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"The Ballad of Barbara Allen", also known as "Barbara Ellen," "Barbara Allan," "Barb'ry Allen," "Barbriallen," etc., is a folk song known in dozens of versions. It has been classified as Child Ballad 84 and Roud 54. The author is unknown, but the song may have originated in England, Ireland, or Scotland. The earliest known mention of the song is in Samuel Pepys' diary[1] for January 2. 1666 (ed. Robert Latham & William Matthews, Vol. vii, London: [1972], p. 1.) where he refers to the "little Scotch song of 'Barbary Allen'".

Contents

Versions

The ballad of Barbara Allen was first printed in England in 1750 [1] but had existed in oral versions at least a century before that date. The ballad was first printed in the United States in 1836.

Most versions of "Barbara Allen" can be summarised thus: a young man is dying of unrequited love for Barbara Allen; she is called to his deathbed but all she can say is, 'Young man, I think you're dying.' When he dies, she is stricken with grief and dies soon after. Often, a briar grows from her grave and a rose from his, until they grow together.

Not surprisingly, given that this is a ballad of unknown age and origin, largely passed down orally, the details of the story vary significantly in different printed and recorded versions. The setting is usually in the fictitious Scarlet Town (possibly a pun on the English town of Reading, pronounced "redding"), although London town and Dublin town are also popular. The action usually takes place "in the merry month of May" although some versions place it in the autumn. The young man who dies of a broken heart is usually called Sweet William or some slight variant such as young Willie Grove, sweet Willie Graeme. In other versions the name is Sir John Graeme. The version printed below calls him Jemmye Grove. Some longer versions of the ballad explain Barbara's "cruelty" by saying that she (mistakenly) believed that the young man slighted her first.

Many artists have recorded the song, including Joan Baez, Shirley Collins, Doris Day, The Everly Brothers, Roger Quilter, Texas Gladden, John Travolta, Emmylou Harris, Maxine Sullivan, Pete Seeger, Tom Rush, Angelo Branduardi (Italian version titled "Piano Piano" in 1983's album "Cercando l'oro"), John Jacob Niles, Merle Travis, Bob Dylan, Colin Meloy, Thomas Baynes, Michael Hurley, Art Garfunkel, Simon & Garfunkel, Burl Ives, The Grateful Dead, Eddy Arnold, Moses Clear Rock Platt, Frank Turner.

Johnny Cash re-wrote lyrics to this song and performed it live at Austin City Limits in 1987. The song was re-named "The Ballad of Barbara". The main theme of the song is about divorce instead of death. The main character was born and raised in a southern town, and eventually moved his way up north to possibly New York or Washington D.C. After having a lot of girls and drinks, he discovers his true love where they get married under a "lofty steeple". However, when the main character offers to take her to see his folks down south, she refuses and decides to "take the city". The main character divorces her and moves back home "much wiser now and older".

Uses in Popular Culture

The first verse was sung by Porky Pig, in the character of Friar Tuck, in the 1958 Warner Bros. cartoon "Robin Hood Daffy". Much of the song is sung throughout the 1951 film classic Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. It is also sung in the 1940 movie, Tom Brown's School Days. It is heard again in the 1958 Yul Brynner film, The Buccaneer, and in an episode of the 1989–91 TV series Bordertown. In the 2000 film Best in Show, Michael McKean's character sings a verse of this song to his dog over the phone, saying it is the dog's favorite song. John Travolta did a short rendition of the song in A Love Song for Bobby Long (2004), included on the soundtrack. The song is sung in various versions in the 2000 film Songcatcher. It is also sung by the character, Flora in Jane Campion's The Piano (1993).

In the stage play Dark of the Moon by Howard Richardson and William Berney, as a reference to the influence of English, Irish and Scottish folktales and songs in the Appalachian region, the name of the female lead is Barbara Allen.

The radio series Suspense did a dramatic interpretation of the ballad on October 20, 1952 entitled "The Death of Barbara Allen" with Anne Baxter in the title role. The song also provided the inspiration for a British radio play called "Barbara Allen" in which the title role was played by Honeysuckle Weeks and Keith Barron played Sir John Grove, the father of Jemmye Grove. It was written by David Pownall and initially broadcast on BBC Radio 7 on 16 February 2009.

One version

In Scarlet Town, where I was born,
There was a fair maid dwellin'
Made every youth cry well-a-day
Her name was Barbara Allen.
All in the merry month of May
When green buds they were swellin',
Young Jeremy Grove on his deathbed 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 o'er his heart is stealin'.
Then haste away to comfort him,
O lovely Barbara Allen."
Though death be printed on his face
And o'er his heart be 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 deathbed lyin'."
"If on your deathbed 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 looked down,
Her cheek with laughter swellin',
That all her friends cried out amaine,
"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 loved me so dearly,
O that I had been more kind to him,
When he was live and near me!"
She on her deathbed, as she lay,
Begged to be buried by him
And sore repented of the day
That she did e'er 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."

Media

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External links

  1. ^ (citation in EEBO, http://eebo.chadwyck.com/search/full_rec?SOURCE=var_spell.cfg&ACTION=ByID&ID=99834221&ECCO=undefined&FILE=../session/1261507051_8874&SEARCHSCREEN=CITATIONS&DISPLAY=AUTHOR)
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