About the song Scarborough Fair

Lyrics of the song

Are you going to scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Without a seam or needle work,
For once she was be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yinder dry well,
Parsley,sage,rosemary and tyme;
Were water n’er sprang,nor drop of rain fell,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder gray thorn,
Parsley,sage,rosemary and tyme;
Which n’er bore blossom since Adam was born,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to find me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Between the salt water and the sea sand,
For once she was be a true love of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She was once a true love of mine.

The history of Scarborough and its fair

This English folk song dates back to late medieval times, when the seaside resort of Scarborough was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England. Founded well over a thousand years ago as Skarthaborg by the norman Skartha, the Viking settlement in North Yorkshire in the north-west of England became a very important port as the dark ages drew to a close.

Scarborough Fair was not a fair as we know it today (although it attracted jesters and jugglers) but a huge forty-five day trading event, starting August fifteen, which was exceptionally long for a fair in those days. People from all over England, and even some from the continent, came to Scarborough to do their business. As eventually the harbour started to decline, so did the fair, and Scarborough is a quiet, small town now.

The history of the song

In the middle ages, people didn’t usually take credit for songs or other works of art they made, so the writer of Scarborough Fair is unknown. The song was sung by bards (or shapers, as they were known in medieval England) who went from town to town, and as they heard the song and took it with them to another town, the lyrics and arrangements changed. This is why today there are many versions of Scarborough Fair, and there are dozens of ways in which the words have been written down.

Explanations of the lyrics

The narrator of the song is a man who was jilted by his lover. Although dealing with the paradoxes he sees himself posed to in a very subtle and poetic manner, this was a folk song and not written by nobles. The courtly ideal of romantic love in the middle ages, practised by knights and noblemen, was loving a lady and adoring her from a distance, in a very detached manner. There was hardly a dream and sometimes not even a wish that such love could ever be answered.

As a version of the song exists which is set in Whittington Fair and which is presumed to be equally old, it is puzzling why the lieu d’action of the song eventually became reverted to Scarborough. A possible explanation is that this is a hint from the singer to his lover, telling how she went away suddenly without warning or reason.

Scarborough was known as a town where suspected thieves or other criminals were quickly dealt with and hung on a tree or a la lanterne after some form of street justice. This is why a ‘Scarborough warning’ still means ‘without any warning’ in today’s English. This would also account for the absence of any suggestion of a reason for her departure, which could mean either that the singer doesn’t have a clue why his lady left, or perhaps that these reasons are too difficult to explain and he gently leaves them out. The writer goes on to assign his true love impossible tasks, to try and explain to her that love sometimes requires doing things which seem downright impossible on the face of it. The singer is asking his love to do the impossible, and then come back to him and ask for his hand. This is a highly unusual suggestion, because in those days it was a grave faux-pas to people from all walks of life for a lady to ask for a man’s hand. Yet it fits in well with the rest of the lyrics, as nothing seems to be impossible in the song.

The meaning of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

The herbs parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, recurring in the second line of each stanza, make up for a key motive in the song. Although meaningless to most people today, these herbs spoke to the imagination of medieval people as much as red roses do to us today. Without any connotation neccesary, they symbolize virtues the singer wishes his true love and himself to have, in order to make it possible for her to come back again.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Parsley is still prescribed by phytotherapists today to people who suffer from bad digestion. Eating a leaf of parsley with a meal makes the digestion of heavy vegetables such as spinach a lot easier. It was said to take away the bitterness, and medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage has been known to symbolize strength for thousands of years.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance. Ancient Greek lovers used to give rosemary to their ladies, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practised in England and several other European countries today. The herb also stands for sensibility and prudence. Ancient Roman doctors recommended putting a small bag of rosemary leaves under the pillow of someone who had to perform a difficult mental task, such as an exam. Rosemary is associated with feminine love, because it’s very strong and tough, although it grows slowly.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

According to legend, the king of fairies dances in the wild thyme with all of the fairies on midsummernight; that’s the best known legendary appearance of the herb. But the reason Thyme is mentioned here is that it symbolizes courage. At the time this song was written, knights used to wear images of thyme in their shields when they went to combat, which their ladies embroidered in them as a symbol of their courage.

