gave my love a chicken that had no bone.
 I gave my love a baby with no cryin',
And told my love a story that had no end.

 How can there be a cherry that has no stone?
How can there be a chicken that has no bone?
 How can there be a baby with no cryin'?
How can you tell a story that has no end?

 A cherry when it's blooming, it has no stone.
And a chicken when it's pippin', there is no bone.
A baby when it's sleeping, there's no cryin'.
And when I say I love you, it has no end.

 Repeat first verse.

 Riddles and riddle songs are probably as old as human-kind. This particular song is over five hundred years old- the oldest version being a manuscript dated 1430, housed in a British museum.

 Although some of the riddles have changed over time, the cherry and the chicken have been there from the oldest version we know of. In some versions, the baby with no crying is a baby in the making. Folk songs are often ribald, but this has not historically been one of them. However, there have been several anachronistic attempts to make this one more earthy than it ever was.

 'Pippin', or pipping, is a chicken still in the egg, but just starting to peck it's way out, the idea that while still in the egg the bones have not yet developed or hardened.

 Some versions include a book that can't be read (it's still in the press), and similar notions, all of which, to me, charmingly communicate the notion that ideas are the seeds from which real things grow.

 This song has often been sung as a lullabye, and versions have been recorded by Burl Ives, Carly Simon, and the Meters (a funk band from New Orleans). It traveled from England to the American Appalachians, and probably back again. It is slower and not as immediately appealing to many children as some of our more lively suggestions, but I hope you don't skip it. Let it grow on you.

 You might consider engaging their interest by first introducing only the first verse. Ask them what they think the answers to the riddles are. Speculate a bit. Have fun with it. Have a bit of time wondering about or guessing the answers, learn the next verse. You could wait a few moments or a few days to introduce the answers in the next verse, just give the children some time to think about and speculate with you over the possible the answers before going on to the second verse.

 To borrow and paraphrase from Canadian storyteller Alice Kane, This song we are singing is five hundred years old. None of us will ever be five hundred years old.

 Here is a possibly related version, performed here by Pete Castle):
 I had four brothers, over the sea, Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
They each sent a present unto me,
 Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
Petrum, partrum, paradisi tempore,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,

 The first sent a cherry without any stone,
 Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
The second sent a chicken which had no bone,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
The third sent a blanket without any thread,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
The fourth sent a book which no man had read.

Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
Pitrum, partrum, paradisi tempore,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini

How can there be a cherry without any stone?
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
How Can there be a chicken without any bone?
Perry Merry Dixie Domini
How can there be a blanket without any thread?
Perry Merry Dixie Domini
How can there be a book no man has read?
Perry Merry Dixie Domini
Pitrum, partrum, paradisi tempore,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini

The cherry when it's blooming, it has no stone,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
The chicken when it's in the egg it has no bone
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
Petrum, partrum, paradisi tempori
Perry merry dixie domini

 The blanket on the sheep's back it has no thread
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
The book when it's in the press, no man has read
Perry Merry Dixie Domini,
Pitrum, partrum, paradisi tempore,
Perry Merry Dixie Domini.

 There are some slight variations between the above lyrics and the Pete Castle version. Can I say, with much warm and friendly affection and encouragement, please get over that. It realio, trulio doesn't matter. Your lyrics do not need to match up perfectly to the youtube video or other recordings. It's totally unimportant. You need to listen to the recorded version only enough to get the gist of the tune and rhythm. Then turn it of and sing and play for yourselves. Folksongs change over time and through regions, and between singers. Change them up yourselves, if you like. Don't be frustrated and unable to sing because your lyrics say blanket and the song says wool. It's totally irrelevant. Just sing.

3 comments:

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  2. Thank you for posting this. I really have neglected this part of our homeschool. How often do you play the folksong to the children?

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