Three Ravens, The [Child 26]

DESCRIPTION: (Three) ravens decide that a new-slain knight would make a nice lunch. He is guarded by hawk, hounds, and leman, who either guard the body from the birds or abandon it to its fate
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1611 (Ravenscroft, Melismata)
KEYWORDS: death bird food
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland,England(South)) US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So,SW) Canada(Mar,Newf)
REFERENCES (72 citations):
Child 26, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts)
Bronson 26, The Three Ravens" (21 versions)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 26, "The Three Ravens" (6 versions: #1, #2, #3, #7, #8, #9)
Chambers-ScottishBallads, p. 252, "The Twa Corbies" (1 text)
Lyle-Andrew-CrawfurdsCollectionVolume1 40, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kidson-TraditionalTunes, pp. 17-18, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune)
Copper-ASongForEverySeason, p. 227, "Two Old Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 435-437, "The Three Ravens" (notes plus a partial reprint of Ravenscroft)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, p. 28, "The Two Crows" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 31-33, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts, plus 2 tunes not derived from Missouri)
Randolph 9, "The Three Crows" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #18}
Davis-TraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 10, "The Three Ravens" (17 texts, some very short; the "Q" fragment may be another song; the additional songs in the appendix are "Johnny Fill Up the Bowl"; 4 tunes entitled "The Three Ravens," "[The] Three Crows"; 10 more versions mentioned in Appendix A) {I=Bronson's #16 J=K=#17, P is not printed by Bronson}
Davis-MoreTraditionalBalladsOfVirginia 13, pp. 84-88, "The Three Ravens" (3 texts, 2 tunes)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 9, "The Three Ravens" (1 very short text)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 5, "Three Black Crows" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Killion/Waller-ATreasuryOfGeorgiaFolklore, p. 256, "The Three Ravens" (1 fragment)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #151, "The Three Ravens" (1 short text)
Hudson-FolksongsOfMississippi 6, pp. 72-73, "The Three Ravens" (1 fragment)
Hudson-FolkTunesFromMississippi 1, "The Three Ravens" (1 short text, 1 tune, in which the three crows go to chew gum!) {Bronson's #19}
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 193-195, "The Three Ravens/The Twa Corbies" (1 short text, entitled "Three Old Crows" and typical of that type, plus the text from Ravenscroft for comparison)
Scarborough-OnTheTrailOfNegroFolkSongs, p. 149, (no title) (1 fragment, mentioning three crows on a tree with an ending about a sick old horse; the whole might well be a dead horse song with a few "Three Ravens" lines, but without more text we cannot tell)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 12, "The Three Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-1ed, pp. 42-44, "Three Black Crows" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #6}
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-2ed, pp. 14-15, "Three Black Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stout-FolkloreFromIowa 2, pp. 2-5, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts plus 4 fragments, several of them "Billy Magee Magaw" types)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 8, "The Three Ravens" (1 text plus a fragment)
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, p. 21, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #11}
Creighton-FolksongsFromSouthernNewBrunswick 1, "The Three Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Pottie/Ellis-FolksongsOfTheMaritimes, p. 32, "The Three Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, p. 129, "Three Black Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 243-256, "The Twa Corbies" (10 texts, many of them quite short, 3 tunes; the last two items, "I" and "J," appear to be somewhat rewritten)
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, p. 289, "Three Crows" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Shoemaker-MountainMinstrelsyOfPennsylvania, p. 276-277, "The Two Ravens" (1 text)
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 111-113, "The Three Ravens/The Twa Corbies" (2 texts)
Leach-HeritageBookOfBallads, pp. 48-49, "The Three Ravens" (1 text plus a reproduction of the Ravenscroft version); p. 50, "The Twa Corbies" (1 text)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 1, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ritson-AncientSongsBalladsFromHenrySecondToTheRevolution, pp. 193-194, "The Three Ravens" (1 text)
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 67, "The Twa Corbies"; 68, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 23, "The Three Ravens (The Twa Corbies)" (3 texts)
Grigson-PenguinBookOfBallads 28, "The Three Ravens" (1 text)
Doerflinger-SongsOfTheSailorAndLumberman, p. 21, "Blow the Man Down (IV)" (this text combines the words of "The Three Crows" with the tune and metre of "Blow the Man Down")
Hugill-ShantiesFromTheSevenSeas, p. 212, "The Three Ravens" (1 text sung to the tune of "Blow the Man Down," taken from Doerflinger-SongsOfTheSailorAndLumberman)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 17, "The Three Ravens" (3 texts, 3 tunes, although the first piece, "Lovers' Farewell," is at best distantly related to this ballad)
Hirsh-MedievalLyric-MiddleEnglishLyricsBalladsCarols #45, "The Three Ravens" (3 texts [2 from Child, 1 from Niles])
Gummere-OldEnglishBallads, pp. 167+336, "The Three Ravens" (1 text)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 11 "The Three Ravens" (1 short text plus 2 fragments, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #16, #15, #14}
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 5, "The Two Crows (The Three Ravens)" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #15}
Gentry/Smith-ASingerAmongSingers, #4, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune, a "Billy Macgee MacGore" type) {Bronson's #7}
Wells-TheBalladTree, p. 151, "The Two Crows"; p. 152, "The Three Ravens" (1 short text plus an excerpt, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #15, #1}
Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs, pp. 114-115, "The Two Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune)
Hodgart-FaberBookOfBallads, p. 37, "The Three Ravens"; p. 38, "The Twa Corbies" (2 texts)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 31, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts, 1 tune) {Bronson's #10}
Cox/Hercog/Halpert/Boswell-WVirginia-A, #5, pp. 19-20, "The Crow Song" (1 short text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #5}
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 36, "The Three Ravens" (1 text)
Chappell-PopularMusicOfTheOldenTime, p. 59, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
Chappell/Wooldridge-OldEnglishPopularMusic I, pp. 75-76, "There Were Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #1}
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 73-74, "The Three Ravens"; p. 74, "The Twa Corbies" (2 texts)
Abrahams/Foss-AngloAmericanFolksongStyle, pp. 173-176, "The Three Ravens"; "The Twa Corbies"; "The Three Crows" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #1, #8; the third tune was not known to Bronson}
Morgan-MedievalBallads-ChivalryRomanceAndEverydayLife, pp. 119-120, "The Three Ravens"; pp. 120-121, "The Twa Corbies" (2 texts)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 26-28, "The Three Ravens (or, 'Rauens')"; "The Twa Corbies"; "The Three Crows" (3 texts)
Heart-Songs, p. 485, "There Were Three Crows" (1 text, probably expurgated; tune referenced ("When Johhny Comes Marching Home"))
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 94, "The Three Ravens" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 405, "Billy Magee Magaw"; p. 215, "The Three Ravens" (2 texts)
Harbin-Parodology, #320, p. 78, "Three Crows" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rodeheaver-SociabilitySongs, p. 118, "Crow Song"; "The Three Crows" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Zander/Klusmann-CampSongsNThings, p. 42, "The Three Crows" (1 text, 1 tune, listed as "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" although it's not a perfect fit for the lyrics)
Zander/Klusmann-CampSongsPopularEdition, p. 2, "Three Crows" (1 text, tune referenced)
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #117, "The Twa Corbies" (1 text)
Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, part III, p. 39, "Three Crows" (1 short text, 1 tune); also, in the new and enlarged edition, Oliver Ditson & Co., 1887, p. 58, "Crow Song" (1 text, 1 tune, a "Billy Magee Magaw" version) (part III, p. 33 in the 1876 edition)
William & Susan Platt, _Folktales of the Scottish Border_, published 1919 as _Stories of the Scottish Border_, republished by Senate Press, 1999, pp. 70-72, "The Twa Corbies," "The Three Ravens" (2 texts)
Karin Boklund-Lagopolou, _I have a yong suster: Popular song and Middle English lyric_, Four Courts Press, 2002, pp. 231-232, "The Three Ravens" (1 text)

