Give Us a Tune: “Drowned Lovers”

Kate Rusby from Hourglass


Willie sits in his stable door
And he’s combing his coal-black steed
And he’s doubting on fair Margaret’s love
And his heart began to bleed
Give corn unto my horse, mother
And meat to my man John
And I’ll away to fair Margaret’s bower
Before the night comes on

Oh stay at home with me, dear Willie
Oh stay at home with me
And the very best cock in all the roost
For your own supper shall be
It’s all your cocks in all your roosts
I value not a pin
But I’ll away to fair Margaret’s bower
Before the night sets inIf you go to fair Margaret’s bower
Without the leave of me
And in the deepest part of the Clyde water
Then drowned you shall be
Oh the good steed that I ride upon
Cost me thrice thirty pounds
And I’ll put trust in his swift feet
To take me safe and soundHe’s ridden o’er the high, high hills
And he’s down the dewy den
And the noise that was in the Clyde water
Would have feared five hundred men,
O roaring Clyde, you roar so loud
Your streams are wondrous strong
Make me a wreck as I come back
And spare me as I’m goingOh when he’s got to Margaret’s bower
He’s turled low on the pin
Oh wake up, me May Margaret rise up and let me in
Oh who is this at my bower door
A-calling May Margaret’s name?
It’s only your first love, little William
This night come to her homeOpen your gates this night
Open and let me in
For me boots they are full of the Clyde water
And I’m frozen to the skin
Me barns are full of corn, Willie
The stable’s full of hay
And me bower’s full of gentlemen
They’ll not remove till dayThen it’s fare thee well to you, May Margaret
It’s fare thee well and adieu
For I have won my mother’s own curse
In coming this night to you
And as he’s ridden o’er the high, high hill
And down yon dowy den
And the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie’s cane from himAnd he’s leaned him over his saddle-bow
To catch his cane again
And the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie’s hat from him
And he’s leaned him over his saddle-bow
To catch his hat by force
But the rushing in the Clyde water
Took Willie from his horseAnd the very hour that young man sank
Into the parts so deep
There up and awoke this May Margaret
Out from her drowsy sleep
Come here come here, my mother dear
And you read my dreary dream
I dreamed my lover was at our gates
And nobody let him inLie down, lie down, you May Margaret
Lie down and take your rest
And since your lover was at our gates
It’s but two quarters passed.
Then nimbly, nimbly rose she up
Went down to the river’s brim
And the louder that this lady cried
The louder grew the windAnd the very first step that she went in
She stepped up to her feet
And it’s oh and alas, this lady cried
The water’s wondrous deep
And the very next step that she went in
She’s waded to her knee
Says she, I would wade farther in
If I my true love could seeAnd the very next step that she went in
She’s waded to her chin
And the deepest part of Clyde water
She found sweet William in
Saying, you have had a cruel mother, Willie
And I have had another
And now we’ll sleep in Clyde water
Like sister and like brother

Nic Jones


This ballad appears to be quite rare; Child knew it only in three versions, all from the first quarter of the 19th century.

In part of its plot, the ballad shows startling resemblance to The Lass of Roch Royal (Child 76). In Clyde’s Water, the mother, pretending to be her daughter, repels the lover, and the daughter, who has dreamed that her lover had come and had been refused admittance, is told by her mother that this had actually happened, and set off in pursuit of her lover. Parts have been exchanged by the sexes involved (as frequently happens in ballads),but substantially the same occurrences take place in The Lass of Roch Royal, in which the lass is turned away by Lord Gregory’s mother pretending to speak in his person.

Bleeding at the nose (stanza one of this version) as a bad omen, occurs in several ballads, including Lord Derwentwater (Child 208).


The ballad is little known in tradition outside of Scotland. Greig collected four versions in Aberdeenshire early in this century, and it appears to exist in tradition in Scotland. MacColl’s version was learned mostly from recitation by his mother. Stanzas 10, 11, and 13 were learned from Jeannie Robertson, housewife and former tinker of Aberdeen.

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