Hunting the Wren

Brett Williams brettwi at ix.netcom.com
Fri Sep 8 08:22:58 PDT 1995


You wrote: 
>
>>Greetings all,
>>
>>I'm looking for a period source for the song "Hunting the Wren".  
I've heard rumor that this song which was popularized by Hart and Prior 
(on the album "Songs of Old England" I think) is actually period.  I've 
haven't been able to verify this - though the practice of hunting the 
wren is to mentioned in the Red Book of Hergest (see also: Tradition 
and Folk Life: A Welsh View, by Iorwerth C. Peate (London: Faber and 
Faber, 1972),  or  'The Wren in Welsh Folklore', MAN, 1936, same 
author).  Anyone got a source for this?
>>
>>thanks,
>>- Liam Mac Mhuire
>
>Is this the same song as is on the Chieftains "Bells of Dublin" 
tape/CD called "The Wren"? If so, I believe I picked up the lyrics at 
Digital Tradition, but if not I can get them to you, and possibly a 
postscript sheet music file in time if you really need it. Here's the 
test; see if the following lyrics are a match:
>
>        The wren, oh the wren, he's the king of all birds
>        St. stevens day was caught in the firs
>        Although he was little his honor was great
>        won't you give me a _____ (I forget this word) 
>        for to bury the wren
>
>        Rolly, rolly, where is your nest?
>        It's in the bush that I love best
>        It's in the tree the holly tree
>        That's where the boys do follow me
>
>And there's more, but I don't have it in my brain at the moment and 
can't find it on my hard drive.  I can get it if you're interested - 
let me know.
>
>Lark of Cire Freunlaven
>
>
And I learned an entirely different version from Holly Tannen, who got 
hers from oral tradition as still sung in southern England.

Where are you going, says Milder to Malder
Where are you going, says Festle to Fose
We may not tell you. says the younger to the elder
Out to the green wood, says John the Red Nose

What shall we do there, says Milder to Malder
What shall we do there, says Festle to Fose
We may not tell you, says the younger to the elder
Hunt for the Cutty Wren, says John the Red Nose

How shall we shoot her, says Milder to Malder
With bows and with arrows, says Festle to Fose
That will not do then, says the younger to the elder
With big guns and knives then, says John the Red Nose

How shall we cut her up, says Milder to Malder
WIth forks and with knives, says Festle to Fose
That will not do then, says the younger to the elder
With hatchets and with cleavers, says John the Red Nose

How shall we cook her, says Milder to Malder
With pots and with pans, says Festle to Fose
That will not do then, says the younger to the elder
With a bloody big brass cauldron, says John the Red Nose

Who'll get the spareribs, says Milder to Malder
Who'll get the spareribs, says Festle to Fose
We may not tell you, says the younger to the elder
Give 'em all to the poor then, says John the Red Nose

It's my personal suspicion that the tune for this particular version is 
old-- perhaps a couple of centuries, as it falls in the Aeolian 
mode/natural minor scale and, on recall, omits one note in that scale, 
but I can't back that up with anything other than opinion and some 
fifteen years of experience in folk song collection.  This is a 
processional song with a steady pace suitable for walking; it's melody 
has rhythmic counterpoint vs. the steady beat of feet.

ciorstan macAmhlaidh





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