I Gave My Love a Cherry

DESCRIPTION: The singer gave his love "a cherry without a stone... a chicken without a bone," etc. He is asked how these things are possible. The reply: "A cherry when it's blooming, it has no stone," etc.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1430 (British Library, Sloane MS. 2593, "I have a yong suster")
KEYWORDS: riddle nonballad love gift MiddleEnglish
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland) Canada(Mar) US(Ap,MW,NE,SE,So)
REFERENCES (50 citations):
Bronson (46), 18 versions given as an appendix to "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship"
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads (48), "Riddle Song" (5 versions: #1, #2a, #3, #7, #14, #16)
Hirsh-MedievalLyric-MiddleEnglishLyricsBalladsCarols #33, "(I haue a yong suster)" (1 text; (p. 39 has a photograph of the Sloane Manuscript text)
Randolph 123, "The Four Brothers" (1 text)
Brown/Belden/Hudson-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore2 12, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text plus mention of another, but it is nothing but riddles and not to be connected with Child #46)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 12, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 excerpts, 3 tunes, all of which appear to be this song and not "Captain Wedderburn")
Wolfe/Boswell-FolkSongsOfMiddleTennessee 16 pp. 30-31, "I Gave My Love a Cherry (Captain Wedderburn's Courtship)" (1 text, 1 tune, which despite the second title consists solely of the riddles)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 230-231, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text with no listed local title; it is nothing but riddles and not to be connected with Child #46)
Moore/Moore-BalladsAndFolkSongsOfTheSouthwest 13A, "An Old Man's Courtship"; 116, "Perrie Merrie Dixi Domini" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Eddy-BalladsAndSongsFromOhio 8, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (1 text, 1 tune, with little except the riddles and no sign that it was ever part of the longer ballad) {Bronson's #15}
Flanders-AncientBalladsTraditionallySungInNewEngland1, pp. 299-315, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (3 texts plus two fragments, 5 tunes; the "I" and II" texts and tunes are "I Gave My Love a Cherry")
Gardner/Chickering-BalladsAndSongsOfSouthernMichigan 188, "Gifts From Over the Sea" (1 text plus mention of 1 more, 1 tune) {Bronson's #13}
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 144, "The Riddle Song" (3 texts, 3 tunes) {Bronson's #7, #6, #5}
Sulzer-TwentyFiveKentuckyFolkBallads, p. 5, "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
Burton/Manning-EastTennesseeStateCollectionVol1, pp. 88-89, "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wells-TheBalladTree, p. 175, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7, imperfectly transposed}
Henry-SongsSungInTheSouthernAppalachians, p. 25, "I Gave My Love a Cherry" (1 text)
Gainer-FolkSongsFromTheWestVirginiaHills, p. 29, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Creighton/Senior-TraditionalSongsOfNovaScotia, pp. 162-163, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text plus 1 fragment, 2 tunes) {Bronson's #2a,2b}
Pottie/Ellis-FolksongsOfTheMaritimes, pp. 166-167, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2a}
Linscott-FolkSongsOfOldNewEngland, pp. 267-269, "Perrie, Merrie, Dixi, Domini" (1 text, 1 tune)
Friedman-Viking/PenguinBookOfFolkBallads, p. 137, "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" (2 texts, but only the second belongs with this song)
Fowke/Johnston-FolkSongsOfCanada, pp. 136-137, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Niles-BalladBookOfJohnJacobNiles 1, "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (3 texts, 3 tunes, of which the second, "The Riddle Song," and the third, "Piri-miri-dictum Domini," go with this piece)
Scott-TheBalladOfAmerica, pp. 9-10, "I Will Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 11, "I'll Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 59, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Reeves/Sharp-TheIdiomOfThePeople 73, "Pery Mery Winkle Domine" (1 text)
Reeves-TheEverlastingCircle 73, "I Will Give My Love an Apple" (1 text)
Brocklebank/Kindersley-DorsetBookOfFolkSongs, p. 12, "I Will Give My Love an Apple" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 478, "I have four sisters beyond the sea" (3 texts plus a photo facing p. 388 of the text in the Sloane MS)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #270, pp. 162-163, "(My true love lives far from me)"
Montgomerie/Montgomerie-ScottishNurseryRhymes 189, "(I had three little sisters across the sea)" (1 text)
Arnett-IHearAmericaSinging, p. 41, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs, pp. 156-157, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Stevick-OneHundredMiddleEnglishLyrics 56, "(I Have a Yong Suster)" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss-AngloAmericanFolksongStyle, pp. 55-56, "Peri Meri Dixie Dominie" (1 text, 1 tune)
Shay-BarroomBallads/PiousFriendsDrunkenCompanions, p. 194, "I'll Give My Love a Cherry" (1 text, 1 tune)
Seeger-AmericanFavoriteBallads, p. 72, "Riddle Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 408, "Riddle Song" (1 text)
Fireside-Book-of-Folk-Songs, p. 25, "The Riddle" (1 text, 1 tune)
NorthCarolinaFolkloreJournal, Joseph D. Clark, "More North Carolina Riddles," Vol. IX, No. 1 (Jul 1961), p. 19, "The Riddle Song" (1 text, from a college student who said he learned it from his family, but I wonder if he learned it in school)
Brown/Robbins-IndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse, #1303
DigitalIndexOfMiddleEnglishVerse #2174
ADDITIONAL: Celia and Kenneth Sisam, _The Oxford Book of Medieval English Verse_, Oxford University Press, 1970; corrected edition 1973, #192, p. 435, "I have a Young Sister" (1 text)
Rossell Hope Robbins, _Secular Lyrics of the XIVth and XVth Century_, Oxford University Press, 1952, #45, pp. 40-41, "My Young Sister" (1 text)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; #65, "I Have a Young Sister" (1 text); notes to #258 ("I have three presents from over the sea") (1 excerpt)
Richard M. Dorson, _Buying the Wind: Regional Folklore in the United States_, University of Chicago Press, 1964, pp. 393-394, "I Have Four Brothers" (1 text)
MANUSCRIPT: {MSSloane2593}, London, British Library, MS. Sloane 2593, folio 11

