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This ballad is Child Ballad #215 (Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow, or, The Water o Gamrie).
There are two ballads named The Braes of Yarrow (the other being Child Ballad #214). The other ballad was by William Hamilton (1724) and another is ascribed to Rev. Mr. John Logan, a minister of Leith. In addition the ballad was altered and added to in 1777 by James Hook of London. It is particularly confusing because both have variants named The Dowie Dens o Yarrow and Ritson has a ballad The Braes o Yarrow which consists of lines from this ballad.
This ballad, titled Rare Willie drowned in Yarrow appeared in the fourth volume of Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany (1763).
This version was collected in Peebleshire.
In the older tradition from the south, Willie is drowned in Yarrow. In the northern tradition he is drowned in Gamrie on the coast of Moray Frith (therefore the sea rather than a river), and in western traditions he is drowned in the Clyde.
In Buchan's notes the hero is identified as a factor to the laird of Kinmundy. He was to marry a woman from Gamery, a fishing town on the East coast of Murray Firth. On the way to the kirk he was overtaken by some of the breakers that overflowed the road he traveled.
For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.
O Willy's rare and Willy's fair
And Willy's wondrous bonny,
And Willy says he'll marry me
Gin e'er he marries any.
O came you by yon waterside,
Pulled you the rose or lily,
Or came you by yon meadow green,
Or saw you my sweet Willy ?
She sought him east, she sought him west,
She sought him broad and narrow,
Till in the clifting of a crag
She found him drowned in Yarrow.
His hair it was three-quarters long,
Three-quarters long and yellow.
She twined it round her lily hand
And drew him out of Yarrow.
Yestreen I made my bed full broad,
Tonight I'll make it narrow.
For all the livelong winter's night
I lie twinned of my marrow.
|Lyrics from Ron Clarke's Tadpole Tunes
Information From The English and Scottish Popular Ballads
See Bibliography for full information.