Green Grows the Laurel (Green Grow the Lilacs)

DESCRIPTION: The singer laments, "I once had a sweetheart but now I have none." (S)he wrote him a letter; the reply says to stop writing. (His/her) very looks are full of venom. (S)he wonders why men and women love each other
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1846 (in U.S., according to Studwell); before 1886 (broadside, Bodleian Firth c.18(245))
KEYWORDS: love rejection parting colors ring floatingverses
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Ireland Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord),England(Lond,North)) Canada(Mar,Newf,Ont)
REFERENCES (36 citations):
Belden-BalladsSongsCollectedByMissourFolkloreSociety, pp. 490-491, "Green Grows the Laurel" (2 texts plus mention of 1 more)
Randolph 61, "The Orange and Blue" (3 texts plus a fragment, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen-OzarkFolksongs-Abridged, pp. 118-121, "The Orange and Blue" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 61A)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore3 280, "Red, White, and Blue" (3 texts with an interesting assortment of green-growing flowers); also probably 282, "I Sent My Love a Letter" (3 texts, of which "B" is clearly this; "A" is "Down in the Valley" and "C" is a mess with some "Down in the Valley" verses and others about Lulu; it's not clear which Lulu)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore5 280, "Red, White, and Blue" (2 tunes plus text excerpts)
Chappell-FolkSongsOfRoanokeAndTheAlbermarle 77, "Green Frows the Laurel" (1 text)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 91A, "Green Grows the Laurel"; 91B, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Abernethy-SinginTexas, pp. 163-164, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 331-332, "The Orange and the Blue" (3 texts, all short, with local titles "Red, White and Blue," "Green Grows the Laurel," "Green Grows the Laurel"; 2 tunes on pp. 445-446)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 156, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Bush-FSofCentralWestVirginiaVol4, pp. 63-64, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (1 text, 1 tune)
Thompson-BodyBootsAndBritches-NewYorkStateFolktales, "Green Laurel" (1 text plus an excerpt)
Williams-FolkSongsOfTheUpperThames, pp. 286-288, "The One O" (1 text) (also Williams-Wiltshire-WSRO Bk 20)
Palmer-FolkSongsCollectedBy-Ralph-VaughanWilliams, #52, "Orange and Blue" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy-FolksongsOfBritainAndIreland 158, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roud/Bishop-NewPenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs #46, "Green Grow the Laurels" (1 text, 1 tune)
Henry/Huntingdon/Herrmann-SamHenrysSongsOfThePeople H165a+b, p. 260, "Green Grow the Rashes (Green Grows the Laurel)" (2 texts, 2 tunes, though both are strongly mixed with something like "If I Were a Fisher"); also H624, p. 349, "I Am a Wee Laddie, Hard, Hard Is My Fate" (1 text, 1 tune, also probably a composite of this and something else)
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 29, "Green Grows the Laurel" (2 texts; the "A" text is probably mixed with some other lost love song)
Peacock, pp. 454-455, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton-SongsAndBalladsFromNovaScotia 20, "I Wrote My Love a Letter" (1 text, 1 tune)
Ives-FolksongsOfNewBrunswick, pp. 29-30, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fowke-TraditionalSingersAndSongsFromOntario 44, "I Once Loved a Lass" (1 text, 1 tune, from LaRena (Mrs. Gordon) Clark, which begins with verses probably from "The False Bride (The Week Before Easter; I Once Loved a Lass," continues with stanzas from "Green Grows the Laurel (Green Grow the Lilacs)," then has a "My love is like a dewdrop" stanza often found in "Farewell He," and includes several other lyrics that might have floated in)
Flanders/Brown-VermontFolkSongsAndBallads, pp. 113-114, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Greig/Duncan6 1138, "Green Grows the Laurels" (5 texts, 3 tunes)
Greig-FolkSongInBuchan-FolkSongOfTheNorthEast #70, p. 2, "Green Grows the Laurel"; #153, p. 3, ("Come all ye roving young men") (1 text plus 1 fragment)
Ord-BothySongsAndBallads, p. 182, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text); also p. 187, "The Rose and the Thyme" (1 text, mostly "I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love Tonight" but with several verses which probably belong here)
