Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Broomfield Hill: A Historical Analysis

When a guy bets a woman that she won't come back a virgin from visiting Broomfield Hill, what other choice does she have in this bet than to not frak that guy but frak with him while he waits for her in the bedroom, likely naked?

This is the song "Broomfield Hill"/"The Broom Wager"/"Merry Green Broom"/"The West Country Wager"/"Lord John"/"The May Blooming Field".  You can find a version by my favorite band Malinky below.  And read on after the video.





Child notes that the tune had popped up in Norway, Italy, Iceland, and Germany, on top of England and Scotland.  Of course, the tune spread to the American Appalachians where it was well-preserved by the Scots-Irish and English immigrants.  It's very difficult to track down where the tune originated, but one can maybe tell what regions have the version where the guy succeeds in raping, even murdering, the lady, despite how much magic she uses.  We can also see when the magic elements began to be filtered out due to its pagan nature.

As Walter Pardon said in his album notes, our lovely, lively tune recalls the very themes introduced by an English poem from the 1200s:
Tell me, broom wizard, tell me,
Teach me what to do,
To make my husband love me:
Tell me, broom wizard, do!


Silent tongue and still
Shall bring you all your will.
Granted, this is extremely awful, but it's also very medievally.  The sentiment is there, though, of the wise pagan elder helping a young lady with her love.  In this early form, it's how to keep that love.  This was meant to be humorous as well as telling women how to behave.  I'd say it's likely that a woman wrote a direct response to this poem in the form of a song, possibly hundreds of years later.  I'd imagine this poem stuck around for a while to keep women subservient.  In this, though, the wizard portrays no magic, and we're left with just a man who might possess magic.  Even demonic men know what men want in a woman, and the answer to her demand is not in magic.  This is a time when religion was at an all-time high, and witchcraft was worrisome to many religious leaders.  The fear and accusation spread like wildfire, and it was those who lived in forests, in nature, in broom fields.

First, let's establish what exactly a broom is: a broom is a flowering shrub that is native to Europe, Southwestern Asia, and Northern Africa.  It's recently been used as a prevention for soil erosion, but in the past it's been used as a dye, medicine, food/garnish, and much symbolism for both magic and romance.  Recently it's been under scrutiny for possibly being poisonous (in which the female in the song could very well have made him sleep through using such poison).  The variety called "dyer's broom" is also known as "dyer's greenwood," which will be referred to in many versions of the song.


In the 1400s, we first hear of documentation of witches flying on brooms.  This verily could have been a mistranslation of "broom" from the southern European regions, as the accusation of witches on brooms appears in France and Germany.  It could also be a broom stick from the broom shrub in which rode on.  Brooms were not known as brooms at this time.  It most likely would have been besoms.  With broom being abundant in England, the possibility of people using broom to sweep floors is likely.  Not only would it sweep dirt, but it would also smell sweet.  An "Old English" dusting, you could say.

The oldest one I know of with a date attached to it is from 1711-1732.  And so it goes:
A noble young squire that lived in the West,
He courted a young lady gay;
And as he was merry he put forth a jest,
A wager with her he would lay.


A wager with me, the young lady replied,
I pray about what must it be?
If I like the humour you shan't be denied,
I love to be merry and free.


Quoth he, I will lay you a hundred pounds,
A hundred pounds, aye, and ten,
That a maid if you go to the merry Broomfield,
That a maid you return not again.


I'll lay you that wager, the lady she said,
Then the money she flung down amain;
To the merry Broomfield I'll go a pure maid,
The same I'll return home again.


He covered her bet in the midst of the hall,
With a hundred and ten jolly pounds;
And then to his servant he straightway did call,
For to bring forth his hawk and his hounds.


A ready obedience the servant did yield,
And all was made ready o'er night;
Next morning he went to the merry Broomfield,
To meet with his love and delight.