This makes it clear what the disappointed lover means to say by mentioning these herbs. He wishes his true love mildness to soothe the bitterness which is between them, strength to stand firm in the time of their being apart from each other, faithfulness to stay with him during this period of loneliness and paradoxically courage to fulfill her impossible tasks and to come back to him by the time she can.

See also,

http://www.geocities.com/paris/villa/3895/

http://ygraine.membrane.com/enterhtml/free/FoodForThought/lyrics/herb/Z02_Scarborough_Fair.html

Monkey film

Well, I thought that these .mp3 files at www.ernestcline.com were hilarious.

http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/Nerd_Porn_Auteur-Ernie_Cline.mp3

http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/When_I_Was_A_Kid-Ernie_Cline.mp3

http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/Airwolf-Ernie_Cline.mp3

http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/The_Geek_Wants_Out-Ernie_Cline.mp3

http://www.ernestcline.com/spokenword/Dance_Monkeys_Dance-Ernie_Cline.mp3

Not any more. Watch DJ Stelio’s pick from YouTube.

A user has commented:

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled is to convince the world he doesnt exist. Science is man made and thus flawed. Nothing man made is perfect. But the universe is so intrinsically balanced that to dismiss it as coincidence is just stupid. “The world is flat”, “The atom is the smallest thing”, scientic facts always turned out to be bullshit!”

This is deep, Ha Ha Ha !

 

Tags: ,

Is oil renewable?

 

Tags:

I’m surprised by the claim that oil is not a fossil fuel.

Another webpage states that “oil is actually a renewable, primordial syrup continually manufactured by the earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attacked by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs.”

Can this be true? People please tell me.

Reducing plastic usage

What can you do to reduce plastic usage?

  1. When going shopping, carry your own bag.
  2. Stop giving free plastic bags and stop accepting them.
  3. Use bags made of natural fibres available locally – cotton, jute etc.
  4. Avoid paper bags altogether. They cannot substitute for plastic bags. Save the trees.
  5. Pass an act or bill or something.
  6. If you use plastic, dispose it properly.
  7. If you see plastic litter, clean it up if you can.
  8. Replace plastic boxes with metal or wood, if you can
  9. Spend 10 minutes at http://www.reusablebags.com
  10. Teach youngsters around you that “natural is cool”.
  11. Spread the word.

Thought for the day

I read this beautiful piece of writing today and it gave me enough clarity to think through the day.

  • Worrying does not empty tomorrow of its troubles. However, it does empty today of its strength.
  • Keep your head and your heart going in the right direction and you
    will not have to worry about your feet.
  • If something is wrong, fix it if you can. But train yourself not to worry. Worry never fixes anything.

Remembering Paul Gauguin

“Peak Oil” has been eating my brains out for the last couple of days.

Except a few chemical engineers around me who atleast seem to understand the enormity of the problem, most people around me seem blissfully ignorant and completely unaware. I even heard about some one saying “Oil can’t ever run out, it gushes out from under the earth.”

History seems all set to reverse itself.

I’m reminded of Gauguin’s words: “In order to do something new we must go back to the source, to humanity in its infancy.”

The human kind surely does not need oil to survive.

Great empires were established without a single drop of oil. Even though Rome was not built in a day, it was built before refineries were built.

In lieu of oil, humans will need to work harder, but that can’t be very bad. For centuries, our forefathers have done that.

But of course, working harder was never an acceptable solution to the human race. What we want is a simple magical energy solution will present itself to the human race so that the laziness can prevail and all can watch TV sitting on fat couches eating chips and drinking cola. It could be a simple wave of Harry Potter’s wand or a wierd gravity defying perpetual motion machine installed and maintained by Mickey Mouse. The solution has to come from somewhere.

People, atleast some of them, need to take up the role of artists to create the ultimate energy solution…and the painter should not paint what he sees, but what will be seen.

Gauguin said : I shut my eyes in order to see

This means that if a painter limits himself to the mundane sight of the world, his ability to create things beyond the mundane sight is lost.

What I learn from this is that for one to arrive at a truly creative solution, one has to stop worrying about the norm. Creative solutions are obtained more easily if the norm is discarded and the mind is free to seek and try means that are new, different or innovated.

