> Folk Music > Songs > Silver Dagger / Doleful Warning / Katie Dear

Silver Dagger / Doleful Warning / Katie Dear

[ Roud 711 ; Laws G21 ; G/D 2:320 ; Ballad Index LG21 ; Mudcat 50151 ; trad.]

Lulabelle Green sang Silver Dagger to Mark Wilson at Sandy Hook, Kentucky in August 1973. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Folk songs of the American Upper Sauth, Meeting's a Pleasure Volume 1. Mark Wilson and Rod Stradling noted:

Alva Greene, although he undoubtedly knew many old songs, steadfastly refused to sing a note for us. One day I was asking him about such matters and he said, “Oh, I think Lulabelle knows that”, and called out his wife, whom I had scarcely met before she had previously always hidden in the back part of the house during our visits (or so I presume). This is only the second half of the song and it may well be that, when I invited her to come over to the microphones, she began where she had last left off (she was understandably very nervous). I would have like to work with her further, but this was unfortunately the day on which Social Security checks arrive in the mountains and Alva terminated our session soon after, just as soon as the mailman arrived. Since all of our later sessions with Alva occurred over at Francis Gillum's place, I never met Lulabelle again. Her short selection gives a good representation of the common style of Appalachian singing that was undoubtedly once universal in the region.

Folk Songs of the Catskills has a good note on the complications of this nineteenth century song, whose elements sometimes entangle with those of Katy Dear. Early recordings of the ballad seem comparatively scarce and completely at odds with its popularity in tradition, possibly because its normal length is not easily telescoped to a three minute span. Sarah Gunning sang it for me on Rdr 0051 [see above] and Tommy Moore supplies a version on SF 40029. More recent versions can be found on MT 321 and MT 323.

Sarah Ogan Gunning sang The Silver Dagger as the title track of her 1976 Rounder album The Silver Dagger. Mark Wilson noted:

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first commercial recording by an authentic singer of this well-known American ballad. Here, as in several other songs heard on this record, Sarah surprisingly incorporates a variant melody line in verse four. She performs such extrapolations consistently, a trait she derives from her mother's singing.

Evelyn Ramsey sang The Truelover's Warning to Mike Yates on 30 August 1980 at her home in Sodom Laurel, Madison County, North Carolina. This recording was included in 2002 on the Musical Traditions anthology Far in the Mountains Volume 2. And Doug Wallin sang The Youthful Warning to Mike Yates on 23 May 1983 at his home at Crane Branch, Madison County, North Carolina. This recording was included in 2002 too on the Musical Traditions anthology Far in the Mountains Volume 3. Mike Yates noted on the first album:

This version of The Silver Dagger was well-established in Madison County when I first visited the area—although Cecil Sharp only published sets from Kentucky and Virginia—and I also recorded three of Evelyn's neighbours singing versions of the song. (Doug Wallin's version appears on Volume 3, track 20, of this set).

When, in 1949, Arthur Kyle Davis published his checklist of songs and ballads collected in Virginia, he was able to list eighteen sets, including one recording made by Texas Gladden, the sister of Hobart Smith, who called it, appropriately, Broken Hearts. A version from the singing of Holey Huntley may be heard on Augusta Heritage cassette 009, and listeners may wish to compare Evelyn's version with that recorded by Charlie Oaks and His Family, Wake Up You Drowsy Sleeper, that is reissued on Yazoo 2028.

Gene and Margie York sang Katy Dear to Mark Wilson and John Harrod at Corinth, Kentucky on 4 June 1997. This recording was included in 2007 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Folk songs of the American Upper Sauth, Meeting's a Pleasure Volume 1. Rod Stradling noted:

This venerable Old World lyric (e.g., Sharp, English Country Songs) often gets entangled in America with elements of The Silver Dagger. The song is a great favorite amongst country harmony groups like the Yorks, usually in a version that seems to derive, courtesy of later covers by the Blue Sky Boys and the Louvin Brothers, from a 1934 ARC recording by the Callahan Brothers. Earlier, B.F. Sheldon recorded a haunting version of a different text on Vi 40107.