Now when he came there, having waited a while,
Among the green broom down he lies;
The lady came to him, and could not but smile,
For sleep then had closed his eyes.


Upon his right hand a gold ring she secured,
Drawn from her own fingers so fair;
That when he awaked he might be assured
His lady and love had been there.


She left him a posie of pleasant perfume,
Then stepped from the place where he lay,
Then hid herself close in the besom of broom,
To hear what her true love did say. 


He wakened and found the gold ring on his hand,
Then sorrow of heart he was in;
My love has been here, I do well understand,
And this wager I now shall not win.


Oh where was you, my goodly goshawk,
The which I have purchased so dear,
Why did you not waken me out of my sleep,
When the lady, my love, was here?


O with my bells did I ring, master,
And eke with my feet did I run;
And still did I cry, pray awake! master,
She's here now, and soon will be gone.


Oh where was you, my gallant greyhound,
Whose collar is flourished with gold;
Why hadst thou not wakened me out of my sleep,
When thou didst my lady behold?


Dear master, I barked with my mouth when she came,
And likewise my collar I shook;
And told you that here was the beautiful dame,
But no notice of me then you took.


O where wast thou, my servingman,
Whom I have clothed so fine?
If you had waked me when she was here,
The wager then had been mine.


In the night you should have slept, master,
And kept awake in the day;
Had you not been sleeping when hither she came,
Then a maid she had not gone away.


Then home he returned when the wager was lost,
With sorrow of heart, I may say;
The lady she laughed to find her love crost,
This was upon midsummer-day.


O squire! I laid in the bushes concealed,
And heard you, when you did complain;
And thus I have been to the merry Broomfield,
And a maid returned back again.



Be cheerful! be cheerful! and do not repine,
For now 'tis as clear as the sun,
The money, the money, the money is mine,
The wager I fairly have won.
Our longest and seemingly most complete recorded version known is one that Martin Carthy dug up, and it recounts the tale with humorously personified pets, a creepy witch, and a very eager young lord.
Oh it's of a lord in the north country
He courted a lady gay
As they were riding side by side
A wager she did lay

Oh I wager you five hundred pound
Five hundred pound to one
That a maid I will go to the merry green wood
And a maid I will return

So there she sat in her mother's bower door
And there she made a moan
Saying, Should I go to the Broomfield Hill
Or should I stay at home

Then up and spake this witch woman
As she sat all alone
Saying, You shall go to the Broomfield Hill
And a maid you shall come home

For when you get to the Broomfield Hill
You'll find your love asleep
With his hawk, his hound and his silken satin gown
And his ribbons hanging down to his feet

And pick the blossom from off the broom
The blossom that smells so sweet
And lay some down at the crown of his head
And more at the sole of his feet 

So she's away to the Broomfield Hill
And she's found her love asleep
With his hawk, his hound and his silken satin gown
And his ribbons hanging down to his feet

And she's picked a blossom from off the broom
The blossom that smells so sweet
And she's laid some down at the crown of his head
And more at the sole of his feet

And she's pulled off her diamond ring
And she's pressed it in his right hand
For to let him know when he wakened from his sleep
That his love had been there at his command

And when he woke out of his sleep
When the birds began to sing
Saying, Awake, awake, awake, master
Your true love's been and gone

Oh where were you, my gay goshawk
And where were you, my steed
And where were you, my good greyhound
Why did you not waken me

Oh I clapped with my wings master
And all my bells I rang
Cried, oh waken, waken, waken, master
Before this lady ran

And I stamped with my foot, master
And I shook my bridle till it rang
But nothing at all would waken you
Till she had been and gone

So haste ye, haste ye, my good white steed
To come where she may be
Or all the birds at the Broomfield Hill
Shall eat their fill of thee

