The Well of St. Keyne
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Lesley Nelson-Burns


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This tune is from The Songs of England (see citation below). It is listed there as A Well There is in the West Country, a Cornish Air.

The poem The Well of St. Keyne was written by Robert Southey (1774-1843) and appeared on December 3, 1798 in the London Morning Post. The poem retells the legend of the Well of St. Keyne, which is located in Cornwall.

St. Keyne was the daughter of King Broccan. She is reputed to have lived in the sixth century and died a virgin. Her feast day is October 8.

Robert Southey was Poet Laureate from 1813-1843. He was born in Bristol, the son of a linen draper. An Uncle sent him to Westminster, but he was expelled in 1792 for protesting the practice of flogging. Southey works include, Joan of Arc, The Battle of Blenheim, Wat Tyler and A Vision of Judgement (commemorating the death of George III).

Another song of the "Battle of the Sexes" is John Grumlie.

A well there is in the West country,
And a clearer ne'er was seen a,
There's not a wife in the West country
But has heard of the well of St. Keyne a;
An oak and an elm tree stand beside,
And behind does an ash tree grow a,
And a willow from the banks above,
To the water droops below a.

A stranger came to the well of St. Keyne,
For thirsty and hot was he a,
And he sat down upon the bank,
Beneath the willow tree a:
There came a man from a neighb'ring town,
At the well to fill his pail a,
Upon the side he rested it,
And bade the stranger bail a.

Now art thou a bachelor, friend? quoth he,
For an if thou hast a wife a,
The happiest draught thou hast drank this day a;
That e'en thou didst in thy life a;
Or has your good woman, if one you have,
In Cornwall ever been a?
For an if she have, I'll venture my life,
She has drank of the well of St. Keyne a.

I've left a good woman who ne'er was here,
The stranger made reply a,
But how my draught should better be for that
To guess in vain I try a,
St. Keyne, quoth the countryman, many a time
Would drink of this crystal well a;
And before the angel summon'd her,
She laid on the water a spell a.

If the husband of this gifted well
Shall drink before his wife a,
A happy man thenceforth is he,
For he shall be master for life a;
But if the wife should drink of it first,
God bless the husband then a,
The stranger stoop'd to the well of St. Keyne,
And drank of the water again a.

You drank of the well, I warrant, betimes,
To the countryman he said a;
But the rustic sigh'd as the stranger spake,
And sadly shook his head a;
I hasten'd here, when the wedding was done,
And left my wife in the porch a,
But truly she had been wiser than me,
For she took a bottle to the church a.
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From Songs of England
J. L. Hatton and Eaton Fanning
See Bibliography for full information.