I’m going to close my eyes now, so that I can find a solution to the energy crisis. Check this space tomorrow 🙂

What every Indian should know

There is an interesting provision in the Indian voting system, as per a 1969 act, in section “49-O” of code of conduct of elections.

As per this, a person can go to the polling booth, confirm his identity, get his finger marked and convey the presiding election officer that he doesn’t want to vote for anyone!

Now, why should anybody go to the polling booth and say “I DO NOT WANT TO VOTE FOR ANYBODY”?

Simply because it can make a difference.

“Not voting” and deciding to “not vote for anybody” are two different things as per the constitution.

The decision to “not vote for anybody” prevents your vote from being misused. Also, it can alter the course of an election result even after a candidate has won a majority of votes.

If the number of people using the “49 O” option is greater than the winning candidates vote margin, then the election results would be null and void. Not only that, the candidature of the contestant would be removed and they cannot recontest, since people had already expressed their decision on them.

This way, if >50% people decide to use this option, then this means people do not have faith in any candidate who is contesting the election. The political parties would have to then either propose new candidates for the next elections who are acceptable to public or it may pave a way for new independent candidates.

This would instill some fear inthe political parties who would look for genuine candidates for their parties for election. This could change the way of our whole political system.

Showing your power expressing your desire not to vote for anybody is more powerful than voting , so don’t miss your chance.

So either vote, or vote not to vote (vote 49-O) and you can do your share to improve India’s political system.

For those who know Tamil, there is an article about this at http://www.keetru.com/ohpodu/Oh_Podu.pdf.

Please pass the word on to everybody you know.

Write for Wikipedia

Over the last couple of days, I spent a lot of time wondering what web content I could create, all by my own.

Narrowing down on an answer was not easy.

I have lived three decades on this planet. Been there, done that – but would it interest anyboy at all?

Ideally, I’d like to create content that lasts forever.

But what is it that lasts forever?

People change companies. Companies change businesses. Businesses change technologies. Technologies change. Even science changes.

No matter what I write today, I’m cluttering up the disk space of some server.

If what I write does not serve a purpose today or is not required to be preserved for future, there is no point in my writing it. I only hope that a few bloggers realise this before they waste their efforts.

In these few years that I’ve known the net, I’ve read through a large number of blog sites, checked many search engines for the content they index and browsed through a large number of other websites created by individuals and companies.

I would argue that internet should be used only constructively for education and archiving and passing on our wisdom to the future generations.

All those websites out there that sell sleaze and whose only purpose is to make money would definitely disagree with me.

Internet, after all, is yet another product of the human mind and has consequently evolved to reflect the human mind. There are a great many number of things in it that have a varying degree of utility and legality.

After a self humbling experience of browsing the internet, which is as difficult as trying to understand the human mind itself, a tired traveller can just ask for two things.

“Organisation and structure.”

This is what Wikipedia has perfected.

To me, seeking knowledge on Google represents “the struggle of the mind to find a solution amidst chaos”.

Google is, beyond all doubts, a great tool for the internet. Given that the internet itself is the byproduct of actions of nerds, musicians, artists, perverts, maniacs, grand mothers, lawyers, psychopaths, educators, kids and pretty much every one else, it is natural that seeking knowledge from the internet is as chaotic like what it is today.

Wikipedia, on the other hand, to me represents order.

I am a structured learner. By typing the same search string into Wikipedia, I’ve often learnt much more than what I’ve learnt from Google.

Wikipedia does not help if you are looking to download warez, cracks, source codes for viruses or anything else illegal. Needs such as these, which have a varying degree of utility and legality, are best addressed by Google.

But what Wikipedia does, and does very well, is it lets you seek information in a very formal, structured and hyperlinked way.

I remember my excitement when I first learnt about hyperlinks from a text book without even having seen one and how fascinated I was by the idea that information can be interconnected in any manner we want. Reading through Wikipedia, I realise that the potential of the hyperlinking has been exploited like never before.

To me Wikipedia represents a dream fulfilled, a truly wonderful legacy that we will be passing on to the generations to come.

