“Lord Randall”: Child Ballad 12


“Lord Randal”, by Arthur Rackham. This is an illustration from Some British ballads, published in about 1919.

“Lord Randall”

O, where have you been, Lord Randall, my son
O, where have you been, my handsome young man
I’ve been to the wildwoods, Mother make my bed soon
For I’m weary with hunting an’ I fain would lie down

Where gat ye your dinner, Lord Randall, my son
Where gat ye your dinner, my handsome young man
I did eat with my true love, Mother make my bed soon
For I’m weary with hunting an’ I fain would lie down

What get ye to your dinner, Lord Randall, my son
What get ye to your dinner, my handsome young man
A yellow pied snake, Mother fix my bed soon
For I’m weary with hunting an’ I fain would lie down

What became of your bloodhounds, Lord Randall, my son
What became of your bloodhounds, my handsome young man
O, they swelled an’ they died, Mother make my bed soon
For I’m weary with hunting an’ I fain would lie down

O, I fear you are poisoned, Lord Randall, my son
O, I fear you are poisoned, my handsome young man
O, yes I am poisoned, Mother make my bed soon
For I’m sick at my heart an’ I fain would lie down

“Lord Randall”: Child Ballad 12

“Riddles Wisely Expounded”: Child Ballad 1


Riddles Wisely Expounded

There were three sisters in the north
Lay the bend to the bonny broom,
And they lived in their mother’s house
And you’ll beguile a lady soon

There came a man one evening late
Lay the bend to the bonny broom,
And he came knocking at the gate
And you’ll beguile a lady soon.

The eldest sister let him in
And locked the door with a silver pin

The second sister made his bed
And laid soft pillows ‘neath his head

The youngest sister, fair and bright
She lay beside him all through the night

And in the morning, come the day
She said, “Young man, will you marry me?”

And he said, “Yes, I’ll marry thee
If you can answer this to me”

“What is greener than the grass?
And what is smoother than the glass?”

“What is louder than a horn?
And what is sharper than a thorn?”

“What is deeper than the sea?
And what is longer than the way?”

“Envy’s greener than the grass
Flattery’s smoother than the glass”

“Rumor’s louder than a horn
Slander’s sharper than a thorn”

“Regret is deeper than the sea
But love is longer than the way”

The eldest sister rang the bell
She rang it from the highest hill

The second sister made the gown
She sewed it of the silk so fine

The youngest sister, true and wise
They’ve made of her a lovely bride

And now fair maids, I bid adieu
These parting words I’ll leave with you

May you always constant prove
Lay the bend to the bonny broom,
Unto the one that you do love
And you’ll beguile a lady soon

“Riddles Wisely Expounded”: Child Ballad 1

“Raggle Taggle Gypsy”: Child Ballad 200


“The Raggle Taggle Gypsy”

There were three old gypsies came to our hall door
They came brave and boldly-o
And one sang high and the other sang low
And the other sang a raggle-taggle gypsy-o

It was upstairs downstairs the lady went
Put on her suit of leather-o
And there was a cry from around the door
She’s away wi’ the raggle-taggle gypsy-o

It was late that night when the Lord came in
Enquiring for his lady-o
And the servant girl she said to the Lord
“She’s away wi’ the raggle-taggle gypsy-o”

“Then saddle for me my milk-white steed
– my big horse is not speedy-o
And I will ride till I seek my bride
She’s away wi’ the raggle-taggle gypsy-o”

Now he rode East and he rode West
He rode North and South also
Until he came to a wide-open plain
It was there that he spied his lady-o

“How could you leave your goose feather bed
Your blankeys strewn so comely-o?
And how could you leave your newly wedded Lord
All for a raggle-taggle gypsy-o?”

“What care I for my goose feather bed
Wi’ blankets strewn so comely-o?
Tonight I lie in a wide-open field
In the arms of a raggle-taggle gypsy-o”

“How could you leave your house and your land?
How could you leave your money-o?
How could you leave your only wedded Lord
All for a raggle-taggle gypsy-o?”

