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The Gay Goshawk

[ Roud 61 ; Child 96 ; Ballad Index C096 ; trad.]

James Kinsley: The Oxford Book of Ballad Sir Walter Scott: Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border

The Gay Goshawk is the story of an English young woman tricking her father into her being able to marry the Scot she loves.

Pete Morton sang an anglicised version of Child 96A, The Gay Goshawk, on his 1998 Harbourtown album Trespass. This track was also included in 2002 on his anthology Another Train. He noted:

Made this one up too. Found it in a book called British Popular Ballads (owned by Rosie & Will of Broadoak, Dorset—both in their 90’s). Never heard anyone sing it before—how popular is it exactly?

The Magpie Arc sang The Gay Goshawk in 2022 on their album Glamour in the Grey.

Note that The Gay Goshawk on Mr Fox’s eponymous album Mr Fox is quite another song, written by Carole Pegg.


Pete Morton sings The Gay Goshawk

“O, well is me with my gay goshawk,
Cause he can speak and flee;
He’ll carry a letter to my love,
He’ll bring one home to me.”

“O, how will I your true love recognise,
How will I know?
When from her mouth I’ve never heard a word,
What will my old eyes show?”

“O, you will my true love know
As soon as you see;
Of the fairest flowers in England
The fairest flower is she.

“And down there by her bower door
There grows a birch,
I want you to go down there and sit there and sing
As she comes out of church.

“There’ll be four and twenty ladies
All going to the church,
Ah but you will my true love know
For she wears gold in her skirt.

“There’ll be four and twenty ladies
All to the mass repair,
Ah but you will my true love know
For she wears gold in her hair.”

So he has flown to her bower door
Where grows the birch,
And the gay goshawk he starts to sing
As she’s coming out of church.

“O, eat and drink, my Marys all,
The wine it flows among,
I’m going over to the bay window
To hear my bonny bird’s song.

“Sing to me, sing to me, my bonny bird
The song you sing so long,
Cause I can tell by your sweet singing
From my true love you come.”

The first song he sang was merry,
Then he sang one sad and grave;
And then he pulled back his feathers grey
And to her a letter gave.

“Here’s a letter from your love,
He says he sent you three;
He cannot wait your love any longer,
He says for your sake he’s gonna die.

“He bids you write him a letter,
He says he’s sent you five;
He cannot wait your love any lanker,
He thinks you’re the fairest woman alive.”

“Tell him to bake the bridal bread
And tell him to brew the wine,
Tell him I’ll be up in fair Scotland
Through a journey of [tine?].”

Then she’s gone down to he father’s house
And fallen down at his knee,
“One favour, one favour, my father dear,
I pray, grant it to me.”

“Ask me, ask me, my daughter,
And granted it shall be;
Anything except a meeting with that so-called squire in Scotland,
Him you’ll never see.”

“The only favour, my father dear,
That I do crave from thee,
If I die in these southern lands,
In Scotland bury me.

“And at the first church you come to
There the bells must be rung,
And the next church you come to
The mess must be sung.

“The third church that you come to
You deal in gold for my sake,
And the fourth church just o’er the border
Is where my body you will take.”

There she’s run back to her bower
As fast as she could fare,
And she has taken a sleeping drink,
She’s mixed it with care.

She’s laid down upon the bed
And soon she’s fallen asleep,
And soon over every tender limb
A numbness and whiteness did creep.

When night was flown, and day was come,
And no one did her see,
They thought that she was surely dead
As any lady could be.

Her father weeped, her father grieved,
He called all her brothers to his assist;
“Take her body o’er the border
Just as she wished.”

The first church that they came to,
There the bells were rung,
The next church that they came to
There the mess was sung.

The third church that they came to
They dealt in gold for her sake,
The fourth church just o’er the border
Is where her body they did take.

Then they heard a voice say,
“Let me look there in.”
With cheery cheeks and ruby lips
She laid a smile on him.

“Oh, we can have the bread, my love, now,
We can have the wine;
For you have fasted for our sake
Through your journey of [tine?].”

“Go hame, go hame, my bold brothers,
Go hame and sound your horn;
You can boast in the southern lands,
By your sister you were scorned.”

“O, well is me with my gay goshawk,
Cause he can speak and flee;
He carried a letter to my true love,
And brought her home to me.”