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> Norma Waterson > Songs > Green Grows the Laurel

Green Grow the Laurels / I Once Loved a Lass

[ Roud 279 ; G/D 6:1138 ; Ballad Index R061 ; trad.]

This parting song is from Peter Kennedy, Folksongs of Britain and Ireland, and was collected from Robert Cinnamond, Northern Ireland, in 1955. Sandy Denny recorded it for the BBC World Service radio programme “Folk Song Cellar” on December 2, 1966. it was broadcast on January 11, 1967. This recording was made available in 1989 on the fan club cassette The Attic Tracks Vol. 3 and in 2007 on the Live at the BBC 3CD+DVD set.

LaRena Clark sang this song as I Once Loved a Lass in 1965 in Toronto to the Canadian folklorist and collector Edith Fowke. It was released in 1969 on her Topic album A Canadian Garland: Folksongs from the Province of Ontario.

Louie Fuller sang Green Grow the Laurels in a recording made by Mike Yates in between 1972 and 1975 as the title track of the Topic album Green Grow the Laurels: Country Singers from the South. Mike Yates commented in the album's notes:

Ophelia, Shakespeare's tragic heroine, sings a number of song snatches in the play Hamlet. Several of these deal with what some writers call “the language of flowers” as does our present song. Of Green Grow the Laurels Peter Kennedy has this to say: “As love symbolism, green laurels imply innocence and fickleness, whereas violets stand for truth and constancy.”

The song is often met with today in southern England and is especially popular with travellers and gypsies.

Sue Harris sang Green Grow the Laurels in 1978 on her Free Reed album Hammers & Tongues.

Norma Waterson learned quite a different version with just a similar chorus from Queen Caroline Hughes. She recorded it in 2000 for her third solo album, Bright Shiny Morning. She commented in the album's sleeve notes:

From Queen Caroline Hughes. Of all English Traditional singers I think that Queen Caroline Hughes is my favourite. I first heard of her from Ewan MacColl in the early 1960s after he had recorded her for the radio ballad The Travelling People. Lal, Mike and I had a tape from (I think) Ewan in the early 1960s.

Josienne Clarke sang Green Grow the Laurels in 2012 on her and Ben Walker's CD Fire and Fortune.

Lyrics

Sandy Denny sings Green Grow the Laurels

Chorus:
Green grow the laurels, soft as the dew
Sad I was, darling, on parting from you
Perhaps in the future our love will renew
We'll love one another and promise to be true

I wrote my love a letter and he wrote me mine
I wrote my love a letter, he wrote me mine,
Said: Keep your love letter and I will keep mine,
You write to your love and I'll write to mine.

I passed my love's window both night time and day,
I passed my love's window both night time and day.
And the looks that he gave me a thousand would slay,
And the looks that he gave me a thousand would slay.

(Chorus)

Louie Fuller sings Green Grow the Laurels

I met a young damsel her age was sixteen,
She was as good looking as a young fairy queen.
I walked her, I talked her, I took her astray,
I changed the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Chorus (after each verse):
Green grow the laurels, so does the dew,
Sorry 'I've been since I parted from you.
But when I return, love, my joys shall be new,
Then I'll change the green laurels for the violets so blue.

Now the next one I met he was a bold tar,
His eyes and his medals shone like the blue star.
I gave him the wink and I called him away,
Then I changed the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Now the next one I met he was a pageboy,
I gave him my loving and all of my joy.
Now he has left me and gone far away,
But I'll change the green laurels for the violets so gay.

Norma Waterson sings Green Grows the Laurel

Now once I was a schoolgirl all in my pencil and slate
Can't you see what I've come to from staying out late
And it's once I had a colour that is as red as any rose
Ah but now I'm as pale as the lily that grows

Chorus (after each verse):
And it's green grows the laurel and so cold now blows the dew
And how sorry was I when I parted from you
Just like the rose in the garden when her bloom is all gone
Can't you see what I've come to for loving that man

Now my parents disliked me they've turned me away from their door
So I told them that I'd ramble like I used to before
And I picked up my baby and I've walked out the door
And I told them that I'd ramble like I used to before

So it's me and my baby and contented we will be
And I'll try to forget him like he forgot me
And while there's love on the ocean and there's on dry land
While there's breath into my body I will still love that man

Acknowledgements

Transcribed from the singing of Norma Waterson by Garry Gillard.