I Gave My Love a Cherry

DESCRIPTION: The singer gave his love "a cherry without a stone... a chicken without a bone," etc. He is asked how these things are possible. The reply: "A cherry when it's blooming, it has no stone," etc.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1430 (British Library, Sloane MS. 2593, "I have a yong suster")
KEYWORDS: riddle nonballad love gift
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland) Canada(Mar) US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So)
REFERENCES (40 citations):
Bronson (46), 18 versions given as an appendix to "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship"
BronsonSinging (48), "Riddle Song" (5 versions: #1, #2a, #3, #7, #14, #16)
Randolph 123, "The Four Brothers" (1 text)
BrownII 12, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text plus mention of another, but it is nothing but riddles and not to be connected with Child #46)
BrownSchinhanIV 12, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 excerpts, 3 tunes, all of which appear to be this song and not "Captain Wedderburn")
Boswell/Wolfe 16 pp. 30-31, "I Gave My Love a Cherry (Captain Wedderburn's Courtship)" (1 text, 1 tune, which despite the second title consists solely of the riddles)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 230-231, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text with no listed local title; it is nothing but riddles and not to be connected with Child #46)
Moore-Southwest 13A, "An Old Man's Courtship"; 116, "Perrie Merrie Dixi Domini" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Eddy 8, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune, with little except the riddles and no sign that it was ever part of the longer ballad) {Bronson's #15}
Flanders-Ancient1, pp. 299-315, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts plus two fragments, 5 tunes; the "I" and II" texts and tunes are "I Gave My Love a Cherry")
Gardner/Chickering 188, "Gifts From Over the Sea" (1 text plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #13}
SharpAp 144, "The Riddle Song" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #7, #6, #5}
Sulzer, p. 5, "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
Wells, p. 175, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7, imperfectly transposed}
MHenry-Appalachians, p. 25, "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (1 text)
Creighton/Senior, pp. 162-163, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #2a,2b}
Linscott, pp. 267-269, "Perrie, Merrie, Dixi, Domini" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman, p. 137, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (2 texts, but only the second belongs with this song)
Fowke/Johnston, pp. 136-137, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Niles 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts, 3 tunes, of which the second, "The Riddle Song," and the third, "Piri-miri-dictum Domini," go with this piece)
Scott-BoA, pp. 9-10, "I Will Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FSNA 11, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 59, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Reeves-Sharp 73, "Pery Mery Winkle Domine" (1 text)
Reeves-Circle 73, "I Will Give My Love an Apple" (1 text)
Opie-Oxford2 478, "I have four sisters beyond the sea" (3 texts plus a photo facing p. 388 of the text in the Sloane MS)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #270, pp. 162-163, "(My true love lives far from me)"
Montgomerie-ScottishNR 189, "(I had three little sisters across the sea)" (1 text)
Arnett, p. 41, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase, pp. 156-157, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stevick-100MEL 56, "(I Have a Yong Suster)" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 55-56, "Peri Meri Dixie Dominie" (1 text, 1 tune)
PSeeger-AFB, p. 72, "Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 408, "Riddle Song" (1 text)
Fireside, p. 25, "The Riddle" (1 text, 1 tune)
DT, RIDDLSNG RDDLSNG3* (GONORUSH*) PERIMERI*
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #65, "I Have a Young Sister" (1 text); notes to #258 ("I have three presents from over the sea") (1 excerpt)
Richard M. Dorson, _Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States_, University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 393-394, "I Have Four Brothers" (1 text)
Brown/Robbins, _Index of Middle English Verse_, #1303
Digital Index of Middle English Verse #2174

Roud #330 and 36
RECORDINGS:
Pete Seeger, "The Riddle Song" (on PeteSeeger18)
Tony Wales, "Piri-iri-igdum" (on TWales1)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" [Child 46]
cf. "Riddles Wisely Expounded" [Child 1]
ALTERNATE TITLES:
I Have a Young Sister
Perri Merri Dictum, Domine
NOTES: Certain scholars have seen this as a worn-down form of "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" [Child 46]. Since, however, it goes back at least to 1430, the dependency is if anything in the other direction. But there is no real reason to believe they are related in any but a casual way; riddle songs were popular for a long time. Still, because many scholars list versions of this song under "Captain Wedderburn," one should check both songs for complete references
"Go No More A-Rushing" (DT GONORUSH) appears to be an Elizabethan prologue tacked on to the old song.
In modern English and in far eastern folklore, cherries are associated with sex. Whether that has any significance here I do not know.
Various scholars have tried to wring meaning out of the nonsense "Piri-miri-dictum Domini" refrain. The third and fourth words can become Latin (dictum=word and Domine of course is the word for "Lord"). I've not seen a convincing Latin explanation for "piri" and "miri," however. - RBW
Re "cherries are associated with sex," see Barre Toelken, "Context and Meaning in the Anglo-American Ballad" in The Ballad and the Scholars: Approaches to Ballad Study (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California, 1986), pp. 37-38, in which Toelken reports hearing the song sung at a North Carolina family picnic as a dialog between "a young couple who were about to be married"; she sings "I gave my love a cherry...", he sings "I gave my love a chicken that had no bone," [and you can play out the rest of the dialog yourself] while the group at the picnic "exchanged knowing glances, nudges in the ribs, and suppressed looks of modesty surprised." Toelken continues, referring only to this context for the performance, "Each line is not only a potential reference to flowers, food, marriage, or family. In addition, we see in the sequence (cherry-egg[!?"chicken"=cock?]-ring-baby=virginity-impregnation-marriage-baby, the metaphor and its referent integrated by the couple's singing the last line together ["And a baby when it's making has no crying"]) a fairly accurate portrayal of a well-known courtship pattern in the Anglo-American world." - BS
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File: R123

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