Oh you need not waste your good white steed
By racing to her home
For no bird flies faster through the wood
Than she fled through the broom
Stereotypically, the man wants to sex up his ladyfriend before she's ready, so she commits to a bet, unsure of how she'll carry through with this plan "that a maid [she] will go to the merry greenwood, and a maid [she] will return".  Upon contemplative worry, the lady (always she moans with a slight sexual undertone because we know what she's thinking) considers staying home and losing the bet.  Along comes a witch woman who knows what to do, as she knows from experience, possibly a young woman disguised as an old hag, and possibly even foreseeing the future, boldly declaring that she will go and will return.  She then tells her how: while he lies on his bed naked, take some broom blossoms and put them under his head and his feet.  He is enveloped by the broom and also effects his thinking as well as his movement.

She finds him there on Broomfield Hill, which is like those typical makeout spots on top of cliffs in the woods in which people get murdered, just as the witch said he'd be.  She does as the witch says, and he stays asleep.  She does not touch him, but she leaves him her ring to show she'd been there.  In other versions, though, like Malinky's the woman kisses him on his "rosy lips".  With her moans at the beginning, this creates a feeling that she's tempted by the idea, but needs to hold onto her virginity.  She cannot be moved by a man.

Here, in Carthy's version, the man awakes to find the ring she left, and she hides in nearby bushes to overhear him.  Angry, he yells at his silver-belled goshawk that he didn't awake him when his lady came by.  The goshawk said he tried with bells and yells, but could not do so.  The steed stomped and rang his bridle.  The man threatens to kill the horse if he doesn't get him to her, but alas the goshawk decalres she flew through the woods faster than any bird.  Cyril Poacher's version tells of the man vowing to spill his lover's blood and leave her for the birds to peck at for tricking him, causing her to flee the scene.  Her version is as follows:
“O wager, o wager, o wager I'll lay you,
I'll lay you five thousands to your one,
That a maiden I'll go to that merry broomfield
And a maiden I'm sure I will return.”


And then did this young maid back on a bay hobby's back
All for to ride to that green broom,
And when she got there she found her own true love
Lying in that merry green broom fast asleep.


Nine times did she walk round the crown of his head,
Nine times round the sole of his feet,
Nine times did she say, “Awake, master,
For your own true love in standing nearby.”


And when she had done all she dare do,
She stepped behind that bunch of green broom
All for to hear what her own true love should say
When he awoke out of his domestic sleep.


He said, “If I had been awake instead of being asleep,
My will would I have done toward thee.
Your blood it would have been spilt for those small birds to drink,
And your flesh it would have been for their food.”


You hard-hearted young man, how could you say so?
Your heart it must be hard as any stone
For to murder the one that lov-ed you so well,
Far better than the ground that you stand on.


Nine times of this bell did I ring, master,
Nine times of that whip did I snap;
Nine times did I say, “Awake, master,
For your own true love is standing nearby.”
What Carthy's version lacks, though, is how many times she circles the man's head and the man's feet and how many times she kisses his lips.  In many versions, she circles his head and feet with the broom and kisses him either nine times or three times.  Both three and nine are numbers held sacred to the ancient Celts.  The Mother Goddess appears as a triad, after all.  The supernatural element is then kept through such inclusions, but now the versions are much condensed, so that the lyrics do not make as much sense, and it's unclear that animals are talking to the man.  The watering down of the pagan elements happened especially in America.  Various versions have popped up in the Utah area, mostly from Mormon settlements.  Here the supernatural elements are missing, save for the nine times circling.  It seems Britain not so much embraces, but perhaps does not make a point to filter out, the fairy culture.  As a nation that lacks significant cultural identity, save for tea and crumpets, it looks to fairy tales for that very reason and why Tolkien wrote The Lord of the Rings.

