I found this song at the very back of the Oxford Book of Ballads (1969), unattributed, as ‘Stratton Water’ and have spent the last few weeks arranging it – and trying to learn all the words!
Although very traditional in form, and with some typical motifs like the white swan for a drowning woman and the castle Lord as protagonist, it seemed more evocative and ‘literary’ than a lot of the others, and a genuinely exciting story too. So, I did a little bit of cutting and fiddling, because 8 pages of ballad is quite a lot, and sung it at the Morris Folk Club in Hoxton a week or so ago for the first time.
Fortunately, Iain McDonald, the excellent singer and cataloger of songs sung was there to make a note of it and do the research that I sorely neglected to do, and it turns out that the words are actually from a poem by Dante Gabriel Rossetti of pre-Raphaelite brotherhood fame…It may have been intended as a pastiche of the ballad form, and I did have to cut the wonderful line ‘there’s never a saint but Christopher, might hale such buttocks through’. Good song though! It’ll be a bit more sorted and polished up for the new album in 2017 and may well be pushing the 10 minute mark by then!