Dallahan sang Katy Dear in 2014 on their first album When the Day Is on the Turn.

Jim Moray sang Silver Dagger in 2010 on his album In Modern History.

The Shackleton Trio sang Katie Dear on their 2016 CD The Dog Who Would Not Be Washed.

Bruce Greene and Loy McWhirter sang Doleful Warning on the 2017 anthology of the Appalachian ballad tradition, Big Bend Killing.

Doleful Warning, also known as An Awful Warning, is related to Silver Dagger (a ballad associated with Joan Baez, who recorded it as the first track on her first album) and Katy Dear (memorably recorded by The Blue Sky Boys and The Louvin Brothers). The close harmony version of Doleful Warning heard on this album was sung before a single microphone by husband-and-wife Bruce Greene and Loy McWhirter. Having sung together since 1975, the duo in 2006 released Come Near My Love, an album showcasing their unaccompanied duet harmony singing style on a range of ballads and songs. Greene and McWhirter pride themselves in their instinctive—rather than formal or studied—performance technique, as revealed in their rendition of Doleful Warning. For instance, they at times select different words with which to deliver their doleful story—such as at 0:51 seconds when Greene sings ‘took’ while McWhirter simultaneously sings ‘pulled’. Such an approach introduces an atmosphere of spontaneity and uncertainty to this haunting ballad.

Lyrics

Lulabelle Green sings Silver Dagger

She pulled out a silver dagger,
She pierced it through her snow white breast.
At first she reeled and then she staggered,
Saying, “Farewell, wide world, I'm going to rest.”

Young Willie down by the roadside wondering,
He thought he heard his true love's voice.
He ran, he ran like a man distracted,
Saying, "Love, oh love, I'm afraid you're lost.”

Her coal black eyes like a diamond cinders,
“Love, oh love, you've come too late.
Propose to meet me on Mt Zion
Where all of our sorrows will be complete.”

He picked up the silver dagger,
He pierced it through his own true heart,
Saying, “Let this be a youthful's warning
Where all true lovers hates to part.”

Sarah Ogan Gunning sings The Silver Dagger

Young people, pray, pay close attention
To these few lines I'm going to write.
They are as true as ever were written
Concerning a bright and beauty bride.

There was a young man who courted a lady
And he loved her as dear as he loved his life.
And he often bowed and swore unto her;
He intended to make her his lawful wife.

When his old parents come to know this
They strived to part them night and day,
Saying, “Son, my son, don't be so foolish.”
“She is too poor,” they'd often say.

He fell upon his knees before them
Saying, “Cruel parents, pity me,
Don't take from me my only darling.
She's worth this whole round world to me.”

When this young lady came to know this
She roamed through fields and meadows 'round
Hunting for some bright clear water
In a shady grove where she set down.

This young lady left the city
She roamed through fields and meadows wide.
An awful death she had prepared
And a silver weapon by her side.

She picked up this silver weapon
And pierced it through her snowy white breast.
At first she reeled and then she staggered.
“Farewell, vain world, I'm going to rest.”

And this young man being on the water
He heard his true love's dying groan.
He ran, he ran like a man distracted.
“I'm lost, I'm ruined, I'm left alone.”

She turned her pale blue eyes toward him.
“True love, true love, you've come to late.
Prepare to meet me on Mount Zion
Where all our trials will be complete.”

Then he picked up the bloody weapon
And pierced it through his tender heart.
And let this be a woeful warning
To all true loves who parents part.

Evelyn Ramsey sings The Truelover's Warning

Come all you friends and pay attention,
And listen to these few lines I'm going to write.
They are as true as ever was written,
Concerning the life of a beautiful bride.

A young man courted a handsome lady,
He loved her as dear as he loved his life.
And unto him she made this promise,
She would be his lawful wife.

As soon as her parents learnt to know this,
They tried to part them night and day.
“Oh son, why be so foolish?
She's too poor,” they would often say.

Down on his knees before his father,
He cried, “Oh father, please pity me.
How can you keep me from my true-love?
For she is all the world to me.”

