Elfin Knight, The [Child 2]

DESCRIPTION: A man (sometimes an "Elfin" knight) and a woman exchange tasks. He offers to marry her if she performs his (impossible) tasks; she shows how she feels by making equally unperformable requests
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1673 (broadside)
KEYWORDS: courting magic bargaining dialog paradox tasks
FOUND IN: Britain(England(All),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Newf,West) Ireland
REFERENCES (67 citations):
Child 2, "The Elfin Knight" (13 texts)
Bronson 2, "The Elfin Knight" (56 versions plus 6 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 2, "The Elfin Knight" (9 versions: #1, #3, #6, #15, #22, #23, #31, #36, #53)
Broadwood/Maitland-EnglishCountySongs, pp. 12-13, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #18, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #
Kidson-TraditionalTunes, pp. 42-44,172, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 2 tunes)
Gardham-EastRidingSongster 7, 8, pp. 11-12, 44-45, "An Acre of Land" (5 texts, 2 tunes; the first four texts are "My Father Hand an Acre of Land" but the fifth text, on p. 45, is "The Elfin Knight" [Child 2])
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #100, pp. 1-2, "The Elfin Knight"; #103, p. 2, "The Elfin Knight" (3 texts plus 1 fragment)
Greig/Duncan2 329, "The Elfin Knight" (7 texts, 2 tunes) {A=Bronson's #1, B=#50}
Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume2 84, "The Deil's Wooing" (1 text)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 3-11, "The Elfin Knight" (4 texts plus a fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #3, #23}
Wells-TheBalladTree, pp. 171-172, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 172-173, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #44, #3}
Gray-SongsAndBalladsOfTheMaineLumberjacks, pp. 78-79, "Strawberry Lane" (1 text, from JournalOfAmericanFolkloreL XXX, 1917)
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 51-78, "The Elfin Knight" (12 texts plus 3 fragments, not all from New England; 8 tunes; the "N" text appears to be "My Father Had an Acre of Land") {A=Bronson's #47C=Bronson's #6; F=Bronson's #45}
Ives-FolksongsFromMaine 20, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune)
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 1-3, "The Elfin Kinght" (3 texts)
Randolph 1, "The Cambric Shirt" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #40}
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 13-15, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 1A) {Bronson's #40}
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 1, "The Elfin Knight" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #39, #43}
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 47, "A True Lover of Mine" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #38}
List-SingingAboutIt-FolkSongsInSouthernIndiana, pp. 176-179, "The Two Lovers" (1 text, 1 tune)
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 2, pp. 8-13, "The Elfin Knight" (3 texts, all short, one reconstructed)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 1, "The Elfin Knight" (1 text plus an edited excerpt and a fragment)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 1, "The Elfin Knight" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 1, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 fragment)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #144, "The Elfin Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #42}
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 2A-C, "The Cambric Shirt"; 2D, "Rosemary and Thyme" (3 texts plus 1 fragment, 4 tunes)
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-2ed, pp. 4-6, "Rosemary One Time" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 1, "The Elfin Knight" (4 texts plus a fragment, though the "D" text is not a conversation but a series of requests from the singer to his mother; it may be a related song)
Flanders/Ballard/Brown/Barry-NewGreenMountainSongster, pp. 8-10, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #47}
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 194-196, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, pp. 169-171, "Blow, Ye Winds, Blow or The Elfin Knight" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
Carey-MarylandFolkLegendsAndFolkSongs, p. 93, "Cambric Shirt" (1 short text)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 51-53, ""The Elfin Knight" (2 texts)
Peacock, pp. 6-7, "The Cambric Shirt" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 7, "The Elfin Knight" (2 texts)
Fowke/Johnston-FolkSongsOfCanada, pp. 138-139, "A True Lover of Mine" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #32}
Pottie/Ellis-FolksongsOfTheMaritimes, pp. 154-155, "WIttingham Fair" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cazden/Haufrecht/Studer-FolkSongsOfTheCatskills 40, "Petticoat Lane" (1 text, 1 tune)
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, pp. 422-423, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text)
Shoemaker-MountainMinstrelsyOfPennsylvania, pp. 134-135, "The Labors off True Lovers" (1 text)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 15, "The Elfin Knight" (1 text)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 1 "The Elfin Knight" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #30, #48}
Sharp-OneHundredEnglishFolksongs 74, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs1, "The Lovers' Tasks (The Elfin Knight)" (1 slightly edited text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #30}
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 12, "The Lover's Tasks, or Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #21}
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 4-5, "O Where Are You Going? I'm Going to Linn" (1 text, 1 tune)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 2, "The Elfin Knight" (3 texts, 3 tunes, all rather degenerate)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 7, "Strawberry Lane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #23, with some modifications}
Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs, pp. 112-113, "The Cambric Shirt" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 26 ,"The Elfin Knight" (1 text)
Buchan-ABookOfScottishBallads 41, "The Elfin Knight" (1 text)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 1, "The Elfin Knight" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stokoe/Reay-SongsAndBalladsOfNorthernEngland, pp. 54-55, "Whittingham Fair" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #22, with key changed}
xOLochlainn-MoreIrishStreetBallads 99, "Rosemary Fair" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 86, "Can you make me a cambric shirt" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #70, p. 79-80, "(Can you make me a cambric shirt)"
Whitelaw-BookOfScottishBallads, pp. 463-464, "The Elfin Knight"; pp. 464-465, "The Fairy Knight" (2 texts)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 19-23, "The Elfin Knight," "The Elfin Knight," "Every Rose Grows Merry in Time," "Flim-A-Lim-A-Lee" (4 texts)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 26, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 151, "Scarborough Fair" (1 text); p. 152, "Cambric Shirt" (1 text)
Olson-BroadsideBalladIndex, ZN821, "The elfin knight sits on yon hill"
Averill-CampSongsFolkSongs, pp. 150, 238, "Scarborough Fair" (notes only)
ADDITIONAL: J. Barre Toelken, "'Riddles Wisely Expouded,''" article published 1966 in _Western Folklore_ (which, despite the title, is mostly about the riddling challengers in this song); republished on pp. 141-156 of Norm Cohen, editor, _All This for a Song_, Southern Folklife Collection, 2009
Tony Deane and Tony Shaw _The Folklore of Cornwall_, B. T. Batsford, 1975, p. 59, "(Can you plow me an acre of land)" (1 excerpt)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #312, "My Plaid Away" (1 excerpt)

