Lord Randall

Child 12Lord Randall

Where have you been all the day, Randall, my son?
Where have you been all the day, my pretty one?
I’ve been to my sweetheart’s, mother.
I’ve been to my sweetheart’s, mother.
Mother, make my bed soft, mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick to the heart and I fain would lie down.

What have you been eating there, Randall, my son?
What have you been eating there, my pretty one?
Eels and eel broth, mother.
Eels and eel broth, mother.
Mother, make my bed soft, mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick to the heart and I fain would lie down.

I fear you be dying, oh, Randall, my son.
I fear you be dying, oh, my pretty one.
Yes, mother, I know I’m a-dying.
Yes, mother, I know I’m a-dying.
Mother, make my bed soft, mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick to the heart and I fain would lie down.

And what will you leave us all, Randall, my son?
What will you leave us all, my pretty one?
My lands and my friendship, mother,
My lands and my friendship, mother,
Mother, make my bed soft, mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick to the heart and I fain would lie down.

And what for your sweetheart, oh, Randall, my son?
What for your sweetheart, oh, my pretty one?
The gallows tree for to hang her.
The gallows tree for to hang her.
Mother, make my bed soft, mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick to the heart and I fain would lie down.

(Click here for a PDF version of the music) * (Click here to hear an MP3 Version)

This, like “The House Carpenter” and “The Golden Vanity,” is one of the great British ballads. It has been collected hundreds of times, in England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and all parts of the United States. There are similar songs in Swedith, Danish, Magyar, Italian, German, Wendish, and probably other languages.

Is it known in Minnesota? This is a worse stumper than usual.

Let it be said that it has not been collected in Minnesota. Midwestern collections are few — there is one from Michigan, a few from Illinois, and one from Wisconsin (Madison).

And yet, I know a version, and the form does not resemble any known traditional version. This implies that I did not learn it from a record. So how did I learn it? On a playground somewhere? From some long-forgotten concert? I’ve no idea. On the grounds that it may be a Minnesota variant, I’m including it.

This song displays several common folk themes, notably the dialog between mother and son. But the last couple of verses are also intriguing. It is common, in folk song, for a person who is dying to make bequests. The final bequest here, of the gallows tree for his sweetheart, is interesting. It reveals that the sweetheart murdered Randall, and he knew it. At no point, we note, does he actually name his murderer. Instead, he leaves gifts to his family and friends (these are enumerated in the longer traditional versions) — and leaves the gallows to the sweetheart. This particular trick occurs in at least two other English ballads, “The Cruel Brother” and (certain version of) “Edward.”

Several explanations have been offered for why the girl offered Randall eels to eat. Some cultures thought eels poisonous or otherwise unfit for consumption. But the best guess is that they were (poisonous) snakes, with their venom, disguised as eels. In any case, they poisoned Randall, and the poisoning was deliberate.

Source: As mentioned above, this is from my own personal memory. At least, the first verse is. Many years ago, when I realized that I had a unique form of the song (most versions have a shorter form of the fifth line), that was all I could recall. So I added four more verses based on other versions of the song to make a coherent, if very short form of the song.

If anyone has heard a version with this form and tune, I would love to know about it.

6 thoughts on “Lord Randall

    1. RBW Post author

      I’m assuming this is a response to my final comment, “If anyone has heard a version with this form and tune, I would love to know about it.” Note that I am seeking a version “with this form and tune.” Bertrand Bronson listed 103 versions of “Lord Randall.” In other words, it is an extremely common folk song. Everyone and his funny uncle has recorded it, many of them in versions far closer to tradition than the Ives version. I’m not seeking more versions, especially versions which are not from tradition, but rather THIS version. The Ives recording does not have this form and tune.

      Reply
  1. heaven in hiding

    I’m so happy I found this! We had to learn this version on the flute in school, but years later I could never remember enough to find it again (I’m swedish so it’s not a song you’d randomly come across). I wish I could find a recorded version of it, I remember really loving it when we played it. But I’m so happy to have come across the lyrics!

    Reply
      1. RBW Post author

        To Dave in Houston: I can assure you that I did not learn this from Burl Ives, who learned was just a guy who decided to make a living singing folk songs he learned from other people who were not of the folk — and then betrayed them to the House Un-American Activities Committee.

        Bertrand Bronson claimed the song went back to the seventeenth century in Italy. I’m not sure I buy that, but it can be shown to have existed in English at least back to 1787. Bronson, who studied more than a hundred English versions, says that most retain the peculiar stanza pattern (seven lines rather than four or eight). What is interesting about the version I learned is that it breaks that pattern, filling it out to eight lines.

        The various versions list many legacies to the sweetheart. A rope/halter to hang her is probably the most common, but a couple of versions mention enough brimstone to burn her bones. Several leave her the keys of hell. Some, for reasons I don’t know off the top of my head, offer her parched bullrushes.

        The tainted legacy is a common idea in murder ballads; the murder victim could use it to reveal the murderer without explicitly saying the name (presumably to avoid a curse or other retribution, in this life or the next). See, for instance, the Child Ballad “The Cruel Brother,” where a brother murders his sister because she is marrying the wrong man, and she leaves him “the gallows tree for to hang him on.” Given that the rope is not always the legacy in Lord Randall, I would not be surprised if that ending floated into this song from another murder ballad.

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