“What care I for my house and my land?
What care I for my money-o?
I’d rather have a kiss from the yellow gypsy’s lips
I’m away wi’ the raggle-taggle gypsy-o!”

“Raggle Taggle Gypsy”: Child Ballad 200

Barbara Allen: Child Ballad 84


From A Book of Old Ballads. Designed by Alice Havers. Circa 1885.


The first page of “Barbara Allen” as printed in the Forget-Me-Not Songster circa 1840.

“Barbara Allen”

In Charlotte town, not far from here,
There was a fair maid dwellin.’
Had a name was known both far and near,
An’ her name was Barb’ry Allen.

‘Twas in the merry month of May,
Green buds they were swellin’,
Poor William on his death-bed lay,
For the love of Barb’ry Allen.

He sent his man down to town
To the place that she was dwellin’
Sayin’, “Master bids your company,
If your name is Barb’ry Allen.”

Oh slowly, slowly she got up
To the place where he was lyin’,
And when she pulled the curtain back,
Said, “Young man, I b’lieve you’re dying!”

“Oh yes, oh yes, I’m very sick
And I shall never get better
Unless I have the love of one,
The love of Bar’bry Allen.”

“Don’t you remember not long ago,
The day down in the tavern?
You toasted all the ladies there,
But you slighted Barb’ry Allen.”

“Oh yes, oh yes, I remember well
That day down in the tavern.
I toasted all the ladies there,
But I gave my heart to Barb’ry Allen.”

She looked to the East, she looked to the West,
She saw his pale corpse a-comin’,
Cryin’, “Put him down and leave him there
So I might gaze upon him.”

The more she gazed, the more she mourned,
Until she burst out cryin’;
Sayin’, “I beg you come and take him away,
For my heart now too is dyin’!”

“Oh, father, father, come dig my grave,
Dig it wide an’ narrow.
Poor William died for me today;
I’ll die for him tomorrow.”

They buried him in the old churchyard,
They buried her beside him,
And from his heart grew a red, red rose,
And from her heart a briar.

They grew, they grew so awful high
Till they could grow no higher,
An’ ’twas there they tied a lover’s knot,
The red rose and the briar.

In Charlotte town, not far from here,
There was a maid a-dwellin.’
Had a name was known both far and near,
An’ her name was Barb’ry Allen.

Barbara Allen: Child Ballad 84

“Mary Hamilton”: Child Ballad 173


Mary Hamilton Before Execution, St. Petersburg by Pavel Svedomskiy, 1904


“Mary Hamilton” by anonymous

Word is to the kitchen gone, and word is to the Hall
And word is up to Madam the Queen, and that’s the worst of all
That Mary Hamilton has borne a babe
To the highest Stuart of all

Oh rise, arise, Mary Hamilton,
Arise and tell to me
What thou hast done with thy wee babe
I saw and heard weep by thee

I put him in a tiny boat
And cast him out to sea
That he might sink or he might swim
But he’d never come back to me

Oh, rise arise, Mary Hamilton,
Arise and come with me
There is a wedding in Glasgow town
This night we’ll go and see

She put not on her robes of black
Nor her robes of brown
But she put on her robes of white
To ride into Glasgow town

And as she rode into Glasgow town
The city for to see
The bailiff’s wife and the provost’s wife
Cried Alack and alas for thee

You need not weep for me she cried
You need not weep for me
For had I not slain my own wee babe
This death I would not dee

Oh little did my mother think
When first she cradled me
The lands I was to travel in
And the death I was to dee

Last night I washed the Queen’s feet
And put the gold in her hair
And the only reward I find for this
The gallows to be my share

Cast off cast off my gown she cried
But let my petticoat be
And tie a napkin ’round my face
The gallows I would not see

Then by them come the king himself
Looked up with a pitiful eye
Come down come down Mary Hamilton
Tonight you will dine with me

Oh hold your tongue my sovereign liege
And let your folly be
For if you’d a mind to save my life
You’d never have shamed me here

Last night there were four Marys
Tonight there’ll be but three
It was Mary Beaton and Mary Seton
And Mary Carmichael and me.

