Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gallis Pole

Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while, I Think I see my friends coming, Riding a many mile. Friends, you get some silver? Did you get a little gold? What did you bring me, my dear friends? Keep me from the Gallows Pole. What did you bring me to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

I couldn't get no silver, I couldn't get no gold, You know that we're too damn poor to keep you from the Gallows Pole. Hangman, hangman, hold it a little while, I think I see my brother coming, riding many a mile. Brother, you get me some silver? Did you get a little gold? What did you bring me, my brother, to keep me from the Gallows Pole?

Brother, I brought you some silver, yeah.I brought a little gold, I brought a little of everything To keep you from the Gallows Pole. Yes, I brought you to keep you from the Gallows Pole.

Hangman, hangman, turn your head awhile, I think I see my sister coming, riding many mile, mile, mile. Sister, I implore you, take him by the hand, Take him to some shady bower, save me from the wrath of this man, Please take him, save me from the wrath of this mad, man.

Hangman, hangman, upon your face a smile, Tell me that I'm free to ride, Ride for many mile, mile, mile.

Oh yes, you got a fine sister, She warmed my blood from cold, She warmed my blood to boiling hot to keep you from the Gallows Pole, Your brother brought me silver, Your sister warmed my soul, But now I laugh and pull so hard, see you swinging from the Gallows Pole

But now I laugh and pull so hard, see you swinging from the Gallows Pole Swingin' on the gallows pole!

Ah-ha-ha Swingin' Swingin' on the gallows pole! See-saw marjory daw See-saw knock at my door!

"The Maid Freed from the Gallows" is one of many titles of a centuries-old folk song about a condemned maiden pleading for someone to buy her freedom from the executioner. In the collection of ballads compiled by Francis James Child, it is indexed as Child Ballad number 95; eleven variants, some fragmentary, are indexed as 95A to 95K.[1] The ballad existed in a number of folkloric variants from many different countries, and has been remade in a variety of formats. It was recorded in 1939 as "The Gallis Pole" by folk singer Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, but the most famous version was the 1970 cover of the Fred Gerlach version by English rock band Led Zeppelin, which was entitled "Gallows Pole" on the album Led Zeppelin III.

Although it exists in many forms, all versions recount a similar story. A maid about to be hanged (for unknown reasons) pleads with the hangman, or judge, to wait for the arrival of someone who may bribe him. The first person (or people) to arrive, who may include the father, mother, brother, and sister, have brought nothing and often have come to see her hanged. The last person to arrive, often her true love, has brought the gold to save her. She may curse all those who failed her.
The typical refrain would be:
"Hangman, hangman, hangman / slack your rope awhile.
I think I see my father / ridin’ many a mile.
Father, did you bring any silver? / father, did you bring any gold,
Or did you come to see me / hangin' from the gallows pole?"
"No, I didn’t bring any silver, / no I didn’t bring any gold.
I just come to see you / hangin’ from the gallows pole."
The song is also known as "The Prickly Bush", a title derived from the oft-used refrain lamenting the maid's situation by likening it to being caught in briery bush, wherein the brier prickles her heart. In versions carrying this theme, the typical refrain may add:
O the prickly bush, the prickly bush,
It pricked my heart full sore;
If ever I get out of the prickly bush,
I'll never get in any more.
In "The Maid Freed from the Gallows", the first person (usually her father, mother or brother) has come not to free the condemned, but to see her hanged, but the last person (usually her lover) has brought the bribe with which to free her.[1] Although the traditional versions do not resolve the fate of the condemned one way or the other, it may be presumed that the bribe would succeed.[2]
It has been suggested that the reference to "gold" may not mean actual gold for a bribe, but may instead stand for the symbolic restoration of the maid's honor, perhaps by proof of her innocence or fidelity.[3][4] Such an interpretation would explain why a number of variations of the song have the maid (or a male condemned) asking whether their visitors had brought them gold or paid their fee. In at least one version, the reply comes that "I haven't brought you gold/ But I have paid your fee."[5]

In some versions, the protagonist is male. This appears to be more prevalent in the United States, where hanging of women was uncommon.[4] The crime for which the protagonist faces hanging is occasionally mentioned. The woman may be being held for ransom by pirates; or, she has stolen something from her employer. Other instances tell of her having lost a treasured golden ball,[6][7] or indicate that she is being hanged for fornication.
The most extensive version is not a song at all, but a fairy story titled "The Golden Ball", collected by Joseph Jacobs in More English Fairy Tales. It encompasses the theme of the song. The story focuses more on the exploits of the fiance who must recover a golden ball in order to save his love from the noose; the incident resembles The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was.[8] Other fairy tales in the English language, telling the story more fully, always retell some variant on the heroine being hanged for losing an object of gold.[9]

The song likely originated in a language other than English. Some fifty versions have been reported in Finland,[10] where it is well known as Lunastettava neito. It is titled Den Bortsålda in Sweden, and Die Losgekaufte in German. A Lithuanian version has the maid asking relatives to ransom her with their best animals or belongings (sword, house, crown, ring etc.). The maiden curses her relatives who refuse to give up their property, and blesses her fiancé, who does ransom her.[11]
Francis James Child found the English version "defective and distorted", in that, in most cases, the narrative rationale had been lost and only the ransoming sequence remained. Numerous European variants explain the reason for the ransom: the heroine has been captured by pirates.[12] Of the texts he prints, one (95F) had "degenerated" into a children's game, while others had survived as part of a Northern English cante-fable, The Golden Ball (or Key).[12] Child describes additional examples from Färöe, Iceland, Russia, and Slovenia. Several of these feature a man being ransomed by a woman.[12]
The theme of delaying one's execution while awaiting rescue by relatives appears with a similar structure in the classic fairy tale "Bluebeard" by Charles Perrault in 1697[13] (translated into English in 1729).

The Led Zeppelin version of the song is unique in that, despite the bribes, which the hangman accepts, he still carries out the execution.


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