Marrowbones [Laws Q2]

DESCRIPTION: An old wife goes to the doctor for a potion to blind her husband. The doctor suggests (eggs and) marrowbones. He says he wishes to die and asks her to push him off a cliff. As she runs to do so, he steps aside. She drowns; he says he cannot see to help
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1874 (quoted in Mark Twain, _Life on the Mississippi_)
KEYWORDS: suicide trick drugs death
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Britain(England(Lond,South),Scotland) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont) Ireland
REFERENCES (56 citations):
Laws Q2, "The Old Wife of Slapsadam (The Wily Auld Carle; The Old Woman in Dover; etc.)"
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #13, p. 1, "The Wily Auld Carle" (1 text)
Greig/Duncan2 318, "The Wife o' Kelso" (11 texts, 7 tunes)
Gatherer-SongsAndBalladsOfDundee 68, "The Wife o' Dundee" (1 text, 1 tune)
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 237-239, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, but only the second, with no letter, is this piece)
Randolph 754, "Johnny Sands" (2 texts, 2 tunes, but the "A" text goes with "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] while the "B" text belongs with this piece)
Lomax/Lomax-OurSingingCountry, pp. 176-178, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 239-240, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text)
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 30, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Neely/Spargo-TalesAndSongsOfSouthernIllinois, pp. 151-152, "The Old Woman from Slab CIty" (1 text)
McIntosh-FolkSongsAndSingingGamesofIllinoisOzarks, pp. 35-36, "Old Woman in Slab City" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wolford-ThePlayPartyInIndiana, pp. 93-94=Wolford/Richmond/Tillson-PlayPartyInIndiana, p. 232, "There Was An Old Woman in Ireland" (1 text, 1 tune, a short text, converted into a playparty, with only a few words of this song)
Flanders/Olney-BalladsMigrantInNewEngland, pp. 13-14, "The Drowning Lady (The Witch Song)" (1 fragment, 1 tune, which might be either "Marrowbones" or "Johnnie Sands")
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, pp. 255-258, "The Old Woman in Dover" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cazden/Haufrecht/Studer-FolkSongsOfTheCatskills 141, "The Old Woman from Boston" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 55, "The Rich Old Lady" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
Peacock, pp. 261-264, "Eggs and Marrow-Bones" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Guigné-ForgottenSongsOfTheNewfoundlandOutports, pp. 357-359, "There Lived an Old Woman in Dover (Eggs and Marrow Bones)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Leach-FolkBalladsSongsOfLowerLabradorCoast 113, "A Cruel Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-FolkSongsFromNewfoundland 39, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-MaritimeFolkSongs, p. 122, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-FolksongsFromSouthernNewBrunswick 73, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-DriveDullCareAway-PrinceEdwardIsland, pp. 109-110,243, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-21FolksongsFromPrinceEdwardIsland, pp. 75-77,84, "There Was an Old Woman in Our Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
Vikár/Panagapka-SongsNorthWoodsSungByOJAbbott 16, "There Was an Old Woman" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 182, "The Old Woman's Blind Husband" (2 texts)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 182, "The Old Woman's Blind Husband" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 44, "The Old Woman" (1 text, 1 tune)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 103, "She Loved Her Husband Dearly" (1 text, 1 tune)
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol2, p. 110, "The Cruel Wife" (1 text, 1 tune)
Owens-TexasFolkSongs-1ed, pp. 207-209, "The Old Woman From Ireland" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brewster-BalladsAndSongsOfIndiana 60, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Peters-FolkSongsOutOfWisconsin, p. 172, "There Was an Old Woman in London" (1 text, 1 tune)
Carey-MarylandFolkLegendsAndFolkSongs, pp. 101, "Old Woman from Ireland" (1 text)
Doerflinger-SongsOfTheSailorAndLumberman, p. 281, "The Wife of Kelso (The Wily Auld Carle)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 51, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Reeves/Sharp-TheIdiomOfThePeople 99, "There Was an Old Woman" (2 texts)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 274, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs, pp. 130-131, "The Rich Old Lady" (1 text, 1 tune -- with a second verse created by Chase)
Hubbard-BalladsAndSongsFromUtah, #121, "The Old Woman of Clinton" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H174, p. 507, "The Auld Man and the Churnstaff" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin/Cronin-TheSongsOfElizabethCronin 88, "Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
McBride-FlowerOfDunaffHillAndMoreTradSongsInnishowen 70, "The Wee Woman in Our Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morton/Maguire-ComeDayGoDayGodSendSunday 35, pp. 89-90,121,170, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland 208, "The Old Woman of Blighter Town" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-TheCrystalSpring 114, "Marrow Bones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 417, "Old Woman of Hyslop Town" (1 text)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #82, "Marrowbones" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 157, "An Old Woman's Story" (1 text)
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol5, pp. 58-59, "The Old Woman of Slapsdam/The Old Lady from Dover/The Rich Old Lady" (2 texts, 1 tune)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, pp. 148-149, "A Blind Man He Can See" (1 text, 1 tune)
Boette-SingaHipsyDoodle, "Singa Hipsy Doodle" (1 text, 1 tune)
Darling-NewAmericanSongster, pp. 144-145, "There Was an Old Lady" (1 text)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 173, "Eggs And Marrowbones" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Katherine Briggs, _A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language_, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2), volume A.2, pp. 78-79, "The False Old Mawkin" (1 text)

