” (…) among the rocks one of the sea women combing her long hair, and if he can creep up to her unbeknownst, and steal away from her her “cubuleen driuth,” which is a kind of small cap the merrows do be wearing, she can never go back under the sea any more at all, but must follow his bidding while ever he has it in his keeping.”

(Decorations by Ralph Lester)


O Scarlet hunter, riding past,

O hunter, do not ride so fast,

But tell me where’s my mother?

— “Nay, child, why dost thou ask of me?

Safe by the hearth should mothers be,

And thine like any other.”

— While I was playing on the floor

Deep in a hollow near the door

I found a shining cap laid by.

My mother gave a piercing cry,

And snatched it up and fled away….

Though I have sought her all the day,

I cannot find my mother.

— O woman with the milking stool,

Standing among the grasses cool,

Hast thou not seen my mother?

— “What like is thy mother, lad?”

— A stripèd petticoat she had,

Her snooded hair is soft as silk,

She’s whiter in the face than milk,

My lost, sweet mother!

— “I saw a poor mad thing go down

By yonder highway to the town,

I saw none other.

But, oh, her hair was streaming wild,

Sure, frenzy was upon her, child,

And she was not thy mother.”

— O friar, in thy long rough gown,

Say in what corner of the town

I’ll find my mother.

— “What is thy mother’s name, poor boy?”

— My father always called her Joy.

— “It hath the ring of Heathenesse,

But to all creatures in distress

Lord Christ is Brother.

In the church-yard an hour ago

I saw a witch-girl crouching low,

But oh, she fell to weeping sore

For that she feared the cross I wore.

I’ll dry thy tears and lead thee home,

Good mothers have no wish to roam.”

— Nay, I must find my mother.

— O fisher, coming in from sea,

Lay by the oar and answer me,

O hast thou seen my mother?

— “Nay, but I saw, upon my life,

’Mong yonder rocks a merrow wife

With long locks gleaming in the sun.

She saw the billows shoreward run,

She heard the splashing of my oar,

Wildly she glanced along the shore,

She flung her foam-white arms on high,

She cried a weird and wailing cry,

And leaped and vanished in the sea.

I crossed the brow and breast of me,

And thanked the Maker of my life

That I’ve a christened maid to wife.”

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