> Steeleye Span > Songs > Elf Call

The Queen of Elfan's Nourice / Elf Call

[ Roud 3723 ; Child 40 ; G/D 2:328 ; Ballad Index C040 ; trad.]

The Queen of Elfland awakens to hear her child's (wet-)nurse weeping. The Queen of Elfland asks the reason; the nurse says that she is crying for her own son. The Queen of Elfland sets the nurse on the right road home and on to heaven [description from the Traditional Ballad Index].

Steeleye Span recorded this song as Elf Call on their 1975 album Commoners Crown; this track was also included on their anthology Original Masters.

The Australian label Festival Records produced an edited single version with a different start and fade out. The single was used for Steeleye's 1975 Tour and was not released outside Australia. However, the edited track was later reissued on the Australian compilation Recollections, and in 1999 it was finally available worldwide on the CD A Rare Collection 1972-1996.

Rachel Newton sang Queen of Elfan's Nourice in 2014 for her CD Changeling. She commented in her liner notes:

The words from this songs are from Child ballad no. 40. It highlights a different aspect of faerie belief and that is of the mother being taken by the faeries as opposed to the baby. A faerie queen steals away a new mother to nurse their own babies with human breast milk and that was why new mothers were taken.

Lyrics

Rachel Newton sings Queen of Elfan's Nourice

I heard a cow low, a bonnie cow low,
A cow low down in yon glen;
Lang, lang may your young son greet
That his mother bid him come ben, come ben,
That his mother bid him come ben.

I heard a cow low, a bonnie cow low,
A cow low down in yon fauld;
Lang, lang may your young son greet
That his mother take him from the cauld, the cauld,
His mother take him from the cauld.

“O mourn you for your meat?” she said,
“Or mourn you for your fee?
Or mourn you for the other bounties
That ladies are wont to gie, to gie,
That ladies are wont to gie?”

“I mourn na for my meat,” she said,
“And I mourn not for my fee,
But I mourn for my young son
With him my fain would be, would be,
With him my fain would be.”

“O keep my bairn, Nourice,” she said,
“Till he stands at your knee,
An you'll win hame to Christen land,
Where fain it’s you would be, would be,
Where fain it’s you would be.”

“O keep my bairn, Nourice,” she said,
“Till he's gang by the fauld,
An you'll win hame to your young son
That you left in four nights old, nights old,
That you left in four nights old.”

Steeleye Span sing Elf Call

I heard a bonny cow low, cow low, cow low,
I heard a bonny cow low over the lea.
And it was an elf-call, elf-call, elf-call,
And it was an elf-call calling unto me.
And the little elf-call, elf-call, elf-call,
And the little elf-call said unto me:

Chorus:
“Come and nurse an elf child, elf child, elf child,
Come and nurse an elf child down beneath the sea.
Come and nurse an elf child, elf child, elf child,
Come and nurse an elf child down beneath the sea.”

“What do you moan for, moan for, moan for?
What do you moan for?” the elf king said to me.
“I'm moaning for my own child, own child, own child,
I'm moaning for my own child far across the sea.”
Then the little elf king, elf king, elf king,
Then the little elf king said unto me:

Chorus

Repeat first verse

2× Chorus

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Patrick Montague for correcting the Steeleye Span lyrics.