The Laily Worm and the Mackerel of the Sea

Original Text: 
Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, 5 vols. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1882-98): . PR 1181 C5 1882 Robarts Library
7An o my sister Meassry
8    The machrel of the sea.
9  "An every Saterday att noon
10    The machrl comes to me,
11An she takes my layl{.e} head,
14    An washes it in the sea.
15  "Seven knights ha I slain
17An ye war na my ain father,
18    The eight an ye sud be."
19"Sing on your song, ye laily worm,
20    That ye sung to me;"
21"I never sung that song
23  "I was but seven year aull
24    Fan my mider she did dee,
25My father marr{.e}d the a warst woman
26    The wardle did ever see.
27  "She changed me to the layely worm
28    That layes att the fitt of the tree,
29An my sister Messry
30    To the makrell of the sea.
31  "And every Saterday att noon
32    The machrell comes to me,
33An she takes my layly head,
34    An layes it on her knee,
35An kames it weth a siller kame,
36    An washes it in the sea.
37  "Seven knights ha I slain
38    San I lay att the fitt of the tree;
39An ye war na my ain father,
40    The eight ye sud be."
41  He sent for his lady
44    That ye sent fra me,
45And my daughter,
46    Lady Messry?"
47  "Yer son is att our king's court,
48    Sarving for meatt an fee,
49And yer daughter is att our quin's court,
52    Sa loud as I hear ye lea,
53For my son is the layelly worm
54    That lays at the fitt of the tree,
55An my daughter Messry
56    The machrell of the sea."
58    An gine him stroks three,
59And he started up the bravest knight
60    Your eyes did ever see.
61  She has tane a small horn
64    An she stood by the sea:
67  He has sent to the wood
69An he has tane that gay lady,
70    An ther he did her burne.


1] There is only one version of this ballad, which was recorded in the north of Scotland about 1805. It was printed by Child from a MS. formerly in the possession of Sir Walter Scott, which he called the "collection of an old lady's complete set of ballads." Similar stories of transformation by enchantment are told in the ballads Kemp Owyne and Allison Gros (Child, 34 and 35). Back to Line
2] Fan: when. Back to Line
3] ae warst: one worst. Back to Line
4] wardle: world. Back to Line
5] lailly worm: loathsome serpent. Back to Line
6] fitt: foot. Back to Line
12] Perhaps the mackerel regained her rightful shape at these times. Back to Line
13] And combs with a silver comb. Back to Line
16] Sane: since. Back to Line
22] fatt: what. Back to Line
42] cod: could. Back to Line
43] Far: where. Back to Line
50] A maid-of-honour sweet and gracious. Back to Line
51] lee: lie. Back to Line
57] tain: taken.
wan: wand. Back to Line
62] shill: shrill. Back to Line
63] tell: to. Back to Line
65] ance: once.
unshemly: unseemly. Back to Line
66] ye's: you shall. Back to Line
68] fun: whin, gorse. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.74; RPO 1996-2000.