Porter/Gower-Jeannie-Robertson-EmergentSingerTransformativeVoice #64, p. 229-230, "Green Grow the Laurels" (1 text, 1 tune, with the first three verses being "Green Grows the Laurels"; the stanza form then shifts, with a few lines typical of "Wheel of Fortune (Dublin City, Spanish Lady)," and a broken token conclusion too short to identify)
McMorland/Scott-HerdLaddieOTheGlen, pp. 66-67, 151, "Green Grows the Laurels" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stewart/Belle-Stewart-QueenAmangTheHeather, pp. 94-95, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 130, "Sweet William and Nancy" (1 text, mostly "William and Nancy (II) (Courting Too Slow)" [Laws P5] but mixed with this song and other material)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 170, "Green Grows the Laurel" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cox-FolkSongsSouth 139, "The Green Laurels" (2 texts)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 62, "Green Grows the Laurel" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 174, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 165, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (1 text)
DT, GREENGRO* GRENGRO2* WEELADDY* (the last being the mixed Sam Henry version)

Roud #279
Daisy Chapman, "Green Grow the Laurels" (on SCDChapman01)
Robert Cinnamond, "Green Grows the Laurel" (on FSBFTX15)
Mary Delaney, "Green Grows the Laurel" (on IRTravellers01)
Louie Fuller, "Green Grow the Laurels" (on Voice15)
Marie Hare, "Green Grows the Laurel" (on MRMHare01)
Mike Kent, "The Nightengale" (on NFMLeach); "Nightingale Laurels" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Tex Ritter & his Texans, "Green Grow the Lilacs" (Capitol 206, 1945)
Jeannie Robertson, "Green Grow the Laurels" (on FSB01)
Mrs. Clara Stevens, "Green Grows the Laurel" (on PeacockCDROM) [one verse only]

Bodleian, Firth c.18(245), "I Changed the Green Willow for the Orange and Blue", W.S. Fortey (London), 1858-1885
cf. "Will Ye Gang, Love"
cf. "The German Clockwinder" (tune)
cf. "The Ploughboy (I)" (lyrics)
cf. "The Blackbird and Thrush" (lyrics)
cf. "If I Were a Fisher" (floating lyrics)
cf. "I Wonder What Is Keeping My True Love Tonight (Green Grass It Grows Bonny)" (lyrics)
cf. "The Yellow Handkerchief (Flash Company)" (floating lyrics)
cf. "I've Travelled This Country (Last Friday Evening)" (floating lyrics)
cf. "The Rue and the Thyme (The Rose and the Thyme)" (floating lyrics)
cf. "A Warning to Girls" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Loved by a Man" (floating lyrics)
NOTES [1254 words]: A legend has it that Mexicans call Americans "Gringos" because, during the Mexican War, the yanquis sang "Green Grow the Lilacs" so often. The term "gringo" is much older than this, however. - RBW
Tristram Coffin [JournalOfAmericanFolklore 65 (1952), p. 342 ff.) and Porter/Gower-Jeannie-Robertson-EmergentSingerTransformativeVoice (228) make the point that the colors referred to in the various versions indeed differ, but they point out that the colors refer to plants and their traditional attributes: "green" laurel as a symbol of virginity and faithful love, rue as a symbol of abstinence and therefore faithfulness ("rue" later often changed to dew"), while "origin" refers to "origin blue -- blue bastard marjoram-thyme," with both marjoram and thyme "closely related to fertility and virility" (Coffin 343). So, writes Coffin, it would make sense after a long period of separation to exchange the "green laurel's" virginity for the "blue" of fertility in marriage. As regards to "origin," John Greenway notes "Herbs of the genus Origanum, often called 'origane' and 'origin,' being closely related to herbs of the genus Marjorana, are frequently called 'bastard marjoram'" (Cited in Coffin, p. 343). Thus it could well be that the significance of the colors is far more "herbal" "and "social" than "historical-political." While this is can be true generally, we cannot say for sure whether any one specific singer on either side of the Atlantic actively knew of these relationships.
Tristram Coffin follows two strains of the tradition. "Group A", the British (probably original) emphasizes that in spite of the lovers having parted (or sent letters), the singer trusts that they will soon "renew" or consummate their relationship. "Group B", the Scottish and often American, emphasizes that the singer, even after an acrimonious exchange of letters, "hopes" that at their next meeting their "joy will renew" -- in other words a much more tenuous outcome. Both groups often have stanzas wondering how men can love maids, or maids men, when "they" are so deceitful. (Coffin, "A Tentative Study of a Typical Folk Lyric: 'Green Grows the Laurel,'" JournalOfAmericanFolklore 65 (1952), pp. 341-351.)
