By A Bank As I Lay
Version 1
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

There are two different sets of words and tunes with this title. This arrangement is as printed in Popular Music of the Olden Time.

A letter dated 1565 references By a Bank As I Lay as being in a collection of ancient ballads. This set is said to have been sung by King Henry VIII and Sir Peter Carew. The printed version in the Deuteromelia has the king in the last line as "James, " as it was printed during James's reign.*

Chappell writes the other version of By A Bank As I Lay appears in "Royal MSS, Appendix 58" and notes it is said to be "a studied composition." He also notes the words (but not the tune) were printed by Payne Collier in his Extracts from the Registers of the Stationers' Company (1849). However, in 1919 it was discovered that many of Collier's ballads, were, in fact, either outright forgeries, or his own variants of ballads.**

By a bank as I lay
Musing on a thing that was
Past and gone, Height-ho!
In the merry month of May,
Oh! Somewhat before the day
Methought I heard at the last.

Oh, the gentle nightingale,
The lady and the mistress of all musick,
She sits down ever in the dale;
Singing with her notes smale,
And quavering them wonderfully thick.

Oh, for joy my spirits were quick
To hear the bird, how merrily she could sing.
And I said, Good Lord defend
England, with thy most holy hand,
And save noble Henry, our king.

  • Other versions at this site:
  • Related Links
    From *Popular Music of the Olden Time
    See Bibliography for full information.
    And **Bruce Olsen's Roots of Folk Website.