The Whitsun Dance (Dancing at Whitsun) - Austin John Marshall

    Lyric by Austin John Marshall
    Melody: The False Bride (Trad.) / Staines Morris (Trad.)

    It's fifty-one springtimes since she was a bride
    And still you may see her at each Whitsuntide
    In a dress of white linen and ribbons of green
    As green as her memories of loving

    The feet that were nimble tread carefully now
    As gentle a measure as age do allow
    Through groves of white blossom, by fields of young corn
    Where once she was pledged to her true love

    The fields they stand empty, the hedges grow free
    No young men to tend them, nor pastures to see
    They have gone where the forests of oaktrees before
    Had gone to be wasted in battle

    Down from their green farmlands and from their loved ones
    Marched husbands and brothers and fathers and sons
    There's a fine roll of honour where the Maypole once was
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

    There's a row of straight houses in these latter days
    Are covering the Downs where the sheep used to graze
    There's a field of red poppies and a wreath from the Queen
    But the ladies remember at Whitsun
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

    (Come you young men come along
    With your music, dance and song
    Bring your lasses in your hand
    For 'tis that which love commands
    Then to the Maypole haste away
    For 'tis now a holiday)

    The Whitsun Dance: Notes
    Whitsun: A traditional British spring holiday, on or near Pentacost, but deriving its name from the white outfits of Morris Dancers, for this was the official start of the Morris Dancing season usually about the third week in May.

    The First World War had devastating effect on the village tradition of Morris Dancing , and what had once been an extremely vigorous, bucolic and rich part of country life became widely regarded as a quaint and rather ludicrous relic. The Maypole, centre of village springtime celebrations, was replaced by a war memorial, containing in many cases the names of most of the young men of the village.

    The English Folk Dance and Song Society is an Institution in London alternately loved and derided. I often used to wonder why there always seemed to be so many mlddle-aged and elderly ladles there, joining in the country dancing. I was told that there was an unofficial "club" of First World War widows, who danced in memory of their lost loves, Morris Dancers. The song was written in early '67. The date of composition takes "fifty-one springtimes" (not fifty "long") back to 1916.

    The song first appeared on an album called "Autumns in Eden" by Shirley A. Dolly Collins, issued in '69. The track was axed by the U.S. publishers, arbitrarily removing the climax of a suite of traditional songs intending to tell the story of the broken tradition of England. Tim Harb of Steeleye Span made a version of the song on "Summer Solstice." Priscilla Herdman, Jean Redpatu and Gordon Bok have all recorded the song over here in the U.S., but all learned from the Harb version.
    I am grateful to the Folk Co-op for letting me have the chance to put on record the complete version, with the hopeful segue Into the "Staines Morris" ending, pointing to the resurrection of that lost spirit of England.


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