Sunday, 16 July 2017

Murder Ballad Monday--Polly Von

Hello and welcome to Murder Ballad Monday. Last week we looked at Tom Dooley which was the first murder ballad that I ever recall hearing. Today I want to look at the second murder ballad that I remember from my childhood. It is a song called Polly Von sung by Peter Paul and Mary.

Versions of this traditional Irish ballad date back to the 1700’s and the first English tune by this name dates from around 1890. In the Roud Folksong Index it is listed as song #166 and has over 200 versions catalogued. It also can be listed with a variety of different spellings such as:

"Polly Vaughan"
"Polly Vaughn"
"Molly Bawn"
"Molly Ban"
"Molly Bender"
"Molly Bond"
"Molly Vaughan"
"Molly Van"

The ballad can be traced back to the Greek myth of Cephalus and Procris, which can be found in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In this tale, the hunter Cephalus, sees his wife hiding in a thicket, mistakes her for a deer and kills her with a magic dart. While Polly Vaughn is mistaken for a swan rather than a deer in this ballad, the similarities are certainly there. Interestingly, there is a variation entitled “The Shooting of His Dear” whose use of the homophone dear/deer is suggestive.
                                      
                         Image result for swan illustration
In the Peter, Paul and Mary version, a hunter went out shooting at sunset and saw what he thought was a white swan and shot it. He is horrified to discover it was not a swan, but rather his true love who was sheltering in the bushes. The song says, “she had her apron wrapped about her and I took her for a swan.” You never know the outcome except for his extensive grief. The song says, “He wept bitter tears, but his cries were all in vain.” Will he be tried for murder? It is up to the listener to decide.

I never realised until recently, that this was also a song about poaching. So, I suppose his fears could be that he would be arrested for both attempted poaching and actual murder.

To me, as an impressionable young child, it was an anti-hunting song. Those last lyrics broke my heart where he revisited the lake and saw a swan gliding by and mocking him.

It is certainly not a case of premeditated murder as so many have been, but a clear case of accidental death. But will a jury believe him?

Here is a recording of Peter, Paul and Mary singing Polly Von. I have included the lyrics below if you would like to follow along.


Lyrics:
I shall tell of a hunter whose life was undone
By the cruel hand of evil at the setting of the sun
His arrow was loosed and it flew through the dark,
And his true love was slain as the shaft found its mark.

She'd her apron wrapped about her and he took her for a swan
But it's oh and alas it was she, Polly Von

He ran up beside her and found it was she
He turned away his head for he could not bear to see
He lifted her up and found she was dead,
A fountain of tears for his true love, he shed.

She'd her apron wrapped about her and he took her for a swan
But it's oh and alas it was she, Polly Von

He bore her away to his home by the sea
Cryin' "Father, oh father, I murdered poor Polly!
I've killed my fair love in the flower of her life!
I always intended that she be my wife."

"But she'd her apron wrapped about her
and I took her for a swan,
And it's oh and alas it was she, Polly Von."

He roamed near the place where his true love was slain
He wept bitter tears, but his cries were all in vain.
As he looked on the lake, a swan glided by
And the sun slowly sank in the grey of the sky.

She'd her apron wrapped about her and he took her for a swan
But it's oh and alas it was she, Polly Von."

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned next week for another murder ballad.



2 comments:

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  2. Polly/Molly BENDER??? How did that get in there? I certainly can see all the others, even Van could easily be pronounced Von, or Vahn. but Bender? wow..........crazy.

    Such a sad story, and I can just hear it all in my mind with their lovely voice blend.........good memories.

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