Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scarborough Fair


My good intentions of writing something every day no longer last, I guess. This time, too, I have an excuse for that: I was out of town, and I had no internet connection nor computer. I had a TV, though, and I got to see a part of the movie The Graduate. The part I saw was exactly when a song from Simon and Garfunkel was playing: Scarborough Fair. I remember at the end of 2006, when I used to teach at Fundacao Torino, I would listen to this song practically every morning on the bus on my way to the school. Listening to this song again made me go back on time and it felt very good.

I decided to make some research on the song to find out the versions I know (the one I used to listen to was not the Simon & Garfunkel`s one, it was Sarah Brightman`s) and, since the song sounds so medieval, I decided to see if Simon & Garfunkel were the original writers. In my research I found out so many interesting things, I decided to share the results with you (i.e., whoever reads my blog, which has been quite a mystery to me).

So, Scarborough was (and still is) a harbor city in the North-East of England. In the Middle Age, Scarborough used to host one of the most important fairs in Europe: the Scarborough Fair. It was very important because it used to last 45 days (which was not usual in those days), and would offer any kind of goods and attractions to foreigners as well as natives.

The song probably dates back to the Middle Age, when Scarborough Fair was important and well-known. The author of the song, as it often happens, remains unknown, but the ballad soon became pretty popular and was sung all over England by many bards. Of course, everyone would add a personal flavor to the lyrics, so that now we have several versions of the antique ballad. Here are parts of one version I found on the web (click here to see the whole thing):

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there

For once she was a true love of mine


Have her make me a cambric shirt

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she'll be a true love of mine

(...)
Have her find me an acre of land
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Between the sea foam and over the sand
And then she'll be a true love of mine

(...)

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
And gather it all in a bunch of heather
And then she'll be a true love of mine

If she tells me she can't, I'll reply
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Let me know that at least she will try
And then she'll be a true love of mine

Love imposes impossible tasks
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Though not more than any heart asks
And I must know she's a true love of mine

Dear, when thou has finished thy task
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Come to me, my hand for to ask
For thou then art a true love of mine

The song is clearly about love. In short, the man addresses a woman who is, supposedly, in love with him. He asks her all sort of impossible tasks so that she would prove that her love was worthy. Only after completing all these tasks successfully would the woman get to ask her lover`s hand. Of course, this might sound quite strange in an age when women and their love was not even taken in consideration when it came to arrange marriages.

From the lyrics and its repetitions, we can eaily see it is a song that was not written but was probably part of oral tradition. It is interesting to see that one of the lines that repeat in every stanza is "parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme", which brings us back to the title of the ballad (the fair), tells us about the lovers (probably ordinary people) and gives me an opportunity to improve my vocabulary for cooking books. Parsley takes away the bitterness; sage gives flavor and represents wisdom; rosemary "is associated with feminine love, because it's very strong and tough, although it grows slowly" (All about Scarborough Fair); and finally, thyme "symbolizes courage" (idem).

It`s funny, now that I really got to know the lyrics, I see how much this song appeals to me for a couple of reasons. First, the time when I was listening to this song was exactly the time when I was teaching about medieval England literature and the important of the bards and the oral tradition. Second, love does require you to undertake several tasks, some of which seem so impossible to overcome. Sometimes I feel like the lady in the song, sometimes I feel like the singer...in matters of love we always demand and are demanded so much. And, from what we can see, it has been like that for a long, long time...

3 comments:

Rômulo said...

Minha querida Adry,
Como sempre... você tem muito bom gosto! Simon And Garfunkel são muito bons e, pra falar a verdade, já embalaram demais a minha vida. Sobretudo a minha infância e adolescência. Eu me lembro perfeitamente de dormir inúmeras vezes escutando os dois. :) Dentre as suas músicas, sem dúvida, a que mais me marcou foi Mrs. Robinson... quando eu tinha uns 11 ou 12 anos de idade, eu ia pra casa de um amigo para ouvir o "disco" dos dois. Era disco mesmo! Vinil. :) A primeira música do disco era essa. Eu adorava!! Foi nessa época que eu associei a música aos cantores. Tudo por causa da capa do disco. (Eu me lembro de ter achado muito diferente o cabelo do Garfunkel :P ). Eu já conhecia a música desde mais novo (minha mãe costumava me colocar pra dormir ouvindo esses sons), mas só então soube quem eram os cantores. :)

Queria aproveitar e colocar um comentário sobre o seu texto. Como eu tinha te falado aquele dia, acho que ele ficou bem coerente! Achei a sua análise muito coerente. Obrigado por nos presenter com ela!! :)

Saudades,
A. V. !
T Rômulo.

Anonymous said...

It's in the North East not the North West!

Anonymous said...

BOTH

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Remember me to one who lives there,
For she once was a true love of mine.

MAN

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Without no seam nor fine needlework,
And then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell,
And then she'll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder grey thorn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born,
And then she'll be a true love of mine.

Ask her to do me this courtesy,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And ask for a like favour from me,
And then she'll be a true love of mine.

BOTH

Have you been to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Remember me from one who lives there,
For he once was a true love of mine.

WOMAN

Ask him to find me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Between the salt water and the sea-strand
For then he'll be a true love of mine.

Ask him to plough it with a sheep's horn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And sow it all over with one peppercorn,
For then he'll be a true love of mine.

Ask him to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And gather it up with a rope made (a bunch) of heather,
For then he'll be a true love of mine.

When he has done and finished his work,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Ask him to come for his cambric shirt,
For then he'll be a true love of mine.

BOTH

If you say that you can't, then I shall reply,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Oh, Let me know that at least you will try,
Or you'll never be a true love of mine.
I knew the song loke this, with both parts singing