“Mary Hamilton”: Child Ballad 173

Notes on ‘The Library of Babel’

While researching a possible monograph on various mutant, blood-thirsty species of killer bees native to Argentina, I chanced across the name Borget, an expatriated Parisian who had done some seminal work in the area. It was the end of a long day, I was tired, and the resultant loose associations of my weary mind led me to thinking of Borges, the famous Argentine writer. Realizing I was at an impasse in my research, I retired to the parlor for a smoke and the leisure of letting my mind go where it would.

But my mind remained stuck on Borges, or, rather, the name “Borges”. I knew little of the man, himself, or his work. I had seen his name in a letter at my grandparents’ house when I was quite young and the name had stuck with me simply because I wondered how it was pronounced. A few years later, I took a class in world literature in college and Borges was covered. The class was taught by two excellent professors, but they both pronounced “Borges” differently, and, to make things worse, neither pronounced it the way I had guessed it should be pronounced! But that’s neither here nor there.

The letter was written by my maternal great-uncle Gunnar Erfjord, a sailor born in Lofoten, Norway, who had emigrated to the United States, sailed both the Atlantic and the Great Lakes, and put in at the ports of Mar del Plata, Hamburg, and Duluth among others. As my uncle was quite learned (mostly self-taught, although he had mastered Greek and Latin in grade school) and a good conversationalist who seemed to be fluent in almost every European language (although curiously not Spanish), he had made many friends around the world. Including Borges.

This letter was contained in a box of letters and documents that had belonged to my great-uncle (who had died a few years before I was born) that was kept at my grandparents’ house in Green Town, Illinois. I used to go through this box as a young child (the box was called an “ant-proof case” by my older relatives—that alone made it fascinating to me). I later inherited the box and its contents from my maternal grandmother (the only sister of my great-uncle). The box contained, among other things,

* some monographs my great-uncle had written on celestial navigation,

* all the Sherlock Holmes novels and stories in Norwegian translation,

* a book titled “Die Philosophie des Unvollendbar” by someone named Emanuel Lasker,

* a 15 puzzle, which I got quite good at,

* and some letters to and from Borges.

The letters written to Borges I have are in Norwegian. I have inferred from some of their contents that they were fair copies that were then translated into Spanish by a friend of my great-uncle, with the Spanish translations being sent to Borges and the Norwegian originals being saved by my great-uncle.

I have translated one of the letters from my great-uncle from Norwegian to English. Some of the words are technical and I hope that my translation is accurate (my Norwegian is fair, but not great). Here is my translation of the letter:


Port of New York City

Aboard the Mary Celeste

Señor Jorge Luis Borges

Buenos Aires, Argentina

6 November, 1872

Dear Borges,

I visited our mutual friend, Professor Cantor, while I was recently in port in Germany. He asked me to relay some advice to you regarding the story “The Library of Babel”, which I know you are currently working on. He said that he has discussed the story with you and that you have three versions, the finite version, the countable version, and the uncountable version. His advice is:

* finite version: Cantor said that you should feel free to publish this version, although he said he thinks it lacks “daring”.

* countable version: Cantor said that this is a variation he suggested in which the number of pages in each book in the library is unbounded (but finite) and not restricted to four hundred and ten. Hence there is an infinite number of books in the library with no duplicates. He further said that this was a more “audacious” version of the story and he preferred it to the first.