Roud #5
cf. "Blow the Man Down" (lyrics)
cf. "Lover's Farewell (I)" (lyrics)
cf. "The Crow Song (I)" (lyrics, theme)
cf. "Three Blackbirds" (lyrics, theme)
Billie Magee Magaw
Willie McGee McGaw
Two Old Crows
Three Black Crows
NOTES [291 words]: Interpretations of this peculiar song range from the mystic to the ridiculous. Some versions manage both -- e.g. David C. Fowler, A Literary History of the Popular Ballad, Duke University Press, 1968, calls it a "secularized, chivalric Pietà" (the church commemorations of the Virgin Mary holding the body of the dead Jesus). Never mind that the "fallow doe" that picks up the body is (a) a deer and (b) the knight's leman, not his mother.
Perhaps because the original is obscure, the degree of degeneration suffered by the American versions of this song is phenomenal-- they are often quite silly, and if they retain the theme of the birds eating carrion, it is usually an animal, such as a horse. Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana's longer version is, in fact, a trick upon listeners: "You may think there is another verse -- but there isn't."
If it weren't for the intermediate versions, we could hardly recognize them as one piece. But that's oral tradition -- though Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety says the song was part of the minstrel tradition in the 1860s, and Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland notes the inclusion of a "rewritten form in books like Cleveland's Compendium of 1859." In many of these versions it is a horse, not a man, which supplies the birds' meal.
The by-blow "The Twa Corbies" is one of the handful of traditional songs in Palgrave's Golden Treasury (item CXXXVI). Not sure what that says about either Palgrave or the song. Properly, "The Twa Corbies" should probably be split off, since it is recensionally different from "The Three Ravens." But this is impossible in practice, because the degenerate forms often could come from either, or indeed recombine the two. - RBW
Last updated in version 6.4
File: C026

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