Friday, July 11, 2008

The Twa Sisters

"The Twa Sisters" is a murder ballad that tells the story of a younger drowned by her older sister because of jealousy.
The song is said to have first appeared on a broadside in 1656 as "The Miller and the King's Daughter." There are at least 21 English variants of "The Twa Sisters" under numerous names including "Minnorie" or "Binnorie", "The Cruel Sister", "The Wind and Rain", "Two Sisters", and the "Bonnie Bows of London".

"Twa Sisters" can also be found in fairytale form under a number of names.
I believe the best known version maybe the Brothers Grimm's "The Singing Bones" (which uses 2 or 3 brothers instead of sisters) but similar stories can also be found under the names The Griffin (Italy),The Dead Girl's Bone (Switzerland), The Little Bone (Switzerland), Binnorie (England), The Silver Plate and the Transparent Apple. (Russia), The Magic Fiddle (India) and The Twin Brothers (Nigeria).

Here is a lovely version of "The Cruel Sister".


Another very nice version of The Twa Sisters is available on youtube (Drat it! I could not embed it here).

Binnorie

Once upon a time there were two king's daughters who lived in a bower near the bonny mill dams of Binnorie. And Sir William came wooing the eldest and won her love, and plighted troth with glove and with ring. But after a time he looked upon the youngest, with her cherry cheeks and golden hair, and his love went out to her until he cared no longer for the eldest one. So she hated her sister for taking away Sir William's love, and day by day her hate grew and grew and she plotted and she planned how to get rid of her.
So one fine morning, fair and clear, she said to her sister, "Let us go and see our father's boats come in at the bonny mill stream of Binnorie." So they went there hand in hand. And when they came to the river's bank the youngest got upon a stone to watch for the beaching of the boats. And her sister, coming behind her, caught her round the waist and dashed her into the rushing mill stream of Binnorie.

"Oh sister, sister, reach me your hand!" she cried, as she floated away, "and you shall have half of all I've got or shall get."

"No, sister, I'll reach you no hand of mine, for I am the heir to all your land. Shame on me if I touch her hand that has come 'twixt me and my own heart's love."

"Oh sister, oh sister, then reach me your glove!" she cried, as she floated further away, "and you shall have your William again."

"Sink on," cried the cruel princess, "no hand or glove of mine you'll touch. Sweet William will be all mine when you are sunk beneath the bonny mill stream of Binnorie." And she turned and went home to the king's castle.

And the princess floated down the mill stream, sometimes swimming and sometimes sinking, until she came near the mill. Now the miller's daughter was cooking that day, and needed water for her cooking. And as she went to draw it from the stream, she saw something floating towards the mill dam, and she called out, "Father! father! draw your dam. There's something white -- a merrymaid or a milk white swan -- coming down the stream." So the miller hastened to the dam and stopped the heavy cruel mill wheels. And then they took out the princess and laid her on the bank.

Fair and beautiful she looked as she lay there. In her golden hair were pearls and precious stones; you could not see her waist for her golden girdle, and the golden fringe of her white dress came down over her lily feet. But she was drowned, drowned!

And as she lay there in her beauty a famous harper passed by the mill dam of Binnorie, and saw her sweet pale face. And though he traveled on far away he never forgot that face, and after many days he came back to the bonny mill stream of Binnorie. But then all he could find of her where they had put her to rest were her bones and her golden hair. So he made a harp out of her breast bone and her hair, and traveled on up the hill from the mill dam of Binnorie, until he came to the castle of the king her father.

That night they were all gathered in the castle hall to hear the great harper: king and queen, their daughter and son, Sir William, and all their court. And first the harper sang to his old harp, making them joy and be glad, or sorrow and weep just as he liked. But while he sang he put the harp he had made that day on a stone in the hall. And presently it began to sing by itself, low and clear, and the harper stopped and all were hushed.

And this was what the harp sung:

Oh yonder sits my father, the king,
Binnorie, oh Binnorie;
And yonder sits my mother, the queen;
By the bony mill dams o' Binnorie.
And yonder stands my brother Hugh,
Binnorie, oh Binnorie;
And by him, my William, false and true;
By the bonny mill dams o' Binnorie.

Then they all wondered, and the harper told them how he had seen the princess lying drowned on the bank near the bonny mill dams o' Binnorie, and how he had afterwards made this harp out of her hair and breast bone. Just then the harp began singing again, and this was what it sang out loud and clear:
And there sits my sister who drown├Ęd me
By the bonny mill dams o' Binnorie.
And the harp snapped and broke, and never sang more.

Source: Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales


The Twa Sisters

There was twa sisters in a bowr,
Edinburgh, Edinburgh
There was twa sisters in a bowr,
Stirling for ay
There was twa sisters in a bowr,
There came a knight to be their wooer.

He courted the eldest wi glove an ring,
But he lovd the youngest above a' thing.

He courted the eldest wi brotch an knife,
But lovd the youngest as his life.