Roud #12
Sara Cleveland, "Every Rose Grows Merry in Time" (on SCleveland01) {Bronson's #34.1 in addenda}
Bob & Ron Copper, "An Acre of Land" (on FSB4)
George Decker, "The Cambric Shirt" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Liz Jefferies, "Rosemary Lane" (on Voice15, IREarlyBallads (as Elizabeth Jeffries))
Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, "The Elfin Knight" (on SCMacCollSeeger01)
Thomas Moran, "Strawberry Lane (The Elfin Knight)" (on FSB4, FSBBAL1)
Lawrence Older, "Flim-A-Lim-A-Lee" (on LOlder01)
Mrs. Clara Stevens, "The Cambric Shirt" (on PeacockCDROM)
Anna Underhill, "The Elfin Knight" (on FineTimes)
Margaret Winters, "Cambric Shirt" (on JThomas01)

EngBdsdBA 32070, Pepys Misc 358, "The Wind Hath Blown my Plaid Away" or "A Discourse Between a Young Man and the Elphin-Knight" ("The Elphin Knight sits on yon hill He blows his horn both loud and shrill"), unknown, no date, accessed 09 Dec 2013. [cf. Child 2A]
cf. "My Father Had an Acre of Land" (theme)
cf. "O'er the Hills and Far Away (I)" (floating lyrics)
The Devil's Courtship
Rosemary and Thyme
The Wind Hath Blown My Plaid Away
My Father Gave Me an Acre of Ground
The Parsley Vine
The Shirt of Lace
The Laird o' Elfin
NOTES [485 words]: The song "My Father Had an Acre of Land" is sometimes listed as a variant of this, but falsely. The basic point of Child #2 is the dialog making impossible demands; in "My Father Had an Acre of Land," the song simply boasts of impossible deeds.
The famous Scarborough Fair surely predates the song; according to Kellett, p. 159, the event was first given a charter by King Henry II in 1161.
The now well-known refrain "Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme" does not appear original to the song, but has been associated with it at least since 1784, when a version appeared in Gammer Gurton's Garland.
The Opies think the song derives ultimately from a plot also found in the Gesta Romanorum, in which a king seeks a wife and wants to make sure of her competence. This is of course possible, but that version ends with the king wedding a clever but low-born girl, whereas this ballad tends to end with mutual rejection.
Although I had always assumed that the refrain of parsley (associated with women's genitalia and passions, although it also has ominous associations with death), sage (wisdom), rosemary (remembrance), and thyme (virginity or possibly frugality) was based on flower symbolism, sage, rosemary, and thyme are actually used in a recipe for spiced ale from the first half of the fifteenth century, found in the Paston papers (Castor, pp. 22-23). I have no idea if this is significant. The exact text is found in Paston/Davis-I, item #7, p. 14. It is a note scribbled on a legal document (British Library MS. Additional 27443, folio 87 verso) in the hand of Judge William Paston, probably in 1430:
"Pur faire holsom drynk of ale, Recipe sauge, auence, rose maryn, tyme, chopped right small, and put þis and a newe leyd hennes ey in a bage and hange it in þe barell," i.e. Pour fair holsom drink of ale. Recipe: sage, avens (??), rosemary, and thyme, chopped very sall, and put this and a new laid hen's egg in a bag and hang it in the barrel." (Avens, or geum, has roots with a clove-like aroma and is said to be mildly sedative, but it's not absolutely clear that this is the plant meant; the word "auence" is rare.)
Porter, p. 20, also lists an East Anglian claim that parsley, sage, and rosemary tended to grow best in the yards of wives who would bear girl children, so that the garden was used in an attempt at sex determination.
If the four are based on flower symbolism, they have interesting implications. Parsley and sage are both associated with women's power, according to Binney, p. 181: "A woman will dominate the house if... Parsley grows profusely, because 'Where parsley grows faster, the mistress is master.' [Or if] Rosemary flourishes in the garden, because this means 'the grey mare is the better horse.'" This is similar to the explanation given in the East Anglian folklore. Throw in sage and thyme and there is surely a message about wise virgins and dominating wives.... - RBW
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