If every person can add even just one line to it in his life time, the entire 6 billion strong world can benefit from this wonderful tool. I can only urge every one to participate in the Wikipedia wonder, use it and contribute to it.

PI

Though PI has a reputation of being an irrational number (a number that can’t be expressed as a ratio of two integers), I did a small check to see which vulgar fraction within denominator <1000 comes closest to PI


Fraction Value % error
pi() 3.141592654
22/7 3.142857143 0.040249943
355/113 3.14159292 0.000008491
1043/332 3.141566265 -0.000839973
1753/558 3.141577061 -0.00049633
2152/685 3.141605839 0.000419718

Remembering Gibran

Then a woman said, “Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.”And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that hold your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

Stand by your man

When I sat up to type today, I was wondering if I should relate to Holi. There are many many songs on Holi.

I was listening to Anup Jalota’s ghazals last night and was wondering if I should type down the lyrics of a romantic Ghazal as a tribute to lovers who had all the Holi fun.

As for me, I am not playing with colours today, simply because I’m not used to it.
Except once in college when I got dragged into a pool of mud and got sprayed with colours, I’ve never known much of Holi.

As I’m not going to office today, I’ll be glad if I can fix the ID3 v2 tags of, say, a 100 songs and load it into my Yepp Player.

And it happened…
It happened as I was thinking and even as I was typing this blog…

I heard for the first time, a country love song by Wanda Jackson. Right after the first time, I decided that this is what I’m going to post today. Lyrics are a bit prosaic, alright.  It’s Wanda’s singing that make it a song. While the lyrics are not very rhyming, its the idea behind the song I liked.

I dont know of a woman these days who can write half as well to please a man.

I didnt have time to research the song. But I did find an interesting link to Wanda Jackson.
She’s kind of cute. How else would Elvis be dating her otherwise?

Some day, I’ll write my tribute to the Elvis, the king.

Lyrics to Standby your man

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman
Giving all your love to just one man
You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times
Doin’ things that you don’t understand

But if you love him, you’ll forgive him
Even though he’s hard to understand
And if you love him, all be proud of him
Cause after all he’s just a man

Stand by your man
Give him two arms to cling to
And something warm to come to
When nights are cold and lonely

Stand by your man
And tell the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man

Stand by your man
And show the world you love him
Keep giving all the love you can
Stand by your man

Give me oil in my lamp

I perhaps didn’t sing enough of this song when I was taught it at seven. As a little boy I just wondered what Hosanna meant. I didnt like the song because it was so full of Hosanna anyway.

I still don’t know what Hosanna means, there are no authoritative meanings assigned to it as much as I could find from the internet. Possible origins are as varied as Old english, Late Latin and ofcourse Hebrew.

But as I grew up this song took a different meaning. I began to like the simple words that make powerful expressions.

I dont know when I will ever get to sing this song again, or perhaps if I will sing it out loud at all.

But here goes.

Give me oil in my lamp

Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Give me oil in my lamp, I pray.
Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning. Keep me burning ’til the break of day.

Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.
Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.

Give me joy in my heart, keep me singing. Give me joy in my heart, I pray.
Give me joy in my heart, keep me singing. Keep me singing ’til the break of day.

Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.
Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.

Give me love in my heart, keep me serving. Give me love in my heart, I pray.
Give me love in my heart, keep me serving. Keep me serving ’til the break of day.

Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.
Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.

Give me peace in my soul, keep me praising. Give me peace in my soul, I pray.
Give me peace in my soul, keep me praising. Keep me praising ’til the break of day.

Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.
Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, Sing Hosanna, to the King of Kings.

There Shall be showers of Blessing

Year 1993.

One of my close friends, who helped me through a surgery just a few months back suggested that I spend a week end in a Christian camp with him. I agreed, though I am not a Christian by birth, and was present there for two full days, praying, worshipping and singing the glory of Jesus. I learn’t many new hymns and this one was particularly close to my heart.

My friend has moved on with life now. Some where we even pick-up disagreements and we are no longer in touch. But all said and done, he was a good Christian and I regret that I didn’t use him to learn more about Christianity, despite his repeated offerings to help me learn.

I suddenly remember this song today and decided to check if it is available for download. There are only 135 listings even of the Lyrics. I will be pleased if some one is willing to share an mp3 version of this song with me.

