The Unquiet Grave

by M-Gillies

There are many tales and ballads that convey the superstition that excessive grieving for a loved one actually interferes with their eternal sleep.

The wind doth howl today m’love
And a winter’s worth of rain
I never had but one true love
In cold grave she was lain
Oh I adored my sweetest love
As any young man may
So I’ll sit and weep upon her grave
For twelve-month and a day
One true love is eternity for two
Three four nevermore
Will I see my love true
The twelve-month and a day foregone
The dead began to speak
“Oh who sits weeping on my grave
And will not let me sleep?”
“‘Tis I, m’love, upon thy grave
Who will not let you sleep
For I crave one kiss of your lips
And that is all I seek”
“You crave one kiss of my cold lips
But I am one year gone
If you have one kiss of my lips
Your time will not be long
Let me remind thee, dearest one
A patient heart to keep
For we professed eternal love
That lives though I may sleep”
There down in yonder garden grove
Love, where we once did walk
The finest flower that ever was seen
Has withered to a stalk
The stalk is withered dry, my love
Though our hearts shan’t decay
So make yourself content, my love
Till god calls you away”

- Traditional Ballad circa 1400; The Unquiet Grave

As with any kind of folk lore, traditional folk music is widely popular for its elusive origins, its usage of traditions, customs, superstitions, and a combination of indigenous music, and while original source material in which accuracy can be drawn upon to reference is scarce at best, the variations of folk music can be retrieved from outlying sources. Such is the case with the 13th century English folk ballad The Unquiet Grave.

Though popularized in Francis James Child’s collection of folk ballads in Volume II of The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads with their Texts as Child’s Ballad number 78 (1860), the song which can also be considered a poem has had many variances throughout its lifetime.

Since its earliest recordings in the 1900s, The Unquiet Grave saw numerous recordings by many artists, including prominent folk musicians such as Shirley Collins, Joan Baez, The Dubliners, Solas, Kate Rusby and Faith & The Muse.

The popularity of the ballad, however, stems from the sombre and melancholic tale of a young man whose lover had been slain in the forest. Vowing to mourn her death for “a twelve-month and a day”, the young man presides over the grave, sitting and weeping, preventing his lover from a peaceful rest.

After the twelfth month and a day, the dead lover arises asking, “who sits weeping on my grave and will not let me sleep?” The young man responds, “Tis I, m’love, upon thy grave who will not let you sleep, for I crave but one kiss of your lips”. She tells him that to kiss him now would kill him and so sends him away announcing that she may be dead, their love shall not decay, but they shall be together when it is the young man’s time.

Video:

The Unquiet Grave: Faith & The Muse | YouTube

The Unquiet Grave: The Dubliners | YouTube

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