Roud #330 and 36
Pete Seeger, "The Riddle Song" (on PeteSeeger18)
Tony Wales, "Piri-iri-igdum" (on TWales1)

cf. "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" [Child 46]
cf. "Riddles Wisely Expounded" [Child 1]
I Have a Young Sister
Perri Merri Dictum, Domine
NOTES [637 words]: Certain scholars have seen this as a worn-down form of "Captain Wedderburn's Courtship" [Child 46]. Since, however, it goes back at least to 1430, the dependency is if anything in the other direction. But there is no real reason to believe they are related in any but a casual way; riddle songs were popular for a long time. Still, because many scholars list versions of this song under "Captain Wedderburn," one should check both songs for complete references.
"Go No More A-Rushing" (DT GONORUSH) appears to be an Elizabethan prologue tacked on to the old song.
In modern English and in far eastern folklore, cherries are associated with sex. Whether that has any significance here I do not know.
Various scholars have tried to wring meaning out of the nonsense "Piri-miri-dictum Domini" refrain. The third and fourth words can become Latin (dictum=word and Domine of course is the word for "Lord"). I've not seen a convincing Latin explanation for "piri" and "miri," however.
On the other hand, some sources, e.g. the Opies, offer "Perrie merrie Dixie dominie." This suggests "peri mare," i.e. "around (the) sea" (Latin mar-e, not "mare"), which makes sense given the reference to the sister beyond the sea. But, note, this refrain isn't in the Sloane MS. version.
For more on the Sloane manuscript, which contains the original "I haue a ȝong suster / fer be-ȝondyn þe se / many be þe drowryis / þat che sente me" text, see the notes to "Robyn and Gandeleyn" [Child 115].
Robbins, in his notes on this text on pp. 240-241, cites several Middle English parallels to paradoxical riddles; although none of these seem to survive to this day, it would appear the genre was fairly well known.
There is a Middle English poem, "Parche Michi Domine," which occurs in seven manuscripts; it is #561 and #3714 in the Brown/Robbins Index of Middle English Verse." But it is described as an "allegory of the bird with four feathers." Rigg, p. 53, gives a couple of verses:
By a foreste syde walking as y went,
Dysport to take yn a morning
. . .
God grawnte vs all to se they blessyd face
That seyth Parce michi domine.
This poem is in stanzas of eight to twenty lines; I don't think it related, except that perhaps the refrain inspired something. - RBW
Re "cherries are associated with sex," see Barre Toelken, "Context and Meaning in the Anglo-American Ballad" in The Ballad and the Scholars: Approaches to Ballad Study (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library University of California, 1986), pp. 37-38, in which Toelken reports hearing the song sung at a North Carolina family picnic as a dialog between "a young couple who were about to be married"; she sings "I gave my love a cherry...", he sings "I gave my love a chicken that had no bone," [and you can play out the rest of the dialog yourself] while the group at the picnic "exchanged knowing glances, nudges in the ribs, and suppressed looks of modesty surprised." Toelken continues, referring only to this context for the performance, "Each line is not only a potential reference to flowers, food, marriage, or family. In addition, we see in the sequence (cherry-egg[!?"chicken"=cock?]-ring-baby=virginity-impregnation-marriage-baby, the metaphor and its referent integrated by the couple's singing the last line together ["And a baby when it's making has no crying"]) a fairly accurate portrayal of a well-known courtship pattern in the Anglo-American world." - BS
Interestingly, the Sloane Manuscript, which has the first copy of the song, DOES contain a few other double-entendre pieces, such as "I Have a Gentle Cock," in which the cock is presented as a bird but also as... you know (see Boklund-Lagopolou, p. 72). But a much larger share of the contents are religious, so I am hesitant to try to dig too deeply for deliberate sexual messages. - RBW
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