As soon as this lady came to know this,
She soon made up what she would do.
She wandered forward and left the city,
The green wild rose no more to view.

She wandered down by the lonesome river,
And for death she did prepare.
“Let this be a youthful warning,
That all true-lovers may never part.”

Her true-love being not far behind her,
He heard an awful sound.
He looked and saw his true-love lying,
With a sword upon the ground.

Her cold black eyes, like stars she opened,
Saying, “Love, oh love, you've come too late.
Prepare to meet me up in Heaven,
Where all true-lovers will be complete.”

He then picked up the sword, a-weeping,
And placed it to his own dear heart.
Saying, “Won't this be a youthful morning,
When all true-lovers may never part.'”

Doug Wallin sings The Youthful Warning

A young man courted a handsome lady,
He loved her dear as he loved his life.
And unto him she made this promise,
That she would be his lawful wife.

As soon as his parents came to know this,
They strove to part them night and day.
Saying, “Son, oh son, can't you remember
That she is poor”, they would often say.

As soon as the lady came to know this,
She soon made up what she would do.
She wandered forth and left the city,
The green wild rose no more to be.

And coal black eyes like stars she opened,
Saying, “Love, oh love, you've come too late.
Prepare to meet me on Mount Zion,
For you will always find me there.”

Then he picked up that bloody dagger,
And stabbed it to his own true heart.
Saying, “Let this be a youthful warning,
That all true lovers shall never part.”

Gene and Margie York sing Katy Dear

“Oh, Katy dear, go ask your mother
If you can be a bride of mine?
If she says, yes, we'll go and get married
If she says no, we'll run away.”

“Oh, Willie dear, there's no need asking
She's in her room taking a rest
And by her side is a silver dagger
To slay the one that I love best.”

So he picked up that silver dagger
And plunged it through his troubled heart.
Saying, “Goodbye, Katy, goodbye darling,
It's now forever we must part.”

So she picked up that bloody dagger
And plunged it through her lily white breast
Saying, “Goodbye, Papa, goodbye, Mama
I'll die for the one that I love best.”

The Shackleton Trio sing Katie Dear

“Oh Katie dear, go ask your mother
If you can be a bride of mine.
If she says yes come back and tell me
If she says no we'll run away.”

“Oh Willie dear there's no use in asking,
She's in her room a-taking rest.
And by her side is a silver dagger
To slay the one that I love best.”

“Oh Katie dear, go ask your father
If you can be a bride of mine.
If he says yes come back and tell me
If he says no we'll run away.”

“Oh Willie dear, there's no need in asking,
For he's in his room a-taking rest.
And by his side lies a golden dagger
To slay the one that I love best.”

So he picked up that golden dagger
And stove it through his troubled heart,
Saying, “goodbye Katie, goodbye darling.
At last the time it comes to part.”

So she picked up that bloody dagger
And stove it through her lily white breast,
Saying, “goodbye papa, goodbye mama,
I'll die with the one that I love best.”

Bruce Greene and Loy McWhirter sing Doleful Warning

Young people all come pay attention
To these few lines I’m going to write;
A youth, a youth to you I’ll mention,
For once I courted a pretty fair maid.

Soon as her parents came to know it,
They strove to part us both day and night,
They strove to part me and my own true lover
Who in all this world s my heart’s delight.

She wandered away all broken-hearted,
She wandered away and left the town,
She wandered away across the broad river
And under the shade of a tree sat down.

She took [pulled] out a silver weapon
And she pierced it through her snow-white breast,
Saying, “Let this be a doleful warning
To all young lovers, I’m going to rest.”

Her true love was not far behind her,
And he heard her make her sad sweet groan;
He come running up like one distracted,
He cried, “Oh Lord, I’m left alone.”

Her true blue eyes to him were opened,
Saying, “Oh true love, I’m gone to rest,
For yonder lies a silver dagger,
I’ve pierced it through my wounded breast.”

He picked up the bloody weapon
And pierced it through his wounded heart,
Saying, “Let this be a doleful warning
To all young lovers who have to part.”