It all started when I stumbled across a book in the public domain, “The English and Scottish Popular Ballads” compiled and edited by Francis James Child (Published 1882-1898). Intrigued, I began reading the very first ballad in the book, “Riddles Wisely Expounded” beginning on page one.
My first thought was, “what do these tunes sound like?” There is no sheet music to accompany the ballads in Child’s compilation. Maybe the melodies will be forever lost to history, and we’re left to write ourown melodic interpretation. After a quick search, I came to find that thankfully Anaïs was up to the task. Please enjoy her interpretation of “Riddles Wisely Expounded” above.
As its title suggests, “Riddles Wisely Expounded” is a riddle song. “Riddles, as is well known, play an important part in popular story,” says Child in his book. The major theme of riddles in story is that of rival competition in giving or guessing riddles, with a heavy wager or forfeiture of life. Another theme in riddles, he continues, “is the tale … of The Clever Lass, who wins a husband … by guessing riddles … or matching and evading impossibilities.” Reminiscent of the more popular tune “Scarborough Fair”, don’t you think?
Here’s the closest thing I could find to sheet music, which may be what the tune originally sounded like, but Anaïs has put her own spin on the melody. Sheet music for “Riddles Wisely Expounded“.
Here are the words to the original ballad set down by Child. If you want the lyrics as sung by Anaïs, you can find them here: Anaïs’ Lyrics
There was a knicht riding frae the east,
Sing the Cather banks, the bonnie brume
Wha had been wooing at monie a place.
And ye may beguile a young thing sune
He came unto a widow’s door
And speird whare her three dochters were.
The auldest ane’s to a washing gane,
The second’s to a baking gane.
The youngest ane’s to a wedding gane,
And it will be nicht or she be hame.
He sat him doun upon a stane,
Till thir three lasses came tripping hame.
The auldest ane’s to the bed making,
And the second ane’s to the sheet spreading.
The youngest ane was bauld and bricht,
And she was to lye with this unco knicht.
‘Gin ye will answer me questions ten,
The morn ye sall be made my ain.
‘O what is heigher nor the tree?
And what is deeper nor the sea?
‘Or what is heavier nor the lead?
And what is better nor the breid?
‘O what is whiter nor the milk?
Or what is safter nor the silk?
‘Or what is sharper nor a thorn?
Or what is louder nor a horn?
‘Or what is greener nor the grass?
Or what is waur nor a woman was?’
‘O heaven is higher nor the tree,
And hell is deeper nor the sea.
‘O sin is heavier nor the lead,
The blessing’s better nor the bread.
‘The snaw is whiter nor the milk,
And the down is safter nor the silk.
‘Hunger is sharper nor a thorn,
And shame is louder nor a horn.
‘The pies are greener nor the grass,
And Clootie’s waur nor a woman was.’
As sune as she the fiend did name,
He flew awa in a blazing flame.