Scarboro Fair, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme

I love to use herbs in my cooking, and my windowsill is full of small plant pots with all my favourites in. I've also some about lots of herbs as they feature in many folk and traditional songs. One song in particular has always intrigued me with it's very famous line "parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and thyme." So I decided to delve into the history of this song that was probably most famously recorded by Simon and Garfunkel. I have included two different versions of this song with different videos, the second is very interesting because it puts a different slant on the song.

I do like this song, I find it quite haunting and it is like a box of choclates once opened you find yourself wanting more and repeating the lyrics

There are a number of possibilities as to its origins, which seem to have been in the seventeenth century A.D. and there are a number of links to other songs of that period. The original seems to have been a duet with the first part being sung by a young man and the second part by a young woman.

The reason for using Scarborough fair as the destination in the song is not very clear, but town and country fairs were common places for meeting people as well as trading and entertainment. They are mentioned in quite a number of traditional folk songs and poems.

If you've ever listened to the words of the song and thought about what was being said the young man is asking for a number of very strange tasks all of which are impossible.

This is the chap who invented Cambric linen
This is the chap who invented Cambric linen

The second verse asks that she should make a ‘cambric shirt’ (Cambric, is a light weave linen material used for several items of clothing, especially shirts.) without any seam on needlework. It goes on to ask that the shirt should be washed in a dry well that has never had water in it and that it should be dried on a thorn, which never bore blossom since Adam was born. The song carries on with the young man asking for a whole range of rather bizarre things that he would like the young lady to do.

It then continues with the young woman replying and in turn making impossible requests, she replies, ‘Now he has asked me questions three, I hope you will answer as many for me.

The young woman now requests that he plough the land with the Rams horn and sow it all with one pepper corn, if that is not bad enough he has to shear it with a sickle of leather and bind it up with a peacock feather. He then has to thrash it on yonder wall and never let one corn of it fall. Cleverly, the last verse the young woman says, "when he has done and finished his work, then tell him to come and he'll have his shirt.

Of course all these lines are dispersed with the phrase "parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and thyme.

So why these herbs?

It seems that these herbs in particular could have been used because they were used by witches as a love potion.

The herbs have been used since prehistoric times by man for various reasons, some that I managed to come up with were.

sage in my garden
sage in my garden | Source

Parsley,(Petroselinum hortense) was used in mediaeval times to help with digestion and with spiritual healing. It has always been used in cooking to improve the taste of things and is particularly used with fish meals. I like to make a white sauce and add fine chopped parsley to it.

Sage

Sage,Salvia officinalis (garden sage, common sage) its popularity was spread by the Romans who used it for a variety of things. It was used to ward off evil spirits. It was medicinally used to improve fertility. In the kitchen its slightly peppery taste and is used to accompany turkey, pork, and chicken particularly at Christmas. It is the main flavouring in Lincolnshire sausage.

Rosemary

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis, I particularly love one of the explanations for the name of this rather spiky plant which is that the Virgin Mary placed her cloak over the plant changing its flowers to blue, the plant then became known as ‘The rose of Mary’.

A much less romantic explanation is The name "rosemary" derives from the Latin for "dew" (ros) and "sea" (marinus), or "dew of the sea"

"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." (Hamlet, iv. 5.) spoken by Ophelia. It has been shown in modern tests to improve memory. Don Quixote (Part One, Chapter XVII) mixes it in his recipe of the miraculous balm of Fierabras.It was used in many European wedding ceremonies.

Thyme

Thyme. Thymus Vulgaris. In mediaeval times this herb was given to knights and Warriors to give them strength and courage. The ancient Egyptians used it as part of their embalming procedure. It was used as an early antibiotic and often wrapped in bandages to help the healing process.

It is usually to be found somewhere in the kitchen and it is a common component of both bouquet garni and Herbs de Provence.

Other connections.

It does seem that it has other connections too, in the nursery rhyme the pocket full of posies has been thought to be made up of these herbs which gives it a connection to the Black Death plague that swept across Europe.

This is another version which appears to be about the lot of being a soldier.

(War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions)
(Generals order their soldiers to kill)
(And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten)

Version Two - worth watching

So here is the song, make of it what you will.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Remember me to one who lives there,

For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Without any seam or needlework,

Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder well,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Where never spring water or rain ever fell,

And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Which never bore blossom since Adam was born,

Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

Now he has asked me questions three,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

I hope he'll answer as many for me

Before he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to buy me an acre of land,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

Betwixt the salt water and the sea sand,

Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to plough it with a ram's horn,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

And sow it all over with one pepper corn,

And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to shear it with a sickle of leather,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;

And bind it up with a peacock feather.

And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell him to thrash it on yonder wall,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,

And never let one corn of it fall,

Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

When he has done and finished his work.

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme:

Oh, tell him to come and he'll have his shirt,

And he shall be a true lover of mine.

Scarborough Fair in July 2006 witnessed Medieval Jousting Competitions and although the fair no longer exists, it is still commemorated.


More by this Author


Comments 20 comments

Darrylmdavis profile image

Darrylmdavis 4 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

I read this hub and said Amen! I am constantly preaching the merits of fresh herbs to people. Nice one and voted up!


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Darry, thankyou for your visit and interest, and also for the vote up much appreciated.


Rosemay50 profile image

Rosemay50 4 years ago from Hawkes Bay - NewZealand

What an enjoyable hub to read. Interesting facts and the music choice suits perfectly


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Rosemary,

many thanks for your visit and kind comments, I'm pleased that you liked it.

with respect

tony


suzettenaples profile image

suzettenaples 4 years ago from Taos, NM

Love the song! Very interesting and informative hub! I love all the explanations about the things in the song. Very creative and I love your photos.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi my friend Tony, great well written and put together hub, enjoyed reading about these herbs and love that song has well .

