DESCRIPTION: The singer prepares to deck herself out with flowers in her hair, in response to her former lover who now has abandoned her. She promises to behave joyfully and forget she knew him, and make him regret that he "neglected his pale wildwood flower"
AUTHOR: Words: Maud Irving / Music: Joseph Philbrick Webster (?) (see NOTES)
EARLIEST DATE: 1928 (recording, Carter Family); probably composed 1860
KEYWORDS: love abandonment beauty flowers
FOUND IN: US(Ap,SE,So)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore3 263, "The Pale Wildwood Flower" (3 texts plus a fragment)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore5 263, "The Pale Wildwood Flower" (3 tunes plus text excerpts)
Ritchie-SingingFamilyOfTheCumberlands, pp. 248-249, "[Pale Wildwood Flower]" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cohen/Seeger/Wood-NewLostCityRamblersSongbook, pp. 50-51, "Wildwood Flower" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph 798, "The Wildwood Flower" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 500-501, "The Wildwood Flower" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 798A)
Abernethy-SinginTexas, pp. 48-49, "Wildwood Flower" (1 text, 1 tune)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol1, pp. 102-103, "Wildwood Flower" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cray-AshGrove, p. 27, "Wildwood Flower" (1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 166, "Wildwood Flower" (1 text)
The Carter Family, "Wildwood Flower"(Victor V-40000, 1929; Bluebird B-5356/Montgomery Ward M-4432/Sunrise S-3437, 1934; rec. 1928) (ARC 5-11-65/Conqueror 8542, 1935); [as The A. P. Carter Family] "Wildwood Flower" (Acme 996, early 1950s)
Carter Sisters & Mother Maybelle, "Wildwood Flower" (Columbia 21138, 1953)
John D. Mounce et al, "Wildwood Flower" (on MusOzarks01)
James Roberts, "Frail Wildwood Flower" (Gennett 6566 [as Wikel Miller]/Conqueror 7254 [as Joe Reeves], 1929; rec. 1928)
cf. "Reuben James" (tune)
NOTES [242 words]: The list of flowers in this song is curious. The original sheet music refers to a "pale aronatus," which is no flower at all, in the fourth line. Many others have been suggested. The closest fit verbally is probably "amanita," which is interesting because, although not a flower (it's a fungus), it is indeed pale -- and a deadly poison (Stevens & Klarner, p. 82). Another flower mentioned, the oleander, is also deadly (Stevens & Klarner, p. 48). It's almost as if people who heard the song and could not understand it were plugging in poisonous blossoms.
There seems to be agreement that Maud Irving wrote the words to this (so blame her for the aronatus), but no agreement on the author of the music. The first sources I saw said Joseph Philbrick Webster, a fairly well-known composer who wrote "Sweet By and By" and "Lorena," so he is a fair bet for such a popular tune. But Zwonitzer/Hirschberg, p. 43, apparently citing Charles K. Wolfe, credits J. P. Welch, who has not written anything else of significance. My guess is that there was an edition somewhere with the words credited to J. P. W., and this was variously interpreted. The date of the original would probably settle things, since Webster died in 1875.
All that said, I'm fairly sure the attribution to Webster is correct, since his catalog of songs includes a text by Irving titled "I'll Twine 'Mid the Ringlets." That, presumably, is this song; the site pdmusic.org dates it 1860. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.1
- Stevens & Klarner: Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner, Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons, Writer's Digest Books, 1990
- Zwonitzer/Hirschberg: Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirschberg, Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone: The Carter Family & Their Legacy in American Music, Simon & Schuster, 2002
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2021 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.