There Shall be showers of Blessing

There shall be showers of blessing
This is the promise of love;
There shall be seasons refreshing,
Sent from the Savior above.

(Chorus)
Showers of blessings,
Showers of blessings we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead

There shall be showers of blessing
Precious, reviving again,
Over the hills and the valleys,
Sound of abundance of rain.

(Chorus)
Showers of blessings,
Showers of blessings we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead

There shall be showers of blessing
Send them upon us, O Lord!
Grant to us now a refreshing,
Come and now honor Thy Word!

(Chorus)
Showers of blessings,
Showers of blessings we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead

There shall be showers of blessing
O that today they might fall,
Now as to God we’re confessing,
Now as on Jesus we call!

(Chorus)
Showers of blessings,
Showers of blessings we need;
Mercy drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead

How do I know who am I

When I first saw Rabbi Shergill’s video for the song Bulla ki jaana main kaun, I knew instantly that I would be spending more time on it.

After researching the lyrics for 8 hours and listening to it several times to firm up the lyrics, I found my own translation to be the most convincing. Come on folks, I’m not even Punjabi. I even found the guitar tabs here

Baba Bulleh Shah (1680-1758), has surely been an excellent writer of songs. No other song in an unknown langauage would have impressed me more. Though he lived during the time before the printing press, most of what we know about him has come to us through unreliable anecdotes and folklore. The limited authentic historical record, based on sporadic references to events of his life in his poetry and in the writings of his contemporaries, is barely enough for a brief sketch of his life.

I’ll read more – if only I find time. Anyways, here is my translation of the song:

Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I

Na main moman vich maseetan 	Neither am I believer in a Mosque
Na main vich kufar dian reetan 	Nor a pagan practising false rites
Na main pakan vich paleetan 	Nor am I the Pure amongst impure

Na main andar bed kitaban 	Neither am I in any Holy Books (Vedas)
Na main rehnda phaang sharaban 	Nor high on any drugs or alochol
Na main rehnda mast kharaban	Nor am I an idle delinquent

Na main shadi na ghamnaki 	I am neither happy union nor lonely misery
Na main vich paleetan pakeen 	Nor am I pure or impure
Na main aaabi na main khaki	Nor am I water or earth
Na main aatish na main paun	Nor am I fire or air

Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I

Na main arabi na lahori	        I am neither an Arab or a Lahori (Pakistani)
Na main hindi shehar Nagauri	Nor am I from the (Indian) town of Nagaur
Na hindu na turk pashauri	Nor am I a Hindu or a Peshawari Turk

Na main bhet mazhab de paya	I did not create any differences in faiths
Na main aadam hawwa jaya	Nor do I know of any Adam or Eve
Na koi apna naam dharaya	I did not name myself

Avval aakhar aap nu jana 	I know only of the Self
Na koi dooja hor pacchana 	and recognise no Other
Mai ton na koi hor syana	There is nobody wiser than I

Bulle shah kharha hai kaun?	Bulleshah, who is standing (in your place)?

Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I

Na main moosa na pharaoh	Neither am I Moses nor the Pharoah
Na main jagan na vich saun	Neither am I awake nor asleep
Na main aatish na main paun	Neither am I am fire nor wind
Na main rahnda vich Nadaun	Nor do I live in Nadaun
Na main baitthan na vich bhaun	Neither am I at rest nor in a storm

Bulle shah kharha hai kaun?	Bulleshah, who is standing (in your place)?

Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I

Oh! Oh! Oh!  Oh! Oh! Oh!

Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I
Bulla ki jaana main kaun 	Bulla, how do I know who am I

About the song Scarborough Fair

Lyrics of the song

Are you going to scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Without a seam or needle work,
For once she was be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yinder dry well,
Parsley,sage,rosemary and tyme;
Were water n’er sprang,nor drop of rain fell,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder gray thorn,
Parsley,sage,rosemary and tyme;
Which n’er bore blossom since Adam was born,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Tell her to find me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
Between the salt water and the sea sand,
For once she was be a true love of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
And gather it all in a bunch of heather,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Are you going to Scarborough fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there.
She was once a true love of mine.

