> Spiers & Boden > Songs > Cruel Knife

Cruel Knife

[ Roud 500 ; Laws F1 ; Ballad Index LF01 ; trad.]

The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys sang The Jealous Lover to Mike Seeger on 8 August 1956. This recording was included in 1978 on the Blue Ridge Institute album in their Virginia Traditions series, Ballads From British Tradition.

John Spiers and Jon Boden recorded Cruel Knife—a song obviously related to The Banks of Red Roses—in 2005 for their Fellside CD Songs. Jon Boden also sang it on 11 August 2010 in his A Folk Song a Day project. He commented:

There’s a preponderance of girlfriend murdering songs and this is my contribution to the canon. The words are from The Viking/Penguin Book of Folk Ballads of the English Speaking World, but I had to tweak them a bit (sweet Florilla seemed a little improbable as the heroine’s name) and I nicked the tune from The Flying Cloud, one of Louis Killen’s big numbers.

Albert Barron Friedman’s The Viking Book of Folk Ballads of the English Speaking World (Viking 1956; Penguin 1964) became, to the surprise of its compiler, a must-have for the folk revival in the United States. According to the words of Timothy Lloyd, executive director of the American Folklore Society, that book “introduced generations of students to folk music scholarship.” The compilation sampled the entire corpus of Anglo-American balladry, from F.J. Child’s canonical 305, through broadsides and songsters, both British and American, to Native American ballads. Most unusually for a popular collection, Friedman’s Folk Ballads included versions and variants of many of the songs.


Jon Boden sings Cruel Knife

Down by a weeping willow, where the white violets bloom,
There lies sweet lovely Nancy so silent in her tomb.
She died not broken-hearted nor sickness her befell,
But in one moment was parted from the life she loved so well.

One night the moon shone brightly and the gentle zephyrs blew
When to her bedroom window her lover then he drew.
He said, “Come let us wander, in those dark woods we’ll stray,
And there we’ll sit and ponder all upon our wedding day.”

“These woods are dark and dreadful, I am afraid to stay,
Of wandering I am weary, so I’ll retrace my way.”
“Those woods, these gentle zephyrs your feet no more will roam,
So bid farewell forever to all the things that you have known.”

Down on her knees before him then she pleaded for her life
When deep into her bosom he plunged the cruel knife.
“Oh William, cruel William,” it was her dying breath;
Her heart’s blood stained the leaves below and her eyes were closed in death.

(repeat first verse)