Grey Cock, The, or, Saw You My Father [Child 248]

DESCRIPTION: Man bids his love to let him in. After some hours of lovemaking, he tells her he must depart when the cock crows (or before). She hopes the cock will not crow soon, but it crows early. She learns that her lover is a ghost, and may never return
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1769 (Herd)
LONG DESCRIPTION: Man comes to his lover's window, bidding her open and let him in. They spend the night in lovemaking; toward dawn, he tells her he must leave when the cock crows for day. She prays the cock not to crow too soon, but the cock in fact crows early. She remarks her lover's cold lips and skin, realizing he has returned to her dead. As he leaves, she asks when she will see him again; he replies with impossibilities ("When the fish they fly, love, and the sea runs dry, love/And the rocks they melt in the heat of the sun") -- i.e., at the Judgment Day.
KEYWORDS: love sex farewell death dialog nightvisit paradox supernatural lover ghost
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland) US(Ap,SE,So) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland
REFERENCES (20 citations):
Child 248, "The Grey Cock, or, Saw You My Father" (1 text)
Bronson 248, "The Grey Cock, or, Saw You My Father" (16 versions)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 248, "The Grey Cock, or, Saw You My Father?" (5 versions: #1, #5, #8, #9, #12)
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishSong, p. 427, "O Saw Ye My Father" (1 text)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 36, "The Grey Cock" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 310-313, "The Grey Cock" (1 text plus Joyce's version of "The Lover's Ghost")
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 611-612, "The Grey Cock" (2 texts)
Warner-TraditionalAmericanFolkSongsFromAnneAndFrankWarnerColl 90, "Pretty Crowin' Chicken" (1 text, 1 tune)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, pp. 78-79, "Pretty Crowin' Chicken" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 47, "Saw You My True Love John?" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, pp. 83-85, "The Grey Cock" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #11, #13}
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 21, "The Lover's Ghost" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, pp. 52-53, "The Grey Cock, or The Lover's Ghost" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #16}
Butterworth/Dawney-PloughboysGlory, p. 48, "Willie the Waterboy" (1 text, 1 tune, short enough that it might be Child #77 or Child #248 or a combination or perhaps independent; Roud files it with Child #248, but Dawney with Child #77)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 148, "The Grey Cock" (1 text)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H699, pp. 383-384, "The Bonny Bushes Bright" (1 text, 1 tune)
Graham-Joe-Holmes-SongsMusicTraditionsOfAnUlsterman 77, "True Lover John" (1 text, 1 tune); 55, "My Willie O" (1 fragment, so short that it might be almost any revenant ballad, 1 tune)
Chappell-PopularMusicOfTheOldenTime, p. 731, "Saw You My Father?" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
ADDITIONAL: James Johnson, Editor, _The Scots Musical Museum_ [1853 edition], volume I, #76, p. 77, "O Saw ye my Father" (1 text, 1 tune)

ST C248 (Full)
Roud #179
Robert Cinnamond, "Fly Up My Cock" (on IRRCinnamond02)
Cecilia Costello, "The Grey Ghost" (on FSB5 [as "The Grey Cock"], FSBBAL2) {Bronson's #16}
Joe Holmes and Len Graham, "The Pretty Little Cock" (on IREarlyBallads)
A. L. Lloyd, "The Lover's Ghost" (on Lloyd01) (on Lloyd2, Lloyd3)
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, "The Grey Cock" (on ENMacCollSeeger02)
Virgie Wallin, "The Worrysome Woman" (on OldTrad2, FarMtns3 [as "The Worrisome Woman"])
Roisin White, "True Lover John" (on IRRWhite01)

