Poor Old Couple, The
DESCRIPTION: "There was an old couple, and they were poor." The wife is afraid to stay alone; when the man goes away, she locks the doors and goes to bed. When he returns, she complains of his absence and asks for an (apple). He falls off the ladder. She insults him
EARLIEST DATE: 1849 (Halliwell)
KEYWORDS: husband wife separation disease food age disease request dialog husband wife
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South)) US(SE)
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Williams-Thames, pp. 94-95, "There Was an Old Couple" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 499)
SharpAp 184, "The Poor Couple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves-Sharp 76, "The Poor Old Couple" (1 text)
Palmer-ECS, #102, "It's Of an Old Couple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #821, pp. 305-306, "(There was an old couple, and they were poor)"
ADDITIONAL: James Orchard Halliwell, "Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales" (London, 1849 ("Digitized by Google")), p. 270, ("There was an old couple and they were poor")
NOTES: It sounds like a "spark" is some sort of supernatural creature [in the SharpAp version, after she request the fruit, "up jumped a spark and he run like a hare"], but none of my dictionaries lists any such definition. Local dialect for "spook"? Or has the lady been two-timing the "poor old fool," and is the spark her paramour? Now if she'd asked the old man to fetch a cabbage-head, we'd know for sure. - PJS
My guess is that it's an error for "up HE jumped [like?] a spark...." Or maybe it's an oblique reference to Job 5:7, "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." - RBW
"Spark" indeed! Somewhere along the line the story seems to have been "severely censored," as noted in Reeves-Sharp. Reeves-Sharp #76 has the town clerk, who was "resolved with her to lie," come to visit at eight o'clock. He is still there when the husband comes home at twelve. To facilitate the clerk's escape she sends her husband to "fetch me an apple from yonder tree And I will come and let in thee, O yes I will said he." The escape is successful: "Now as he was grabbling under the tree Up jumped the town clerk and away runned he That's very well done, said she." She claims to have been sick in his absence. "Poor wife said he Poor cuckhold thought she."
The Halliwell version has no town clerk but retains the unsympathetic wife: when the old man tries to climb the tree for her apple "the ladder it fell, and down tumbled he. That's cleverly done! said she." - BS
Has anyone noticed how many elements of this song are reminiscent of Chaucer's "Merchant's Tale"? - RBW
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