Barbara Allen's Cruelty

Original Text: 
Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2There was a faire maid dwellin,
4Her name was Barbara Allen.
5All in the merrye month of May,
6When greene buds they were swellin,
7Yong Jemmye Grove on his death-bed lay,
8For love of Barbara Allen.
9He sent his man unto her then,
10To the town, where shee was dwellin;
11You must come to my master deare,
13For death is printed on his face,
15Then haste away to comfort him,
16O lovelye Barbara Allen.
17Though death be printed on his face,
18And ore his harte is stealin,
19Yet little better shall he bee,
20For bonny Barbara Allen.
21So slowly, slowly, she came up,
22And slowly she came nye him;
23And all she sayd, when there she came,
24Yong man, I think y'are dying.
25He turnd his face unto her strait,
26With deadlye sorrow sighing;
27O lovely maid, come pity mee,
28Ime on my death-bed lying.
29If on your death-bed you doe lye,
30What needs the tale you are tellin:
31I cannot keep you from your death;
32Farewell, sayd Barbara Allen.
33He turnd his face unto the wall,
34As deadlye pangs he fell in:
35Adieu! adieu! adieu to you all,
36Adieu to Barbara Allen.
37As she was walking ore the fields,
38She heard the bell a knellin;
39And every stroke did seem to saye,
40Unworthy Barbara Allen.
41She turnd her bodye round about,
42And spied the corps a coming:
43Laye downe, laye downe the corps, she sayd,
44That I may look upon him.
45With scornful eye she looked downe,
46Her cheeke with laughter swellin;
47That all her friends cryd out amaine,
48Unworthye Barbara Allen.
49When he was dead, and laid in grave,
50Her harte was struck with sorrowe,
51O mother, mother, make my bed,
52For I shall dye to morrowe.
53Hard harted creature him to slight,
54Who loved me so dearlye:
55O that I had beene more kind to him,
56When he was live and neare me!
57She, on her death-bed as she laye,
58Beg'd to be buried by him;
59And sore repented of the daye,
60  That she did ere denye him.
61Farewell, she sayd, ye virgins all,
62And shun the fault I fell in:
63Henceforth take warning by the fall
64Of cruel Barbara Allen.


1] In 1765, Thomas Percy, later Bishop of Dromore, published in three volumes his collection of "old heroic ballads, songs and other pieces of our earlier poets together with some few of later date," under the title Reliques of Ancient English Poetry, The edition contained, in addition to a dedication to the Countess of Northumberland and a preface, an "Essay on the Ancient English Minstrels" which was, in part, responsible for the increasing interest in the ballad and minstrel literature of the past. It encouraged one poet at least, James Beattie (1735-1803), to write one of the century's best poems in the Spenserian stanza, The Minstrel (1771-74). Percy collected his materials from old manuscripts, from English and Scottish correspondents, from earlier printings of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ballads, from the archives of various antiquarian societies, and from earlier collections of ballads, especially the Pepys collection, "near 2000 in number, which he has left pasted in five volumes in folio," in the Library of Magdalen College, Cambridge. "Given, with some corrections, from an old black letter copy, entitled Barbara Allen's Cruelty, or the young man's tragedy (Percy's note). In an essay Goldsmith writes: "The music of the finest singer is dissonance to what I felt when our diary maid sung me into tears with Johnny Armstrong's Last Good Night, or the Cruelty of Barbara Allen."
Scarlet towne. "Carlisle town" has been suggested as the correct reading, but in some printed copies "Reading town" appears. It may be supposed that a pun was intended. Back to Line
3] wel-awaye: a traditional plaint uttered by a mediaeval lover. Back to Line
12] Giff: if. Back to Line
14] ore: o'er. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.233.