Martin Said To His Man

DESCRIPTION: The singer says s/he saw various animals performing various activities, some of which are impossible or unlikely (E.g. "Saw a crow flying low"; "Saw a mule teachin' school"). In some versions, the narrator(s) are drunk, competing to tell the tallest tale.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1609 (Deuteromelia; registered as a ballad 1588)
KEYWORDS: contest drink lullaby nonballad nonsense paradox talltale animal bug
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MW,SE,So) Britain(England,Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (15 citations):
Kinloch-BBook XIV, pp. 50-54, "The Man in the Moon" (1 text)
GreigDuncan8 1703, "I Saw a Sparrow" (1 text plus a single verse on p. 401, 1 tune)
Reeves-Sharp 109, "Well Done Liar" (1 text)
Randolph 445, "Johnny Fool" (2 texts)
BrownIII 114, "Kitty Alone" (1 text)
BrownSchinhanV 114, "Kitty Alone" (1 tune plus a text excerpt)
Hudson 128, p. 274, "Old, Blind, Drunk John" (1 text)
HudsonTunes 41, "Old, Blind, Drunk John" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wyman-Brockway I, p. 22, "The Bed-time Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boswell/Wolfe 78, pp. 126-128, "Johnny Fool" (1 text, 1 tune)
Grimes, p. 62, "The Liar's Song" (1 text, tune)
Sulzer, p. 22, "Nonsense Song No. 1" (1 short text, 1 tune, with a verse from this song although the rest might be anything)
Lomax-FSNA 136, "Hurrah, Lie!" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chappell/Wooldridge I, p. 140, "Martin Said to His Man" (1 text, 1 tune)

Roud #473
Martha Hall, "Kitty Alone" (on MMOK, MMOKCD)
cf. "Gossip Joan (Neighbor Jones)" (theme)
Who's the Fool Now?
Old Blind Drunk John
Fooba-Wooba John
NOTES [227 words]: Referred to in Dryden's 1668 play "Sir Martin Mar-all, or the Feign'd Innocence" (act IV). It seems to have been very popular in the century prior to that.
The American versions can generally be told by their narrative pattern, "(I) saw a () (doing something)," e.g. "Saw a crow flying low," "Saw a mule teaching school," "Saw a louse chase a mouse," "Saw a flea wade the sea."
The versions under the title "Kitty Alone" are sometimes a mix of this and "Frog Went A-Courting"; the first such text seems to have been in Gammer Gurton's Garland (1784), which has clearly a "Frog" plot but the form (and some of the exaggerations) of this piece.
I'm sure there are some who have argued that the ancient English "Martin Said To His Man" is not the same as the modern American texts. But there is continuity of verses, believe it or not, and the theme never changes. And there is no way to draw a dividing line. - RBW
Reeves-Sharp throws a bawdy light on some verses. For "I saw a wren kill a man" it cites Partridge's A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional Slang to make "wren" "a harlot frequenting Curragh Camp, military 1869" [did the Women's Royal Naval Service -- Wrens -- of the World Wars escape this slang?]. For "I saw a maid milk a bull Every stroke a bucket full," "one of the meanings of 'milk' in the same source is 'cause sexual ejaculation'." - BS
Last updated in version 4.1
File: WB022

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