Mother, Mother, Make My Bed

DESCRIPTION: A young woman, dying, sends for her true love. He hastens home, but finds her already dead. He kisses her, and dies the next day. They are buried side by side, and a rose and briar twine over their grave.
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1906 (VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs)
KEYWORDS: love death dying magic lover burial
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West)) US(SE)
REFERENCES (6 citations):
Bronson (65), "Lady Maisry" (13 versions, of which #4, #5, #7, #8, #10, and perhaps #9 and #11 are this piece)
Bronson-SingingTraditionOfChildsPopularBallads (65), "Lady Maisry" (3 versions, of which #8 is this piece)
MacColl/Seeger-TravellersSongsFromEnglandAndScotland 22, "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" (2 texts, 1 tune)
VaughanWilliams/Lloyd-PenguinBookOfEnglishFolkSongs, p. 71, "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cologne/Morrison-WiltshireFolkSongs, pp. 32-34, "Lady Maisry" (1 text, 1 tune)
Scarborough-ASongCatcherInSouthernMountains, pp. 137-139, "Laidy Maisry" (1 text, which despite the title appears closer to this than to "Lady Maisry," though it lacks the "Mother, Mother, Make My Bed" verse)

ST VWL071 (Partial)
Roud #45
cf. "Lady Maisry" [Child 65] (floating verses)
cf. "Lord Lovel" [Child 75] (floating verses)
cf. "Bonny Barbara Allen" [Child 84] (floating verses)
NOTES [244 words]: This ballad shares verses with the cross-referenced titles; it's essentially a composite of floating verses and plot elements. -PJS
The problems with this song are myriad, though enough versions exist that it must be treated as a separate piece (at least; *I* say so; Roud lumps it with "Lady Maisry"). It shares material with many ballads (MacColl & Seeger see contacts with no fewer than ten Child ballads in their version, though some of these are stretched or verses found floating in several Child ballads -- e.g. the contact with "Little Musgrave" is the stanza "The first two miles the little boy walked, and the next two miles he run," which is an element which can float easily).
The real difficulty is, every version seems fragmentary. We don't know why the young woman is dying. If the ultimate source were "Lady Maisry," she is to be executed; if "Lord Lovel," she is dying for love. But neither explanation gains any support from the extant texts, implying that the cause of death was never stated. Paul Stamler suggests the possibility of plague. I doubt we'll ever know.
It is worth noting that Bronson has thirteen tunes listed under "Lady Maisry," and that eight of them (#4-11) belong to his "C" group, and that *all* of the texts of "Mother, Mother" are in the C group, and *every* song in the C group is either "Mother Mother" or a fragment which could be either song. Thus "Mother Mother" in fact appears to have its own distinct tune group. - RBW
Last updated in version 4.2
File: VWL071

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