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The Carnal and the Crane

[ Roud 306 ; Child 55 ; Ballad Index C055 ; VWML RVW1/2/69 ; Bodleian Roud 306 ; trad.]

Peter Bellamy sang the carol The Carnal and the Crane unaccompanied in 1969 on his third solo LP, The Fox Jumps Over the Parson’s Gate. A.L. Lloyd commented in the album’s sleeve notes:

It’s possible that several of our well-known folk carols—such as Herod and the Cock, King Pharaoh (about the flight to Egypt), and The Miraculous Harvest—were once parts of a single lengthy religious epic, that ultimately broke up into a number of short ballads. Or were they all separate pieces that at some stage got grouped together in the form of a dialogue between a crane and a knowing crow (carnal = crow, as in French: corneille) ? In Child’s collection, the version has thirty verses and it comprises a whole chain or garland of international apocryphal Gospel legends. The present version, complete in itself but comprising only the opening part of the full set, comes mainly from Mr Hirons of Dilwyn, Herefordshire, and was noted by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1909 [VWML RVW1/2/69] . Probably the song is old, but we’ve no trace of any version before the nineteenth century. The tune, in a score of transformations, has served as a vehicle for folk carols for many centuries in various parts of Europe.

Nowell Sing We Clear sang The Carnal and the Crane and King Herod and the Cock in 1985 on their third album, Nowell Sing We Clear Vol. 3.

Jo Freya sang The Carnal and the Crane in 1992 on her Saydisc album Traditional Songs of England. The liner notes commented:

An ancient mystical conversation between a carnal (= crow—possibly from the French comeille) and the unlikely meeting with a crane telling of the birth of Jesus. ‘Rein’ = run (renne). It was first reported in a mid 18th century broadside which maybe ‘fixed’ an orally transmitted ballad in an incoherent and corrupted form.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang The Carnal and the Crane in 1998 on their No Masters CD A Garland of Carols.

The New Scorpion Band sang The Carnal and the Crane as the title track of their 2001 CD The Carnal and the Crane. They noted:

In this spiritual dialogue of birds, the Crane gives instruction to the Carnal, or crow—as in the French ‘Corneille’. This is another carol from Vaughan Williams’ ground-breaking trip to Herefordshire in July 1909, collected from Mr Hirons at Dilwyn, near Weobley. The Herefordshire version does not give the complete thirty-verse text, which was published in William Sandys’ Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern in 1833. We sing the first seven verses from Sandys, leaving out for reasons of brevity the stories of the Adoration of the Beasts, King Herod and the Cock and the Miraculous Harvest—which are fascinating, but lengthy.

Our arrangement uses oboe, cor anglais, flute, viola and laouto.

Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band recorded The Carnal and the Crane in 2001 for their CD Gold Frankincense & Myrhh and sang it some years later live at Oxford Town Hall. A recording of this concert was published in November 2005 on the CD and DVD An Evening of Carols and Capers.

Jim Causley sang The Carnal and the Crane in 2005 on his WildGoose CD Fruits of the Earth. He commented in his liner notes:

I’m a big fan of the apocryphal ballads with their slightly mixed-up and often sinister versions of bible stories set amid the English countryside! And no one sang them better than Shropshire singer May Bradley. Her singing chills me to the bone in the most delightful way. I didn’t learn this one from her though (although I bet she’d of loved it). It’s not set in England and the exotic tune came to me when I was stuck on a long train journey sat next to a somewhat pissed Glaswegian. That’s how I deal with such situations—make up weird tunes for apocryphal carols.


Peter Bellamy sings The Carnal and the Crane

As I passed by a river side,
And there as I did reign,
In argument I chanced to hear
A carnal and a crane.

The carnal said unto the crane,
“If all the world should turn,
Before we had the Father,
But now we have the Son!”

“From whence does the Son come,
From where and from what place?”
He said, “In a manger,
Between an ox and ass.”

“I pray thee,” said the carnal,
“Tell me before thou go,
Was not the mother of Jesus Christ
Conceiv’d by the Holy Ghost?”

She was the purest virgin,
And the cleanest from all sin;
She was the handmaid of our Lord
And the mother of our king.”

“Where is the golden cradle
That Christ was rocked in?
And where are the silken sheets
That Jesus was wrapt in?”

“A manger was the cradle
That Christ was rocked in.
The provender the asses left
So sweetly he slept on.”