Ruth Barret and Cynthia Smith invoke a traditional folk sound to sing "The Broomfield Hill":


I know that this may seem not at all feminist because the woman can't resist the man herself; rather she must rely on magic.  But magic equals power and wisdom.  Look who has both: the young lady and the witch woman.  Let's face it: sex is a powerful tool, and she's ensuring her resistance and happiness.  Peggy Seeger notes on Blood and Roses, Vol. 4, "The theme was common in mediaeval European romance and in ballad form it has been found throughout Europe ever since. It is not very common in the United States. Broom, of course, is a magicking plant and the story is very appealing to women, who made, sang and passed down to their daughters songs about the possibility of females using their wit to extricate themselves from difficult encounters with the male."  The following text is from Utah called "The May Blooming Field".
A wager, a wager and I'll go with you,
Away to the may blooming fields;
A maiden I will go to the bloomfield hill
And a maiden I will return.


A wager a wager and you'll go with me,
Away to the may blooming fields;
A maiden you will go to the bloomfield hill
But a maiden you never will return.


Away went this young man, his wager for to win,
Away to the may blooming fields;
He sat himself down by the clear flowing stream
And fell fast asleep on the banks.


Nine times she walked round the crown of his head
And nine times she walked round his feet;
Nine times she kissed his red ruby lips,
As he lay on the bank fast asleep.


The ring that she wore on her little finger,
The same did she place on his own;
That it might be a token of her love unto him,
That she had been there and was gone.


If I'd been awake as I was asleep,
This maiden she never would have fled;
It's her I would have killed,her blood I would have spilled
And the birds told the story of the dead.


Oh hard-hearted young man, hard-hearted youth,
Your heart's as hard as any stone;
For to think to kill one who has loved you so long
And I'll weep o'er the grave you lie in.
It also seems that as the songs aged, England modernized the lyrics to change with the evolving English language.  Scotland, however, kept the tune in tact, for Scotland tends to have more active preservers of culture, despite this song long being more prominent in England.  For all we know this song has definitely been around since the early 1700s and most likely since the 1600s.  Some versions stress the murder plot at the end, some stress the love story, some stress the strong female, and some stress the magic, but what all have in common is their beauty.

For good measure, Malinky's lyrics to the song:
"I'll wager, I'll wager wi' you, fair maid
Five hundred merks and ten
That ye winna go tae the bonnie broom fields
And return back a maiden again"

Chorus (after each verse):
Leatherum thee thou and aw
Madam, I'm wi' you
And the seal o' me be abrachee
Fair maiden, I'm for you

"I'll wager, I'll wager wi' you, kind sir
Five hundred merks and ten
That I will go tae the bonnie broom fields
And return back a maiden again"

When she cam tae the bonnie broom hills
Her lover lay fast asleep
Wi' his silvery bells and the gay old oak
And the broomstick under his heid

Nine times 'roond the croon o' his heid
And nine times 'roond his feet
Nine times she kissed his rosy lips
And his breath wis wondrous sweet

She's taen the ring frae her finger
Placed it on his breist bane
And a' for a token that she'd been there
That she'd been there and gane

Greetin', oh greetin' gaed she oot
An' a-singin' cam she in
'Twas a' for the safety o' her body
And the wager she had won

"Whaur wis ye, ma bonnie gray hound
That I coft ye sae dear?
Ye didna wauken me frae ma sleep
Whan ye kent ma love was here"

"I scraped ye wi' ma fit, maister
And ma collar bell, it rang
And still the mair that I did scrape
Awauken wid ye nane"

"Haste and haste, ma gude white steed
Tae come the maiden till
Or a' the birds o' the gude green wood
O' your flesh shall hae their fill"

"Ye needna burst yer gude white steed
Wi' racing ower the howm
Nae bird flies faster through the wood
Than she fled through the broom"

Below is Kate Rusby's version of the song "Merry Green Broom".



Show of Hands give the song a melody I've not heard before, and I absolutely love it.



Bellowhead (fronted by John Spiers and Jon Boden) lend their unmistakable sound to the traditional tune.



And for your enjoyment, an symphonic arrangement of the song.  Much like an opera!

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