Well done and vote up and more !!! SHARING !

Have a great weekend my friend !


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

suzettenaples

many thanks for your visit and interest. I'm delighted thaat you found it interesting.

regards

Tony


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Kash

always good to hear from you my friend, thank you for vote and sharing, I'mglad you liked it.

Thanks for the well wishes, I wish the same for you.

regards

Tony


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 4 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

A wonderful historical breakdown of a song I have always liked.


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Rod

many thanks for commenting and visiting.

regards

Tony


stessily 4 years ago

Tony, Your excellent consideration of this familiar song is well researched and well presented. It is amazing to realize that this song, so familiar over the centuries, is shrouded in mystery.

Bob Dylan borrowed the melody to create "Girl from the North Country". I tend to think that the world's great troubadour set his words with that traditional melody for a reason. For me, the reason is that his words give a conclusion to "Scarborough Fair": the impossible tasks were not completed, and so memories of an impossible quest for an impossible love linger.

All the votes, enthusiastically selected!

ttfn, Stessily


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

stessily

I was going to mention Dylan's song and then forgot about it. I like the Nashville Skyline version with Johnny Cash best.

I have added a few little bits this morning, I'm really short of hub time at the moment and I have bucket fulls of extras for this to come. I'm trying to update many of my hubs, because my visitors have dropped drastically like a stone from over a hundred a day to some days single figures. It coincided with altering my profile page although why that should make a difference I don't know..

Thank you for your visit and support through kind comments and votes.

ttfn, Tony


stessily 4 years ago

Tony, Yes, the "Nashville Skyline" is the version which I prefer.

Everyone has highs and lows with views, as readers are tugged away by life's happenings. Perhaps the drop seems to have coincided with the profile page switch, but that may not be the real, or the main, reason. Once again: life happens! Your views will return.

Scottie has been an avid reader of your hubs, but even he has been called away from time to time!

ttfn, Stessily


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Stessily,

How kind of you to try make me feel better over this issue, of course you are right, but the numbers didn't just slowly deminish as I thought they might because I was not here much, but rather they dropped overnight almost.

As you say life happens, I'm sure Scottie has his reasons, he's probably hidding under the engine scoffing your pop-overs.

ttfn

Tony


stessily 4 years ago

Tony, Other hubbers have said that their numbers have suddenly dropped, so it happens, for whatever reasons. I'm recalling that some of them might have been called away from their HubPages writing desks by life, and shortly after they returned, their views plummeted. Perhaps it's a lag effect. Who can say? Your new profile page is as interesting as the previous page, so that is a puzzlement for me.

One thing that I was hoping for your new profile page was that you'd choose one of your paintings for the background.

Yes, Scottie is scoffing those popovers, and he doesn't realize that he can read and snack at the same time!

ttfn, Stessily


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

stessily,

OKay, I've changed the back-drop and returned the profile that I thought might be the problem. The painting is difficult to see, but it is one I particularly like.

Thank you for your friendship.

ttfn

Tony


Greensleeves Hubs profile image

Greensleeves Hubs 4 years ago from Essex, UK

Tony; A most interesting essay on the origins of this song, and the part the four herbs of its most famous line play in the story. As you can probably gather from my username, I'm a big fan of old folk songs and the history of songs like 'Greensleeves' and 'Scarborough Fair'.

'Scarborough Fair' has been familiar to me for a long time, mostly through the Simon & Garfunkle version, though many good versions exist. I wrote about my username song that 'the true test of musical greatness is when a piece of music transcends temporary popular culture and becomes a part of every generation's culture.' That is certainly the case with 'Scarborough Fair' which has survived for hundreds of years and is still fresh and popular today. No reason why it shouldn't survive for hundreds of years more, with performances like the two you feature.

Lots of interesting and useful information for anyone who likes this kind of music. Voted up with thanks.

Incidentally, reading through Stessily's comments I can only echo that a lot of hubbers have seen huge drops in their traffic. I understand from the forums and hubs on the subject that it's usually due to updates in Google's algorithms and similar things beyond our control. Last week, I experienced an overnight drop of about 50% in visitors to my hubs, and yet within three days they were back to normal - very strange! Alun.


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

greensleeves

thank you for interesting comments, I had been teaching the tune to someone who comes for guitar lessons and I grew curious as to its origins. Scratch beneath the surface of so many of our old songs and stories and there is more there than originally meets the eye.

regards

Tony


Derdriu 4 years ago

Tony, Perhaps the herbs symbolize what's needed to get through life: for example, good health (parsley), wise choices (sage for love/family, against evil spirits=bad influences, wrong directions), good friends (rosemary for the protection of numbers, the power of remembering and being remembered), and perseverance (thyme for courage, strength).

Shared.

Respectfully, and with many thanks and all the votes to the Proper Champion Yorkshireman, Derdriu


tonymead60 profile image

tonymead60 4 years ago from Yorkshire Author

Derdriu,

how clever of you to offer those explanations for the selection of herbs, perhaps you are right. Many thanks for this wonderful insight I always appreciate your visits and comments. I thank for the votes I did vote on your waterpool, but forgot to mention it. I've also been to see those little criters of yours down that sink hole the pupfish for another read.

Oh Celtic queen it has as always been a pleasure to have this interchange with one so lofty as yourself. Hat doff as I leave your presence.

take care

ttfn

Tony

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working