The Well Below the Valley

womanthewell2

Carl_Heinrich_Bloch_-_Woman_at_the_Well

The Well Below the Valley tells the tale of a man (varying as a gentleman, a Palmer or Jesus himself) who is denied a drink at the well of a woman. He then enumerates her incestuous relations, and curses her to hell. It is based off the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, where Christ comes to the well as a pilgrim, is refused water, and reveals himself by declaring her sins.

This ballad was once popular in the European tradition, with versions having been found as far away as Scandinavia. It was thought to be largely lost, apart from the records of the folk archivist Francis James Child. ‘Indeed, Child has only two versions in English, the most recent being a fragment recalled by Sir Walter Scott. Miraculously, however, it turned up, as ballads do, on the lips of an illiterate travelling man of County Roscommon, in 1969′ (Palmer, Ballads 68). This man was John Reilly, and the ballad was recorded from him by Tom Munnelly in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland. It is truly one of the miracles of folk music that this ballad has come through to us from the murky waters of the distant past.

O a gentleman was passin’ by
He axed a drink as he got dry
At the well below the valley-o,
Green grows the lily-o, all amongst the bushes O

Well if your true love was passin’ by
You’d fill him a drink if he got dry

(She swore by grass and swore by corn
That her true love was never born)

Well if you’re a man of noble fame
You’ll tell to me the father o’ them

(Two of them by your father dear)

Two of them came by your uncle Dan

Another one by your brother John

(Well if you’re a man of the noble fame
You’ll tell to me what happened to them

There was two o’ them buried by the kitchen fire

Two more o’ them buried by the stable door

The other was buried by the well)

Well if you’re a man of a noble ‘steem
You’ll tell to me what’ll happen mysel’

You’ll be seven year a-ringin’ a bell

You’ll be seven more a-portin’ in Hell

I’ll be seven long years a-ringing a bell
But the Lord above may save my soul
From portin’ in Hell
At the well below the valley
Green grows the lilies-o all amongst the bushes

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