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The Twa Sisters o Binnorie
There lived a lady by the North Sea shore.
Lay the bent to the bonnie broom
Two daughters were the babes she bore.
Fa la la la la la la la la la
As one grew bright as in the sun,
so coal black grew the other one.
A knight came riding to the lady's door.
He'd travelled far to be their wooer.
He courted one with gloves and rings,
but loved the other above all things.
Oh sister will you go with me
to watch the ships sail on the sea?
She took her sister by the hand
and led her down to the North Sea strand.
And as they stood on the windy shore,
the dark girl threw her sister o'er.
Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
crying "sister, reach to me your hand.
Oh sister, sister let me live,
and all that's mine I'll surely give."
"It's your truelove I'll have and more,
but thou shalt never come ashore."
And there she floated like a swan.
The salt sea bore her body on.
Two minstrels walked along the strand
and saw the maiden float to land.
They made a harp of her breast bone
whose sound would melt a heart of stone.
They took three locks of her yellow hair
and with them strung the harp so rare.
They went into her father's hall
to play the harp before them all.
But as they laid it on a stone,
the harp began to play alone.
The first string sang a doleful sound;
The bride her younger sister drwoned.
The second string as that they tried,
in terror sits the black-haired bride.
The third string sang beneath their bow,
and surely now her tears will flow.
Variants of this ballad - and its rather groteesque story - are known from
all over Europe. Child, the famous Scottish ballad collector, lists 21
variants from Britian (mostly Scotland) 12 from Norway, 10 from Denmark,
from Sweden, 2 from Iceland and 4 from the Faroe Islands. It's also
been collected in Poland, Estonia and Slovakia, and there's probably a
German version too that Mahler used as the basis for his cantata "Das
Klagende Lied". In Scotland it's usually known as "The Twa Sisters o
The original ballad might date back to the pre-Christian Dark Ages,
although it has of course changed a lot since then. This version is
transcribed from Pentangle's recording. It's actually an conflation of
two versions, The first few verses and the refrain are taken from "Riddles
Wisely Expounded" (Child's ballads no. 1) and the bulk of the story from
"The Twa Sisters" (Child's no. 10). I'm not sure where the tune comes
from, but it sounds very late 16th Century to me.
(Thanks to Phil Taylor
<http://www.barfly.dial.pipex.com> and Jack Campin
<http://www.purr.demon.co.uk/jack/jack.html> for information about the
From Musica Viva - http://www.musicaviva.com
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