Jeannie Robertson's version from the Traveller tradition in the northeast of Scotland goes in a different direction: after they have parted and letters are rejected, a stranger appears to the singer, offers the singer castle, gold and silver if she would sleep with him the night. She cares nothing for all that, wishing her Willie were with her that night. He produces the broken token ring, reveals himself to be Willie, come back to marry her. Stated more abstractly, these Northeast variants combine the theme of separated lovers coming to a resolution (positive or negative), plus, in a relatively small subset, the theme of the "false-true lover" producing the broken token. Given, that all the hundreds of various narrative variants in this complex are so embedded in lyric and floating verses, it is probably better to "lump" them rather than try to "split" them. - DGE
Leach does not explain why the title of this cut on NFMLeach is "The Nightengale."
"Cupid's Garden" (I) includes the following lines: "For I mean to live a virgin, And still the Laurel wear" (see, for example, Bodleian broadside Harding B 20(119)). In the language of flowers laurel stands for "perfidy"; the spurge laurel stands for "coquetry"
In Louie Fuller's Voice15 version each verse lists another seducer: the singer, a sailor and a pageboy.
Mary Delaney's version on IRTravellers01 adds verses I haven't seen before: "Now me mamma she blames me For courting too young, She may blame my small beauty And my flattering old tongue. She may blame my small beauty And my dark rolling eye, If my love is not for me And sorry am I." and "Oh then, thank God, agraghy, The case could be worse, I got money in my pocket And gold in my purse, When my baby is born I can pay for a nurse, And I'll pass as a maiden In a strange countery."
William E Studwell, The American Song Reader (New York,1997), on page 101 traces "red, white, and blue" from a Jacobite line "We'll change the green laurel to the bonnet so blue": "Irish-American soldiers in the Mexican War of 1846-1848 sang a version containing their homeland colors at the time, "orange and blue." (The song was published in the United States in 1846, while the war was still going on.) In time, the colors changed to the American national colors "red, white, and blue" and the plant changed from laurel to lilacs, with the ending line becoming "And change the green lilacs to the Red, White and Blue."
The "green laurel" line seems to be from this song, though I haven't seen any other connection to the Jacobite cause. The "blue bonnet" -- often a reference to the Black Watch -- may be a Jacobite reference (see the Hogg-JacobiteRelicsOfScotlandVol2 reference to "Cock Your Beaver"), though I don't even find that to be clear. Was the Orange Order flag -- blue or purple star on an orange background -- or any other flag with Williamite colors -- widely used in 19th century Ireland? [But see "The Protestant Boys": "... loyal Protestants ... Orange and Blue, ever faithful and true, Our King shall support and sedition affright"; also see the Orange Order song "Orange and Blue."] In spite of my reservations, what interests me here is the idea of Irish soldiers singing about "homeland [Orange] colors."
Roy Palmer, in Folk Songs Colected by Ralph Vaughan Williams says "There is a somewhat implausible theory that the song might have had a covert political meaning in Ireland, where green stands for republicanism (though united with orange and white in the tricolour) and the orange and blue for Ulster separatism."
Greig #153 begins "Come all ye roving young men, And listen to me; And never lay your love On the top of a tree." For a parody of this verse see "Come All You Young Men." This is the typical "green grows the laurel" verse with the sexes reversed (at least on the first line).
On the other hand (that is: "orange and blue" are just colors): in eleven Greig/Duncan6 1198 versions of "The Nobleman's Wedding" the bridegroom says, after his lover's death, "First I'll put on is a coat of red [or blue, or green] velvet, And I will wear it for one month or two, Next I'll put on is the green and the yellow, And aye, aye after the orange and blue"; in three more "the green and the yellow" are replaced by "the red and the yellow." I have only seen these colored mourning suits in versions from Scotland (Greig-Duncan, including Greig, and Ord). The Irish versions (Kennedy, McBride and Henry) and North American versions (Sharp, Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, Greenleaf/Mansfield-BalladsAndSeaSongsOfNewfoundland, Peacock, Karpeles and Darling) may mention willow, but no suits. In fact, Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia has the suit verse but substitutes green willow for the suits. Kennedy's notes have (p. 383) a verse with "suits of deep mourning" -- but no colors -- from Donegal, and with the colored suits from North-East Scotland.
The verse "at our next meeting Our love we'll renew, And we'll change the green and yellow To the orange and blue" also floats to "Stone and Lime," where it has nothing to do with mourning suits. So far we only have "Stone and Lime" from Scotland.
The Mike Kent recordings seem mislabelled. There is no "nightingale" in the texts which do have "Green grows the laurels and soft falls the dew." - BS
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File: R061

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