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Dancing At Whitsun

  • (Trad / Austin John Marshall)

    It's fifty long springtimes since she was a bride
    But 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 or pastures go see
    They have gone where the forests of oak trees before
    Have gone to be wasted in battle

    Down from the 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 stood
    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

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

    And the ladies go dancing at Whitsun

    As sung by Tim Hart & Maddy Prior

Susanne´s Folksong-Notizen

  • [1973:] Austin John Marshall writes: "Many of the old ladies who swell the membership lists of Country Dance Societies are 1914/18 war widows, or ladies who have lost fiancés and lovers. Country dancing kept the memory of their young men alive. When Shirley Collins started singing the piece to the tune of The False Bride, the impact was disturbing, for many people in audiences identified with it. Tears were frequent. Now a sharp relevance in contemporary song is one thing but such a pessimistic effect was not what was intended. So when Shirley recorded the song we showed the way the spirit of the generation sacrificed in the mud of France had been caught and brought to life by the new generation born since World War II by concluding with the chorus of the Staines Morris:

    Come you young men come along
    With your music dance and song
    Bring your lasses in your hands
    For 'tis now that love commands
    Then to the maypole haste away
    For 'tis now a holiday."
    (Dallas, Wars 241)

  • [1977:] The tradition of Morris Dancing had been performed exclusively by men for several hundred years. During the First World War, when the male mortality rate in some English towns and villages approached seventy percent, this tradition would have been lost were it not for the women who chose to carry it on. John Austin Marshall has written this poignant song as a tribute to the widows, sweethearts, sisters, and daughters of those men, who kept this tradition alive. (Notes Priscilla Herdman, 'The Water Lily')

  • [1987:] John Austin Marshall is responsible for this poignant text which [in the Sixties] he set to a melody usually associated with the song The Week Before Easter. As I understand it, the song was his answer to the negative comments he heard aimed at the "little old ladies" who were performing traditional dances at Cecil Sharp House. Considering the toll taken by World War I (one village, Ascott-under-Wychwood, Oxon, lost 80-90 % of its male population), the role played by such women becomes something far removed from affectation. (Notes 'Jean Redpath')

  • [1998:] In many places where ritual spring dances were done, women were a part of them; though when you think of the Morris, you usually think of men dancing. I'm told there came a time when England's men were fighting on so many fronts around the world that women had to step in to help remember and fill out the teams, to keep the tradition alive. (Gordon Bok, notes 'Harbors of Home').

  • [2000:] Even before 1914, the membership of the folk dance movement had been predominantly female. (Many women PE teachers regarded folk-dancing as a valuable form of exercise for girls). Wartime casualties left the revival with an even heavier gender imbalance. In social dancing, women often partnered each other for lack of men. More controversially, female teams often performed the 'masculine' morris and sword dances