Sunday poetry – Warnings

I’m not sure what it says about me that this melancholy poem has always been one of my favourites. I love this photo of gravestones in Kirkconnell churchyard (from here) but really, I wish the weather was a little more grey & windswept. Bright sunshine really isn’t appropriate for this Gothic little ballad, The Unquiet Grave. I first came across it in my high school poetry anthology, The World’s Contracted Thus, & a lot of my favourite poetry was first encountered there. John Donne, Browning’s Last Duchess, & a lot of old ballads. The poem isn’t just full of gloom & misery though, there’s humour & a little exasperation in the dead woman’s attempts to convince her lover to stop mooning around & get on with life. The alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. I always felt he was a bit of a poser anyway, playing the role of a pale, wan lover.

‘The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love;
In cold grave she was lain.


‘I’ll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.’


The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
‘Oh, who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?’


‘ ‘T is I, my love, sits on your grave,
And will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek.’


‘You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
But my breath smells earthy-strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
Your time will not be long.


‘ ‘T is down in yonder garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that ere was seen
Is wither’d to a stalk.


‘The stalk is wither’d dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away.’

2 thoughts on “Sunday poetry – Warnings

  1. It took me a little while to work out where I recognised this from, then realised that Bellowhead (a great, noisy English folk band) have recorded a version of it. They're an acquired taste, but you might enjoy the song. It was interesting to read this different wording, so thanks for posting this.

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  2. I haven't heard of Bellowhead but I'll look out for this. I didn't know there were different versions but it's not surprising. A lot of ballads are known in differen forms.

    Like

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