Dowie Dens o Yarrow, The [Child 214]

DESCRIPTION: Many men feel that a woman (their sister?) should be separated from her lover/husband. They set out in a band to kill the lover. He manages to kill or wound most of them, but one of them kills him from behind. In many texts the lady dies of sorrow
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1768 (Percy collection)
KEYWORDS: courting fight death family
FOUND IN: Britain(England(North),Scotland(Aber,Bord,High)) US(Ap,MA,NE,SE) Canada(Newf,Ont)
REFERENCES (36 citations):
Child 214, "The Braes o Yarrow" (18 texts)
Bronson 214, "The Braes o Yarrow" (42 versions+2 in addenda)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads 214, "The Baes o Yarrow" (5 versions: #2, #28, #34, #36, #40.1)
Rimbault-Musical IllustrationsOfBishopPercysReliques XLIII, p. 86, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 partial text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #39}
Chambers-ScottishBallads, pp. 145-148, "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow" (1 text)
Buchan/Moreira-TheGlenbuchatBallads, pp. 210-212, "Yarrow" (1 text)
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #57, pp. 1-2, "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan2 215, "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow" (20 texts, 25 tunes) {A=Bronson's #16; to B compare #1; D=#25?; E=#23; F=#9; G=#10 or #31?; H=#4; I=#5; J=#13; K=#8; L=#11; M=#12; N=#7; O is probably #18; P=#3; Q=#6; S=#14; T=#20; U=#17; W=#15; X=#22}
McMorland/Scott-HerdLaddieOTheGlen, pp. 42-42, 149, "The Dowie Dens o Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dixon-ScottishTraditionalVersionsOfAncientBallads XIII, pp. 68-70, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (1 text)
Kidson-TraditionalTunes, pp. 21-24, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Barry/Eckstorm/Smyth-BritishBalladsFromMaine pp. 291-293, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 short text plus a fragment, 1 tune; the "A" text is a composite lost love song with single stanzas from "The Braes o Yarrow," "The Curragh of Kildare," and others beyond identification; as a whole it cannot be considered a version of Child #214) {Bronson's #37}
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 235-237, "The Dewy Dens of Darrow" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #42}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland3, pp. 255-259, "The Braes of Yarrow" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {A=Bronson's #42}
Leach-TheBalladBook, pp. 568-571, "The Braes o Yarrow" (1 text, with a Scandinavian text for comparison)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 99, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (1 text which incorporates most verses of "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow")
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 150, "The Dowie Houms of Yarrow" (1 text)
Cazden/Haufrecht/Studer-FolkSongsOfTheCatskills 45, "The Dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bethke-AdirondackVoices, pp. 105-107, "Donny Dims of the Arrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 24, "The Braes o Yarrow" (1 text, which Cox lists here though it is so worn down that it might as well be considered a lyric piece; the plot is entirely gone, compare the Hamilton text in Percy)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, p. 77, "The Banks of Yorrow" (1 text, 1 tune, which like the Cox West Virginia text is very short and lyric and might be something else)
Ord-BothySongsAndBallads, pp. 426-429, "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 17, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
MacColl-PersonalChoice, pp. 4-5, "The dowie dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #33}
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 19, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke/MacMillan-PenguinBookOfCanadianFolkSongs 77, "The Dewy Dells of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 23, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Whiting-TraditionalBritishBallads 10, "The Braes O' Yarrow" (1 text)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 54, "The Braes o Yarrow" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 54-55, "The Dewy Dens of Yarrow" (1 text)
HarvardClassics-EnglishPoetryChaucerToGray, pp. 115-116, "The Dowie Houms o Yarrow" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 179, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text)
cf. Percy/Wheatley-ReliquesOfAncientEnglishPoetry II, pp. 362-367, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 text, said to be William Hamilton's adaption of this song)
DT 214, YARROW1*
ADDITIONAL: William & Susan Platt, _Folktales of the Scottish Border_, published 1919 as _Stories of the Scottish Border_, republished by Senate Press, 1999, pp. 208-210, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text)
Willie Scott, "The Dowie Dens o Yarrow," School of Scottish Studies Archive SA1962.069,Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches accessed 14 September 2013 from

Roud #13
Liam Clancy, "Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on IRLClancy01)
John Joe English, "The Dewy Dells Of Yarrow" (on ITMA/CapeShoreNL)
Ewan MacColl, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on Lomax43, LomaxCD1743) {Bronson's #33}
John MacDonald, "The Dewie Dens of Yarrow" (on Voice03)
Brigid Murphy, "The Dewy Glens of Yarrow" (on IREarlyBallads)
Willie Scott, "The Dowie Dens O' Yarrow" (on Voice17)
Davie [Davy] Stewart, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on FSB5, FSBBAL2) {Bronson's #24}

NLScotland, RB.m.143(120), "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow," unknown, c. 1890 [scan largely illegible but probably this piece]
cf. "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow" [Child 215]
cf. "Yarrow Streams [Child 214]" (story and some lines)
The Lady and the Shepherd
The Dreary Dream
In the Lonely Glens of Yarrow
NOTES [379 words]: Several scholars, among them Norman Cazden, have claimed that this song is the same as Child 215, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow." Certainly there has been exchange of verses. However, I (following Leach), would maintain that there is a difference: "The Dowie Dens" is about opposition to a marriage; "Willie Drowned" is about the loss of a love.
A brief summary of the whole discussion is found in Coffin's notes in Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland3. It's not clear what he believes, except that the two songs are a mess and quite mixed. Which can hardly be denied.
Lynn Wollstadt, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find: Positive Masculinity in the Ballads Sung by Scottish Women" (printed in Thomas A. McKean, editor, The Flowering Thorn: International Ballad Studies, Utah State University Press, 2003) declares (p. 71) that "the tragic 'Dowie Dens o' Yarrow' is the ballad most often recorded by singers of both sexes" in the collections cataloged in the third quarter of the twentieth century. An interesting point, although the methodology of the study is questionable.
Yarrow is a particular strong herbal symbol in this song. According to Anthony S. Mercantante, (The Facts on File Encyclopedia of) World Mythology and Legends, Second Edition revised by James R. Dow, two volumes, Facts on File, 2004, p. 917, "In English folklore, yarrow was used by lovesick maidens to determine who their future lovers would be.... [I]f one dreamed of yarrow, it meant losing the object of one's affection. If one was married and dreamed of the plant, it signified death in the family. Yarrow is often found on gravesites and thus is often associated with death."
Incidentally, there is at least one historical instance of a man fighting off six enemies but then being wounded from behind: William the Marshal, famous for his service with Kings Richard I and John, and infamous for the role he allegedly played in "Queen Eleanor's Confession" [Child 156], was part of a party that was attacked in 1168. His horse was killed under him before he had donned all his armor, but he killed the horses of six attackers before one came from behind and disabled him by spearing him in the thigh (see Frank McLynn, Richard & John: Kings at War, Da Capo, 2007, pp. 62-63). - RBW
Last updated in version 6.2
File: C214

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 2022 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.