Lyke-Wake Dirge, The
DESCRIPTION: A warning to those not yet dead. Those who gave to the poor shall receive as they have given; those who have not will pay the penalty. "This ae nicht, this ae nicht, ilka nicht and alle -- Fire and sleet and candlelicht, and Christ receive thy soule"
KEYWORDS: death funeral lament religious Hell
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Quiller-Couch-OxfordBookOfBallads 33, "A Lyke-Wake Dirge" (1 text)
Smith-SouthCarolinaBallads, p. 5, "A Lyke-Wake Dirge" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #278, "A Lyke-Wake Dirge" (1 text)
NOTES [528 words]: De la Mare quotes Sidgwick to the effect that sleet means not falling water but salt (the token of eternal life) -- or perhaps is an error for "fleet." The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary prefer the latter reading (remember that a "long s" looked very like an f, so it's an easy error). "Fleet" in this context would be a flat surface or floor -- it's the same word as J. R. R. Tolkien's "flet" for a platform in a tree. But it's not obvious what this would mean.
Bengt R. Jonsson suggests ("Oral Literature, Written Literature: The Ballad and Old Norse Genres," in Joseph Harris, editor, The Ballad and Oral Literature, Harvard University Press, 1991, p. 170), "As for the 'Lyke-Wake Dirge' we cannot entirely dismiss the possibility that we have to do with one out of many examples of Norwegian influence on Scottish tradition." The Norwegian influence is genuine, but Jonsson offers no real evidence for this particular contention.
Malcolm Douglas gave the following information about the tune to the Ballad-L list in 2008 (slightly edited, mostly for formatting reasons):
"The tune Hans Fried got from Peggy Richards [which was recorded by the Young Tradition] was written by Sir Harold Boulton, and first appeared in his Songs of the North(Vol I, c.1885) set to the text (slightly edited) from Scott. It had changed a bit in detail by the time it got to The Young Tradition, but not fundamentally. Songs of the North was immensely popular (at least 23 editions) and there would seem to be a decent chance that Peggy Richards (described as 'old') had learned it at school, or directly from print.
"It is *just* possible that a tune that may perhaps have been traditionally associated with the text survives. A song ('The Silkstone Disaster', written by Rowland Kellett) appeared in 'English Dance and Song' (XXXIII No 2 Summer 1971), set to a tune described as 'The Yorkshire Lyke-Wake'. Kellett noted that it was played as a funeral march in the Yorkshire Dales, but didn't say where, when or from whom he had got it. It bears no resemblance to Boulton's melody, but the words would fit.
"Some years later, the same tune (though slightly variant and in a different key) turned up in Blowzabella's tunebook 'Encyclopedia Blowzabellica.' There, it was titled 'Lyke Wake Dirge' and described as 'traditional' (but with a query if I remember correctly). No source was identified, and it's unclear whether the change of name is significant or not."
The connection with Yorkshire adds to the interest. According to Arnold Kellett, The Yorkshire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition, and Folklore, revised edition, Smith Settle, 2002, p. 107, the Lyke Wake Dirge is a "funeral lament of great antiquity, the earliest example of Yorkshire dialect, not printed until 1686.The theme is the progress of the soul towards Purgatory and Hell, where good works done by the deceased in life help to minimise suffering. Though a Christian song, it has its roots in the pagan dread of death." The first verse quoted by Kellett opens, 'This yah neet, this yah neet, Ivvery neet an' all, Fire an' fleet an' cann'l leet," so it favors the reading "fleet" over "sleet." - RBW
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