* uncountable version: Cantor said this was an extended variation of the countable version of the story. In this third version, each of the books has an infinite number of pages and, hence, an infinite number of characters (although many of these books may end in an infinite number of spaces). He said some sort of “diagonal argument” can be used on the individual letters in these books. He said this proved that this version of the library somehow contained more books than the preceding version. It wasn’t clear to me whether this third version was his idea or your idea. I asked him how the librarians could hold one of these endless books in his hands. He said something about how perhaps each leaf of the book could be half as thick as the preceding leaf while waving his hand in a strange manner.

Then Cantor told me very explicitly that you should not pursue work on the “uncountable” version. He said that “like the ‘Matilda Briggs’ and the giant rat of Sumatra, the world is not yet prepared for this story”. He said that he did not want you to follow him in his “descent into the Maelström”. He said that pursuing this version of the story could lead you to professional ruin as happened to him. I thought at the time that the statement seemed a bit melodramatic, but, out of respect for his great intellect, I held my tongue.

I hope this all makes sense to you. He said that it would from your previous discussions and some “personal tutoring” he gave you in “the theory of sets”.

Of our mutual friend’s health, I am sad to report that he has been hospitalized with melancholia. I think that his perhaps exaggerated doubts on the wisdom of publishing the “uncountable version” of your story (not to mention his strange hand waving) were but a symptom of his illness. I tried to discuss this further with him, but he became greatly agitated, so I dropped the discussion.

We set sail for Genoa tomorrow. Assuming the Mary Celeste can successfully navigate the doldrums, I hope to see you in person next year for our annual game of chess.


Gunnar Erfjord


That is the entirety of the letter. For the most part, I don’t understand it. I don’t know what “uncountable” means nor I do know what a “diagonal argument” is. (I am a professor of entomology and I hope to widen my knowledge of other subjects after I retire.)

However, I do know about the tale of the giant rat of Sumatra. It was published as the thirteenth story in “The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I have my great-uncle’s copy of a Norwegian translation of this book. “The Adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra” is the thirteenth story in the collection. I’ve read the story, but, unfortunately, the title is the best thing about it. Curiously, the story doesn’t appear in the English edition I have.

[Editor: I requested from the author a Wikipedia-style article, but was given instead these random reminiscences, with no references and I believe many inaccuracies and inconsistencies. Here are a few links to Wikipedia entries that might help the reader understand the contents of the letter, since the author seems to be too lazy to do any research himself:

* [Countable set](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Countable_set)

* [Uncountable set](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncountable_set)

* [Cantor’s diagonal argument](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cantor%27s_diagonal_argument)

Unlike the author, I know enough of set theory to understand what the letter is about. I leave it as an exercise to the reader to use Cantor’s diagonal argument to prove that the library in the third version of the story contains more books than the library in the second version of the story (although each contains an infinite number of books).]

Notes on ‘The Library of Babel’

The High School Tapes

These are the songs that best document my high school years. I didn’t start paying attention to lyrics until my late 20s, so these are all songs that I liked for musical reasons.

Nick Lowe: The song “I Knew the Bride” from Stiffs Live.

The Stiffs Live record is perhaps the best live/”sampler” album ever. It’s certainly the best non-Motown live/”sampler” album ever made. The idea was that everyone on the Stiff label would go on a package tour like the Motown package tours of the 60s. I know nothing about the Motown package tours of the 60s. I only know that I read somewhere that Jake Riviera (and the other Jake whose last name I can’t remember (Robinson?)) based the Stiff tour on the Motown revue tours of the 60s. Anyway. It certainly seems like every one of the “new wave”/”punk”-era musicians were on the Stiff label. But that wasn’t the case. The Clash, for one, was on Epic (which was part of the Columbia label, which I would see on every Bob Dylan record (except for two, but that’s another story (which you can look up for yourself (because I’m not going to type the whole thing in)))). But with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Wreckless Eric, and Ian Dury and the Blockheads (with a Clash connection via Mickey Gallagher/Sandinista!) on Stiff, it seemed like the whole world was on Stiff. Maybe to show how “cool” I am, I should have picked something obscure from this album. “Police Car” by Larry Wallis would have worked. But each song on this album was a gateway drug to the individual artist, and all the songs were great.  (Including Nick Lowe’s brilliant throw-away, “Let’s Eat”.)

