A Forbidden Love Affair, Infanticide & Ghost Babies – Happy Mother’s Day!

English and Scottish ballads from centuries past — most famously collected by 19th-century American folk scholar Francis J. Childs and delightfully creepily illustrated in the 1912 book Ballads Weird and Wonderful — were pretty, pretty, pretty salacious. Illicit sex? Check! Murder most foul? Check! Spooky spirits? Check! Satisfyingly, “The Cruel Mother” — and it’s numerous versions — have all of the above. Our favorite version is “The Minister’s Daughter of New York,” which goes the extra step in describing the antagonist’s secret affair, the romantic mistake that ultimately leads to death and damnation. Happy Mother’s Day!


“The Minister’s Daughter of New York”
Anonymous Scottish Ballad

The minister’cruelmothers daughter of New York,
Hey wi the rose and the lindic, 0
Has faen in love wi her father’s clerk.
Alone by the green burn sidie, 0

She courted him six years and a day,
At length her belly did her betray.

She did her down to the greenwood gang,
To spend awa a while o her time.

She lent her back unto a thorn,
And she’s got her twa bonny boys born.

She’s taen the ribbons frae her hair,
Bound their bodyes fast and sair.

She’s put them aneath a marble stane.
Thinking a maiden to gae hame.

Looking oer her castle wa,
She spied her bonny boys at the ha.

‘0 bonny babies, if ye worn mine,
I woud feed you with the white bread and wine.

‘I woud feed you wi the ferra cow’s milk,
And dress you in the finest silk.’

‘0 cruel mother, when we were thine,
We saw none of your bread and wine.

‘We saw none of your ferra cow’s milk,
Nor worn we of your finest silk.’

‘0 bonny babies, can ye tell me,
What sort of death for you I must die?’

‘Yes, cruel mother, we’11 tell to thee,
What sort of death for us you must die.

‘Seven years a fowl in the woods,
Seven years a fish in the floods.

‘Seven years to be a church bell,
Seven years a porter in hell.’

‘Welcome, welcome, fowl in the wood[s],
Welcome, welcome, fish in the flood[s].

‘Welcome, welcome, to be a church bell,
But heavens keep me out of hell.’

Here’s a poem with a sexy spirit:
Baudelaire’s “The Ghost”