The history of Scarborough and its fair

This English folk song dates back to late medieval times, when the seaside resort of Scarborough was an important venue for tradesmen from all over England. Founded well over a thousand years ago as Skarthaborg by the norman Skartha, the Viking settlement in North Yorkshire in the north-west of England became a very important port as the dark ages drew to a close.

Scarborough Fair was not a fair as we know it today (although it attracted jesters and jugglers) but a huge forty-five day trading event, starting August fifteen, which was exceptionally long for a fair in those days. People from all over England, and even some from the continent, came to Scarborough to do their business. As eventually the harbour started to decline, so did the fair, and Scarborough is a quiet, small town now.

The history of the song

In the middle ages, people didn’t usually take credit for songs or other works of art they made, so the writer of Scarborough Fair is unknown. The song was sung by bards (or shapers, as they were known in medieval England) who went from town to town, and as they heard the song and took it with them to another town, the lyrics and arrangements changed. This is why today there are many versions of Scarborough Fair, and there are dozens of ways in which the words have been written down.

Explanations of the lyrics

The narrator of the song is a man who was jilted by his lover. Although dealing with the paradoxes he sees himself posed to in a very subtle and poetic manner, this was a folk song and not written by nobles. The courtly ideal of romantic love in the middle ages, practised by knights and noblemen, was loving a lady and adoring her from a distance, in a very detached manner. There was hardly a dream and sometimes not even a wish that such love could ever be answered.

As a version of the song exists which is set in Whittington Fair and which is presumed to be equally old, it is puzzling why the lieu d’action of the song eventually became reverted to Scarborough. A possible explanation is that this is a hint from the singer to his lover, telling how she went away suddenly without warning or reason.

Scarborough was known as a town where suspected thieves or other criminals were quickly dealt with and hung on a tree or a la lanterne after some form of street justice. This is why a ‘Scarborough warning’ still means ‘without any warning’ in today’s English. This would also account for the absence of any suggestion of a reason for her departure, which could mean either that the singer doesn’t have a clue why his lady left, or perhaps that these reasons are too difficult to explain and he gently leaves them out. The writer goes on to assign his true love impossible tasks, to try and explain to her that love sometimes requires doing things which seem downright impossible on the face of it. The singer is asking his love to do the impossible, and then come back to him and ask for his hand. This is a highly unusual suggestion, because in those days it was a grave faux-pas to people from all walks of life for a lady to ask for a man’s hand. Yet it fits in well with the rest of the lyrics, as nothing seems to be impossible in the song.

The meaning of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

The herbs parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, recurring in the second line of each stanza, make up for a key motive in the song. Although meaningless to most people today, these herbs spoke to the imagination of medieval people as much as red roses do to us today. Without any connotation neccesary, they symbolize virtues the singer wishes his true love and himself to have, in order to make it possible for her to come back again.

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Parsley is still prescribed by phytotherapists today to people who suffer from bad digestion. Eating a leaf of parsley with a meal makes the digestion of heavy vegetables such as spinach a lot easier. It was said to take away the bitterness, and medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage has been known to symbolize strength for thousands of years.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance. Ancient Greek lovers used to give rosemary to their ladies, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practised in England and several other European countries today. The herb also stands for sensibility and prudence. Ancient Roman doctors recommended putting a small bag of rosemary leaves under the pillow of someone who had to perform a difficult mental task, such as an exam. Rosemary is associated with feminine love, because it’s very strong and tough, although it grows slowly.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

According to legend, the king of fairies dances in the wild thyme with all of the fairies on midsummernight; that’s the best known legendary appearance of the herb. But the reason Thyme is mentioned here is that it symbolizes courage. At the time this song was written, knights used to wear images of thyme in their shields when they went to combat, which their ladies embroidered in them as a symbol of their courage.
This makes it clear what the disappointed lover means to say by mentioning these herbs. He wishes his true love mildness to soothe the bitterness which is between them, strength to stand firm in the time of their being apart from each other, faithfulness to stay with him during this period of loneliness and paradoxically courage to fulfill her impossible tasks and to come back to him by the time she can.

Songs sung later by Nana Mouskouri and Sara Brightman can be found here.