> Martin Carthy > Songs > I Was a Young Man
> Tony Rose > Songs > Poor Man's Sorrows

I Was a Young Man / Poor Man's Labours / Poor Man's Sorrows

[ Roud 1572 ; G/D 7:1291 ; Ballad Index ShH69 ; Bodleian Roud 1572 ; trad.]

I Was a Young Man (also called The Poor Man's Labours and The Poor Man's Sorrow) is a bitter complaint about a lazy wife. It was printed in Folk Music Journal 1966, pp. 80-81, in a version noted by Mrs Harper from her mother in August 1907. This seems to be an Anglicised version of a song from the Greig-Duncan collection of Songs from North-East Scotland.

Martin Carthy sang I Was a Young Man with Steeleye Span live in a “Top Gear” BBC radio session recorded June 23, 1970 in the studio Maida Vale 4 and broadcast June 27, 1970. This session was included as bonus tracks of the 2006 CD reissue of Steeleye Span's Please to See the King; but beware that it was transferred from a quite poor tape. Two years later, he recorded the song properly for his 1972 album Shearwater with double-tracked singing and a quite aggressive dulcimer; this was reissued on his 4 CD anthology The Carthy Chronicles. Another year later, he and John Kirkpatrick sang I Was a Young Man with the Albion Country Band on March 1, 1973 on “Top Gear” and they recorded it for their album Battle of the Field. However, this album was shelved due to the break-up of the band and had to wait until 1976 to be released on Island's budget label HELP in 1976. Martin Carthy commented in his own album's sleeve notes:

The capacity to work things out to everybody's satisfaction is sadly lacking in I Was a Young Man where the unfortunate husband, dominated from the start, begs Death to come in as a release. Her Death. (Duncan collection of songs from NE Scotland).

Tony Rose sang this song with double tracked vocals and a few more verses as Poor Man's Sorrows on his 1976 LP On Banks of Green Willow. He commented in his sleeve notes:

Poor Man's Sorrows is a somewhat bitter plea for men's (a man's) liberation, which is all the more surprising as it comes from Scotland (the Duncan collection), where I had always thought men were hirsutedly men. This one's nothing but a “wee, sleekit, cow'rin', tim'rous beastie”.

Len Graham sang When I Was a Bachelor in 1976 on Joe Holmes' and his Free Reed album of traditional songs, ballads, lilts and fiddle tunes from the North of Ireland, Chaste Muses, Bards and Sages.

The Battlefield Band sang The Bachelor in 1978 on their Topic album At the Front. They commented in their sleeve notes:

We learned this song from Jimmy Crowley of Cork. He sang it for Pat [Kilbride] the first time we met him, in the folk club at Bolger's Hotel, Tullamore, where he was playing. We believe he learned it from Len Graham, who has also recorded it.

Little Johnny England sang I Was a Young Man in 2000 on their eponymous CD Little Johnny England.

Crucible sang Poor Man's Labours in 2003 on their WildGoose album Changeling.

Jon Boden sang this song as The Poor Man's Labours as the October 6, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day, referring to Martin Carthy's version:

Hell of a Carthy track this. I don’t normally like double tracked voices in harmony but there’s something punky and at the same time vaguely prog about the way he pulls it off over a fairly brutal dulcimer drone. What a genius. It’s a good song too.

Compare to this The Young Tradition's The Single Man's Warning (Roud 4744).

Lyrics

Martin Carthy sings I Was a Young ManTony Rose sings Poor Man's Sorrow

I was a young man, I was a rover,
Nothing would satisfy me but a wife.
Soon as I reached the age of twenty
Weary was I of a single life.

Now when I was a young man, I was a rover,
Nothing wouldn't satisfy me but a wife.
Along long ere I was the age of twenty
Weary I was of a single life.

Kissing and clapping was my occupation,
Among the females I did roam.
Now I am married and I live at my leisure
But the poor man's labours are never o'er.

The very first year my wife I married,
Out of her company I could not stay.
Her voice was sweet as the lark or the linnet
Or the nightingale at the break of day.

When the first time I married my wife Janet,
Out of her company I could not stay.
Her voice it was sweeter than the lark or the linnet
Or the nightingale at the break of day.

Now she's fairly altered her meaning,
Now she's fairly changed her tune.
Nothing but scolding comes from her mouth
So the poor man's labour's never done.

But now she's fairly altered her meaning,
Now she's fairly altered her tune.
Nothing but scoldings comes up her throat
So the poor man's labours are never done.

The very first year that we were married
Scarce could I get one half hour's sleep.
With her two heels she rubbed my shins,
Cries, “Husband dear, put down your feet.”

In the first half year that we was married
Scarce did I get one a-half hour's sleep.
With her two heels she rubbed my shins,
Says, “Husband dear, put down your feet.”

And when I asked her what was the meaning
Her answer to me was a “Come, come, come.”
Young men's wives they must have pleasures
So the poor man's labours are never done.

In the next half year that we was married
She brought to me our loving babe.
Sat me down to rocking and cradle
And give it a gaudy when it await.

The baby cried, she bitterly scolded,
Down to the door I was forced for to run.
Without trousers, wig or a waistcoat,
The poor man's labour's never done.

When it cried, she bitterly scolded,
To the door I was forced to run.
Without trousers, a wig or a waistcoat,
The poor man's labours are never done.

I went up to the top of the hill
For to view my sheep that had all gone astray.
When I came back she was lying in her bed
At twelve o'clock on a winter's day.

So it's I went up to the top of the hill
To view my sheep, they had all gone astray.
When I came back she was lying in her bed
At twelve o'clock on a winter's day.

When I came back both wet and weary,
Weary and wet, now where could I run?
She was lying in her bed, the fire up beside her,
She said, “Young man, is the kettle on?”

When I came back both wet and weary,
Wet and weary, where could I run?
She was lying in her bed, the fire up beside her,
She said, “Young man, is the kettle on?”

And as I was a-sitting by the side of the fire,
My wife come in as black as a gun.
Slap! come her fist into my face
So the poor man's labours are never done.

I'll go home to my aged mother,
She'll be sitting all alone;
Says there's plenty young women to be had
Why should I be tied to one?

So it's I'll go to my aged mother
She is a-sitting there all alone;
Says there's plenty of young women to be had
So why shouldn't I be tied to one?

Take the second one and do try her,
And if you find that she will not do,
Take the third one and then a fourth
And then you'll find your follies new.

All young men that is to marry
Though they'll grieve you ever more,
Death o Death, come take my wife
And then my sorrows will be o'er.

So it's all young men that means for to marry
Be sure and wait for a good, good wife.
And never marry my wife's sister
For she'll grieve you all your life.

Never marry a mother's daughter,
For she'll grieve you ever more.
Oh Death come and take my wife
And then my sorrows will be o'er.

Links and Acknowledgements

See also the Mudcat Café thread Lyr Req: When I Was a Young Man (Albion Band).

Transcribed from Martin Carthy's singing by Garry Gillard.