The Two Sisters

Original Text: 
Popular Ballads and songs from Tradition, Manuscripts, and Scarce Editions (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable, 1806). 2 vols. RB154135-36 Fisher Rare Book Library
2    Edinburgh, Edinburgh
3There was twa sisters in a bowr,
4    Stirling for ay
5There was twa sisters in a bowr,
6There came a knight to be their wooer.
8  He courted the eldest wi glove an ring,
9But he lovd the youngest above a' thing.
10  He courted the eldest wi brotch an knife,
11But lovd the youngest as his life.
12  The eldest she was vexed sair,
13An much envi'd her sister fair.
14  Into her bowr she could not rest,
16  Upon a morning fair an clear,
17She cried upon her sister dear:
18  "O sister, come to yon sea stran,
19An see our father's ships come to lan."
20  She's taen her by the milk-white han,
21An led her down to yon sea stran.
22  The youngest stood upon a stane,
23The eldest came an threw her in.
24  She tooke her by the middle sma,
26  "O sister, sister, tak my han,
28  "O sister, sister, tak my middle,
30  "O sister, sister, save my life,
31An I swear Ise never be nae man's wife."
33It twin'd me an my wardles make.
34  "Your cherry cheeks an yallow hair
36  Sometimes she sank, an sometimes she swam,
37Till she came down yon bonny mill-dam.
38  O out it came the miller's son,
39An saw the fair maid swimmin in.
40  "O father, father, draw your dam,
41Here's either a mermaid or a swan."
42  The miller quickly drew the dam,
43An there he found a drownd woman.
44  You coudna see her yallow hair
45For gold and pearle that were so rare.
46  You coudna see her middle sma
48  You coudna see her fingers white,
50  An by there came a harper fine,
52  When he did look that lady upon,
53He sighd and made a heavy moan.
54  He's taen three locks o her yallow hair,
55An wi them strung his harp sae fair.
57Was, "Farewell to my father the king."
59Was, "Farewell to my mother the queen."
60  The lasten tune that he playd then,
61Was, "Wae to my sister, fair Ellen."


1] The Twa Sisters exists in twenty-seven versions, some of them fragmentary. The earliest recorded version was printed as a broadside ballad in 1656 and in the miscellanies Wit Restor'd (1658) and Wit and Drollery (1682). The version here printed is from the Jamieson-Brown MS. and was recorded about 1783 and first printed in Jamieson's Popular Ballads, 1806. There are many Scandinavian versions of this ballad and the theme is widespread in folk-tales. Back to Line
7] The refrains vary in the different versions. Another form is:
Binnorie, O Binnorie
By the bonny mill-dams of Binnorie.
Back to Line
15] brast: burst. Back to Line
25] jaw: waves. Back to Line
27] Ise mack: I'll make. Back to Line
29] yes: you shall.
goud: gold. Back to Line
32] Curse on the hand that I should take; for it separated me from my worldly mate (expected husband). Back to Line
35] cause me to be unwed forever. Back to Line
47] braw: splendid. Back to Line
49] gryte: great. Back to Line
51] dine: dinner. Back to Line
56] In an Icelandic version the three strings themselves speak and reveal the elder sister's guilt. This would seem to be the original form of the incident. Back to Line
58] syne: afterwards. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP.1.72; RPO 1996-2000.