Roud #183
Horton Barker, "There Was an Old Lady" (on Barker01)
Harry Cox, "Marrowbones" (on HCox01)
Betty Garland, "Love My Darlin' O" (on BGarland01)
Frank Hillier, "The Old Woman of Blighter Town" (on FSBFTX19)
Leonard Hulan, "Eggs and Marrow-Bones" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]
Jimmy Knights, "Marrowbones" (on Voice06)
A. L. Lloyd, "Tigery Orum" (on Lloyd01)
John Maguire, "Marrowbones" (on IRJMaguire01)
Red Mick McDermott, "Marrowbones" (on IRHardySons)
Lawrence Older, "Woman from Yorkshire" (on LOlder01)
Ken Peacock, "Woman from Dover" (on NFKPeacock)
Wesley Smith, "Cheese and Marrowbones" (on MREIves01)

cf. "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3]
cf. "The Keach in the Creel" (tune,according to Greig/Duncan2)
Eggs and Marrowbones
Old Woman from Wexford
NOTES [253 words]: At one time witches were killed by drowning, and Flanders and Olney connect their fragmentary text (which mentions only the drowning and the husband pushing the wife in) with this phenomenon.
Mark Twain quotes a fragment of this piece in Life on the Mississippi.
The Catskills version has a peculiar ending in which the lady swims to the other shore and survives. Much as we would like this to be a feminist touch, it seems more likely that it was a lapse of memory.
Sam Henry had a text in which the man eventually rescued her. Pamela Reinagel points out to me that this is also true in Sarah Makem's version. Perhaps there was an onlooker around somewhere? Interesting that both versions with this trait are from Ireland.
Captain Francis Grose, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, edited (and expanded) by Eric Partridge, 1931 (I use the 1992 Dorset edition), p. 229, notes that "marrow bones" are a nickname for the knees, and mentions a folk derivation from "Mary's bones." Partridge adds a mention of the "marquess of marrowbones" as a lackey. I don't know if any of these have any significance to the song.
A number of editors confuse "Johnny Sands" [Laws Q3] and "Marrowbones" [Laws Q2]. They obviously have thematic similarity, and probably have exchanged parts. But the "gimmick" is different in each case; there seems no doubt that they are now separate songs. - RBW
Ives-DriveDullCareAway-PrinceEdwardIsland and Ives-21FolksongsFromPrinceEdwardIsland are the same July 15, 1963 performance. - BS
Last updated in version 6.0
File: LQ02

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.