The eldest she was vexed sair,
An much envi'd her sister fair.

Into her bowr she could not rest,
Wi grief an spite she almost brast.

Upon a morning fair and clear,
She cried upon her sister dear:

"O sister, come to yon sea stran,
An see our father's ship come to lan."

She's taen her by the milk-white han,
An led her down to yon sea stran.

The youngest stood upon a stane,
The eldest came and threw her in.

She tooke her by the middle sma,
And dashd her bonny back to the jaw.

"O sister, sister, tak my han,
An Ise mack you heir to a' my lan."

"O sister, sister, tak my middle,
An yes get my goud and my gouden girdle."

"O sister, sister, save my life,
An I swear Ise never be nae man's wife."

"Foul fa the han that I should tacke,
It twin'd me and my wardles make."

"Your cherry cheeks an yallow hair,
Gars me gae maiden for evermair."

Sometimes she sank, and sometimes she swam,
Till she came down yon bonny mill-dam.

O out it came the millers son,
An saw the fair maid swimmin' in.

"O Father, father, draw your dam,
Here's either a mermaid or a swan."

The miller quickly drew the dam,
An there he found a drownd woman.

You couldna see her yallow hair,
For gold and pearle that were so rare.

An by there came a harper fine,
That harped to the king at dine.

When he did look that lady upon,
He sighd and made a heavy moan.

He's taen three locks o her yallow hair,
An wi them strung his harp sae fair.

The first tune he did play and sing,
Was, "Farewell to my father the king."

The nextin tune that he playd syne,
Was, "Farewell to my mother the queen."

The lasten tune that he playd then,
Was, "wae to my sister, Fair Ellen."





The Twa Sisters
Melody - Seq. by John Renfro Davis
Traditional Ballad, Child Ballad #10

There liv'd twa sisters in a bower,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
There liv'd twa sisters in a bower,
Stirling for aye:
The youngest o' them, O, she was a flower!
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

2. There came a squire frae the west,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
There cam a squire frae the west,
Stirling for aye:
He lo'ed them baith, but the youngest best,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

3. He gied the eldest a gay gold ring,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
He gied the eldest a gay gold ring,
Stirling for aye:
But he lo'ed the youngest aboon a' thing,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

4. Oh sister, sister, will ye go to the sea?
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
Oh sister, sister, will ye go to the sea?
Stirling for aye:
Our father's ships sail bonnilie,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

5. The youngest sat down upon a stane,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
The youngest sat down upon a stane,
Stirling for aye:
The eldest shot the youngest in,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

6. Oh sister, sister, lend me your hand,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
Oh, sister, sister, lend me your hand,
Stirling for aye:
And you shall hae my gouden fan,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

7. Oh, sister, sister, save my life,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
Oh sister, sister, save my life,
Stirling for aye:
And ye shall be the squire's wife,
Bonny Sweet Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

8. First she sank, and then she swam,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
First she sank, and then she swam,
Stirling for aye:
Until she cam to Tweed mill dam,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

9. The millar's daughter was baking bread,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
The millar's daughter was baking bread,
Stirling for aye:
She went for water, as she had need,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

10. Oh father, father, in our mill dam,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch,
Oh father, father, in our mill dam,
Stirling for aye:
There's either a lady, or a milk-white swan,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

11. They could nae see her fingers small,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
They could nae see her fingers small,
Stirling for aye:
Wi' diamond rings they were cover'd all,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

12. They could nae see her yellow hair,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
They could nae see her yellow hair,
Stirling for aye:
Sae mony knots and platts war there,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.

13. Bye there cam a fiddler fair,
Hey Edinbruch, how Edinbruch.
Bye there cam a fiddler fair,
Stirling for aye:
And he's ta'en three tails o' her yellow hair,
Bonny Sanct Johnstonne that stands upon Tay.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
From Sharpe's Ballad Book, No. X., p. 30. A version of "Binnorie." The ballad here ends abruptly; doubtless the fiddler made fiddle-strings of the lady's hair, and a fiddle of her breast-bone, while the instrument probably revealed the cruelty of the sister. Other extant versions are composite or interpolated, so this fragment (Sharpe's) has been preferred in this place.
Thi ballad first appeared on a broadside in 1656 as The Miller and the King's Daughter.
from Glasgow Guide: Glasgow Songs & Scottish Music


Net Resource:
The Twa Sisters
Bartleby.com
The Contemplator
Contemplator Variants of Child Ballad
Pitt.edu_The Singing Bones

3 comments:

twenty pound tabby said...

I'm thinking we have similar tastes in music and stories. My favorite version of the Twa Sisters or Two Sisters ends with the older sister being boiled in lead for her crime.

La, Storyteller/Storysinger said...

Ouch!! :P Yeah I have checked out alot of different versions both of the song and the song. Hard to tell which I like best.
And I love your blog!
Great stuff!!!

La, Storyteller/Storysinger said...

Ooopsy! I should proof read.
That should read.."both the song and the STORY..."
Mea culpa! :(