cf. "Night Visiting Song" (motif)
cf. "A Waukrife Minnie" (motif)
cf. "Rise Up Quickly and Let Me In (The Ghostly Lover)" (motif)
cf. "Willie's Fatal Visit" [Child 255] (motif)
cf. "The Light of the Moon" (theme: night visit ended by a crowing cock)
cf. "Dandyman Oh" (motif of spirits departing before dawn)
NOTES [1415 words]: [Of Bronson's sixteen versions,] only one is of the Night Visiting Song type and one of the I Once Loved a Lass type. - AS
Hugh Shields wrote an article, "The Grey Cock: Dawn Song or Revenant Ballad?" (reprinted in E. B. Lyle, Ballad Studies, pp. 67-92) which argues that, in its original form, this was an "alba" or "dawn song" rather than a revenant ballad.
The problem with the hypothesis, as even Shields grudgingly admits, is that this type of song is literally unknown in English (it's associated primarily with the Iberian peninsula, though James J. Wilhelm, Medieval Song, p. 107, claims that the oldest Dawn Song is the Provençal "En un vergier sotz folha s'albespi," and Wilhelm prints several other dawn songs from France, and even a few from Germany).
Shields never ever really defines the form, giving only a few footnotes, one pointing to a German article on Chaucer's Troilus. Looking at the examples in Wilhelm (there are several more found among the Provençal songs), it appears that the characteristic of the form is two young people, forbidden to meet, still coming together at night and having to part before dawn. Though there are also "religious" alba songs, presumably in praise of the light, and a few other things. All of them, however, are art or minstrel songs, not folk songs.
The former type of alba song, obviously, resembles "The Grey Cock" -- but the motivations are entirely different, and so, generally, is the outcome; in the alba songs, the light simply threatens to reveal the lovers, while it threatens the ghost's very existence in the English ballad. I incline to think the similarity, if there is one, is coincidental -- i.e. "The Grey Cock" may be an alba song, but it is not from the tradition of alba songs.
I should probably note, though, that the Provençal examples cited come mostly from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries -- i.e. some of them come from the time when England ruled large parts of Provence. Henry II had Provençal troubadours in his entourage (perhaps the most famous of all, Bertran de Born, c. 1140-1214, had a part in the quarrels between Henry and his son Henry the Young King, and wrote a lament for the latter). So the form could have been introduced into England at the time -- if you believe that it could have survived the conversion into English and then have lasted until modern times.
There is a nursery rhyme verse which is probably related to this, though it might also have been influenced by "Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight" or something similar:
Oh, my pretty cock, oh, my handsome cock,
I pray you, do not crow before day,
And your comb shall be made of the very beaten gold,
And your wings of the silver so gray. (Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #852, p. 320.) - RBW
The nine-verse Costello version [VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs] of "The Grey Cock" begins with five verses often found in "Rise Up Quickly and Let Me In (The Ghostly Lover)," including the distinguishing lines
Saying, "I'll be guided without a stumble...."
"....Disturbing me from my long night's rest?"
"It is your own true love, pray don't discover..."
"....For I am wet after my long night's journey,
Besides I'm wet love unto the skin."
followed by the "where is the blushes" verse from "Willy O!", two bribery and betrayal verses from Child 248, and ends with the "when the fish they fly" verse from "I Will Put My Ship In Order"; Ewan MacColl's version of the Costello text adds one more verse from "Willy O!"
Perhaps a revenant "The Grey Cock" was closer to the P.W. Joyce version and the two closely related Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland texts; that ballad also concludes with the "when the fish they fly" verse. There the distinguishing lines include
"And where is your bed, my dearest love," he said,
"And where are your white Holland sheets?
And where are the maids, oh my darling dear," he said,
"That wait upon you whilst you are asleep?"
"The clay it is me bed, my dearest dear," she said,
"The shroud is my white Holland sheet.
And the worms and creeping things are me servants, dear," she said,
"That wait upon me whilst I am asleep."
(Joyce's text, unlike Karpeles's, reverses the sex of the parties.) Or maybe that is another independent set of ballads.
Child's notes to "The Grey Cock, or, Saw You My Father?" refer to a ballad without a ghost theme ended prematurely by a crowing cock: "The cock is remiss or unfaithful, again, in a little ballad picked up by Burns in Nithsdale, 'A Waukrife Minnie,' Cromek, Select Scottish Songs. You can read the text of the 1789 poem at Burns Country site.
Robert Cinnamond's version on IRRCinnamond02, like Child, Johnson, Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople and Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine, have no ghostly elements. At the end, as in Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople, the woman is deserted by a man who would just rather not be married. My own inclination, without getting into the "alba" controversy, is to believe that the ghostly versions, like Costello, VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs and MacColl, have imported the ghost from entirely different ballads.
Ford says of Burns's report of "The Waukrife Minnie" (lovers interrupted by early crowing with no ghost involved) that he had it "from the singing of a country girl in Nithsdale." Ford's comment is in connection with his own text of "My Rolling Eye" [Seventeen Come Sunday [Laws O17]] (Robert Ford, editor, Vagabond Songs and Ballads of Scotland [first series] (Paisley,1899), pp. 102-105) which includes the following verses, again about the interruption of two non-ghostly lovers by an early-crowing cock:
It's waery fa' the waukrife cock
May the foumart lay his crawing,
He wauken'd the auld wife frae her sleep,
A wee blink ere the dawing.
She gaed to the fire to blaw the coal,
To see if she would ken me,
But I dang the auld runt in the fire,
And bade my heels defend me.
Finally having read the Shields article cited above, I see that it analyzes the Costello version on pp. 71-77. Once the chimeric nature of that and other texts is demonstrated I find it difficult to understand the grounds for considering "The Grey Cock" to be a revenant ballad.
See R. H. Cromek, Remains of Nithsdale and Galloway Song, (London, 1810), pp. 72-75, "The Gray Cock," which Child describes as "a song by Allan Cunningham, impudently put forward as 'the precious relique of the original'." Cromek writes, "This copy was communicated by Mr. Allan Cunningham. He had it from his father...."; Cunningham's "forgery" has nothing of the revenant theme which, I assume, he would have incorporated if he had thought it appropriate to the ballad he was faking.
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario [1965], p. 185, also looks at the Costello version: "Of her ten stanzas, the first five parallel almost line for line the correspoonding stanzas sung by Mrs. Clark [of 'Rise Up Quickly and Let Me In']." Shields, in footnote 14, acknowledges Fowke's analysis. Since Fowke considers her text a version of "The Grey Cock," she may think of the Costello text as a "more complete" version of Child 248 of which her own text is a fragment. The other way of looking at the two texts is to consider Costello a composite with the Fowke text as one of its elements.
Whether or not they are "dawn songs," the Index includes a number of non-revenant night visits besides Child 248 that are ended early by premature cock crow. See, for example, the discussion of "My Restless Eye" and "A Waukrife Minnie," indexed as "Seventeen Come Sunday [Laws O17]." Another example is the song indexed as "The Light of the Moon." See "Rise Up Quickly and Let Me In (The Ghostly Lover)" for the note beginning, "Summing up: this is not a ghost song at all"; in this case the visit is ended by cock crow, though not prematurely.
For a discussion of "dawn songs", with and without ghosts, see Charles Read Baskervill, "English Songs on the Night Visit" in Publications of the Modern Language Association of America , Vol. XXXVI, No. 4 (December 1921 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 565-614. I would use this article as the starting point for any study of the subject.
Piling it on -- against the revenant -- is the Joe Holmes and Len Graham recording which ends "There was once I thought my love was as constant unto me As the stones that lie under yon ground, But now since I do find he's altered his mind I would rather live single as be bound." - BS
Last updated in version 6.2
File: C248

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