Sweet William's Ghost

Original Text: 
[Allan Ramsay's] Tea-table Miscellany (Edinburgh, 1724). Micr. no. 278 MICR (Toronto), from original in the Henry E. Huntington Library. Reprinted in Thomas Percy, Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). 3rd. edn. (London: J. Dodsley, 1775). B-11 6294 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto).
2With many a grievous grone,
4But answer made she none.
5Is this my father Philip?
6Or is't my brother John?
7Or is't my true love Willie,
8From Scotland new come home?
9'Tis not thy father Philip;
10Nor yet thy brother John:
11But 'tis thy true love Willie,
12From Scotland new come home.
13O sweet Margret! O dear Margret!
14I pray thee speak to mee:
15Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
16As I gave it to thee.
18'Of me shalt nevir win,'
19Till that thou come within my bower,
20And kiss my cheek and chin.
21If I should come within thy bower,
22I am no earthly man:
23And should I kiss thy rosy lipp,
24Thy days will not be lang.
25O sweet Margret, O dear Margret,
26I pray thee speak to mee:
27Give me my faith and troth, Margret,
28As I gave it to thee.
29Thy faith and troth thou'se nevir get,
30'Of me shalt nevir win,'
31Till thou take me to yon kirk yard,
32And wed me with a ring.
33My bones are buried in a kirk yard
34Afar beyond the sea,
35And it is but my sprite, Margret,
36That's speaking now to thee.
37She stretched out her lilly-white hand,
38As for to do her best:
39Hae there your faith and troth, Willie,
40God send your soul good rest.
41Now she has kilted her robes of green,
42A piece below her knee:
43And a' the live-lang winter night
44The dead corps followed shee.
45Is there any room at your head, Willie?
46Or any room at your feet?
47Or any room at your side, Willie,
48Wherein that I may creep?
49There's nae room at my head, Margret,
50There's nae room at my feet,
51There's no room at my side, Margret,
52My coffin is made so meet.
53Then up and crew the red red cock,
54And up then crew the gray:
55'Tis time, 'tis time, my dear Margret,
57No more the ghost to Margret said,
58But, with a grievous grone,
59Evanish'd in a cloud of mist,
60And left her all alone.
61O stay, my only true love, stay,
62The constant Margret cried:
63Wan grew her cheeks, she clos'd her een,
64Stretch'd her saft limbs, and died.


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. "From Allan Ramsay's Tea Table Miscellany [1724]. The concluding stanza of the piece seems modern" (Percy). Many ballads treat this theme, although in some it is Margaret who appears to William. It has been suggested that the last two stanzas are probably the work of Ramsay. Back to Line
3] tirled ot the pin: "turned the pin" on the outside of the door, thereby raising the latch. Back to Line
17] thou'se: thou shalt. Back to Line
35] sprite: spirit. Back to Line
56] you. In most later editions "you" has been changed to "I." Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
G. G. Falle
RPO Edition: 
3RP 2.235.