The Wife of Usher's Well
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

This ballad is also known in the Appalachians as Lady Gay and The Miracle at Usher's Well. It first appears in print in Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1802). Scott collected this tune from West Lothian.

This ballad is Child Ballad #79.

The story is that a mother looses her sons at sea. When she finds that they cannot be recovered, she goes mad. She then uses magic to compel their return, but they return as ghosts and must vanish with the morning.

In the version Lady Gay, the children are babes and the mother sends them to learn "grammaree" - or magic. The children die. Her magic calls them back but when they return they refuse the food and drink she offers them, telling her they want none of it and are resigned to Christ.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.

carlin wife = old woman
fashes = troubles
flood = sea
birk = birch
syke = trench
sheugh = furrow
daw = dawn
channerin = grumbling

There lived a wife at Usher's Well,
And a wealthy wife was she;
She had three stout and stalwart sons,
And sent them over the sea.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely ane,
Whan word came to the carline wife,
That her three sons were gane.

They hadna been a week from her,
A week but barely three,
Whan word came to the carlin wife
That her three sons were gone.

"I wish the wind may never cease,
Nor fashes in the flood,
Till my three sons come hame to me,
In earthly flesh and blood."

It befell about the Martinmass,
When nights are long and mirk,
The carlin wife's three sons came hame,
And their hats were o the birk.

It neither grew in syke nor ditch,
Nor yet in ony sheugh;
But at the gates o Paradise,
That birk grew fair enough

"Blow up the fire my maidens,
Bring water from the well;
For a' my house shall feast this night,
Since my three sons are well."

And she has made to them a bed,
She's made it large and wide,
And she's taen her mantle her about,
Sat down at the bed-side.

Up then crew the red, red, cock,
And up the crew the gray;
The eldest to the youngest said,
'Tis time we were away.

The cock he hadna crawed but once,
And clappd his wings at a',
When the youngest to the eldest said,
Brother, we must awa.

The cock doth craw, the day both daw,
The cahannerin worm doth chide;
Gin we be mist out o our place,
A sair pain we maun bide.

"Fare ye weel, my mother dear!
Fareweel to barn and byre!
And fare ye weel, the bonny lass
That kindles my mother's fire!"
From Scottish Ballads
The Joan Baez Songbook
See Bibliography for full information.