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The Bonny Birdy

[ Roud 3972 ; Child 82 ; Ballad Index C082 ; DT BONBIRDI ; trad.]

Ray Fisher sang Bonny Birdy as the title track of her 1972 Trailer album The Bonny Birdy.

Peter Knight sang Bonny Birdy on Steeleye Span’s 1998 CD, Horkstow Grange. He noted::

The main part of this Scottish ballad is the same as The Little Musgrave [Child 81]. In this story, the false knight gives his lover a bird, and instructs her to feed it, and play with it. She does neither, so the bird flies off to spill the beans. A box of chocolates would have been safer.

Peter Knight also sang Bonny Birdy on Gigspanner’s May 2010 tour. A live recording of this was released in the same year on their CD Doors at Eight.

Fiona Hunter learned Bonny Birdy from the singing of Ray Fisher and sang it on her 2024 album Atween the Salt Sea and the Sand.


Peter Knight sings Bonny Birdy

O it’s of a knight on a summer’s night
Was riding o’er the lee, diddle
There he spied a bonny bird
Sitting upon a tree. Singing:

“Wow for the day!
An gin it for the day!
Oh gin it were day,
And gin I were away!
I ha na lang time to stay.” diddle

“O make hast, make hast, ye gentle knight,
What keeps you here so late? diddle
Gin ye kent what’s doing at hame,
I fear ye would look blate.” diddle


“O why should I toil day and night,
My fair body to kill,
For ninety knights at my command,
An ladys at my will?”

“O ye lee ye lee ye gentle knight
So loud I hear you lee: diddle
There’s a knight in your lady’s arms
And she lees better than thee.” diddle


“O ye lee, you lee you bonny bird,
But you’ll no lee again,
For I will tak my bonny bow,
An split your head in twain.”

“But afore ye hae your bow well bent,
An a’ your arrows yare, diddle
I will flee tae another tree,
Where I may better fare.” diddle


“O whare was ye gotten, and whare was ye clecked?
Pray bonny birdy, tell me:”
“O it was in the green wood,
Intil a holly tree

An a gentleman came riding by,
An frae my nest he herryed me,
Put me in a silver cage,
An ga me to his lady.”


“Then wi good white bread an farrow-cow milk
He bade her feet me aft
An ga her a little wee simmer-dale wanny,
To ding me sindle and saft.

But wi good white bread an farrow-cow milk
I wot she fed me naught,
An wi a little wee simmer-dale wanny,
She dang me sindle and saft.”


“Time he was away
O time he was away
For he that’s in bed
Wi’s another man’s wife
It’s time he was away.” diddle

So the knight he rade, and the birdy flew ...

“Lie still, lie still, ye gentle knight,
What makes ye toss an turn?”
“A birdy sang an it troubles me,
An I fear a coming storm.”

“But is no your hawk upon its perch?
Your horse eats oats and hay
An ye’ve a lady in your arms
How can ye wish for day?” diddle

So he’s turned himself at o’er again,
To take a little sleep,
And when he awoke the lady’s lord
Was standing at their feet. Crying:


So then he’s taken out his sword
An straiked it o’er a strae,
An thro an thro the false knight’s heart
He ’s gard cauld iron gae. diddle


Then he’s darked the windows up secure
With muttle shudders sprang
An there was neither sun nor sky
But darkness in her room. She cries:

“Wow for the day!
An gin it for the day!
Oh gin it were day,
And gin I were away!
I can na langer stay.” diddle

“Wow for the day!
An gin it for the day!
For there was never a living soul
That ever came our way.” diddle