The Three Ravens
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

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This ballad dates back to 1611 where it appears in Melismata. Musicall Phansies Fitting the Court, Cittie, and Countrey Humours by T. Ravenscroft. It is also known as The Twa Corbies.

According to the The Viking Book of Folk Ballads of the English -Speaking World the song deals with primitive superstition. "Perhaps in the folk mind the doe is the form the soul of a human mistress, now dead, has taken. Or it may be that the doe was considered an animal - paramour of the dead knight. Most probably the knight's beloved was understood to be an enchanted woman who was metamorphosed at certain times into an animal."

This ballad is Child Ballad #26.

For a complete list of Child Ballads at this site go to Francis J. Child Ballads.

There were three ra'ens sat on a tree,
Down a down, hey down, hey down,
They were as black as black might be,
With a down.
The one of them said to his mate,
Where shall we our breakfast take?
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down

Down in yonder green field,
Down, a down, hey down, hey down,
There lies a knight slain 'neath his shield,
With a down.
His hounds they lie down at his feet,
So well they do their master keep,
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down.

His hawks they fly so eagerly,
Down a down, hey down, hey down,
No other fowl dare come him night,
With a down.
Down there comes a fallow doe
As great with young as might she go
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down

She lifted up his bloody head,
Down a down, hey down, hey down,
And kissed his wounds that were so red,
With a down.
She got him up upon her back,
And carried him to earthen lake,
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down

She buried him before the prime
Down a down, hey down, hey down,
She was dead herself ere e'en-song time,
With a down.
God send every gentleman,
Such hawks, such hounds, and such a leman.
With a down, derry, derry, derry down, down
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From
Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales
See Bibliography for full information.