Elvis Costello: “This Year’s Girl”

This Year’s Model is another I-could-have-picked-any-song-from-this-album album. For example, I could have picked “The Beat.”  I’m not going to pick “Pump it Up” because that would be too obvious. But, as Elvis Costello himself said, the fourth song on the album is always the best. Somehow I bought the British version, rather than the U.S. version of this album, so I had “Night Rally,” rather than “Radio, Radio” on my copy. For years, I thought “Night Rally” was about some sort of car rally. I could also have picked “My Funny Valentine” from Stiffs Live. Or was the Burt Bacharach-Hal David, “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself”, live cover on Stiffs Live? (No, “My Funny Valentine” was on Taking Liberties and it wasn’t live.)  I suppose it doesn’t matter. This was Elvis Costello’s second album, but his first to be released in the U.S.  I’m pretty sure I was the first person in Mason City, Iowa to buy it the week it came out

The Clash: “Stay Free”

Mick wrote this about a male friend of his, but I took it to be about a female friend. The lyrics weren’t printed on the album, and you couldn’t really hear all the words, so how could I know? Anyway, I projected the lyrics onto a girl I had a crush on in high school (at the time). That makes my appreciation of this song premature nostalgia. Now it’s mature nostalgia. I always considered Mick the center of the Clash because he wrote the music, while Joe “only” wrote the words. I still think that (sort of). I know that there are bumper stickers that say “What Would Joe Strummer Do?”.  But Joe Strummer would have fired Mick and Topper for “ideological” reasons, wouldn’t he have, mate. This was the Clash’s second album, but the first to be released in the U.S.  I’m pretty sure I was the first person in Mason City, Iowa to buy it the week it came out.

The Beatles: “You Really Got a Hold on Me”

I don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of picking a Lennon-McCartney song, so I’m picking a cover version. The funny thing about every song that the Beatles covered was that I only knew the Beatles’ versions for decades. I never heard the originals until years later (and I probably still haven’t heard the original of “Mr. Moonlight”). John’s singing on this is gorgeous. They also do a brief version of this song in the Let it Be movie. John and George smile a lot while playing this song. Then the song finishes, and they both go back to their why-am-I-stuck-in-cold-Twickenham-studio-at-10-A.M.-being-bossed-around-by-Paul looks. If I were to pick a Lennon-McCartney song, I’d probably pick something from A Hard Day’s Night. Maybe “If I Fell” or “I’ll Be Back.” Or maybe “Don’t Let Me Down” from Let It Be. The rooftop version where John forgets his own lyrics and improvises nonsense lyrics. Or maybe I should pick something from In His Own Write. Would that count? I forgot to mention: this is a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles song.

Bob Dylan: “Idiot Wind” from Hard Rain

Maybe I should have picked “If Dogs Run Free” from New Morning because I genuinely like that song and then I would be the first person in the history of the world to say that “If Dogs Run Free” is my favorite Bob Dylan song. But the live Hard Rain album is Bob Dylan in the snarling, raging, angry portion of his prolonged, drawn-out failed (well-documented on record) marriage with Sara Dylan. A lot of people don’t like this album, which I don’t understand at all. Even Patti Smith said something about not liking this album, which means that even Patti Smith can be wrong occasionally. Out of Bob Dylan’s failed marriage came at least one brilliant album and 2–6 (depending on how you count them) very good to excellent records. On the second leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue, Bob Dylan wore this Middle-Eastern-looking thing on his head, and he looked more like Jesus than Jesus did. He looks beautiful. I include the video of this from the Hard Rain television special to prove this.


“Disco Inferno” by whoever recorded it. I was too much of a Rock Snob to like any disco songs in the late Seventies. I was wrong about that in several cases.

The High School Tapes