(or was) sung as a Christmas carol. It does not appear in Professor Child's great collection of ballads, and its discovery is due to the personal enquiries of members of the Folk-Song Society, followed up by letters to local papers. The ballad tells how the Virgin Mary granted her Son's request to be allowed to go and play, on condition that she should "hear no tales" of Him "at night when" He "came home." His playfellows taunt Him with His lowly birth, and so, to prove His real origin rmd His powers, He makes a bridge of sunbeams over the sea, and runs across it safely. His companions trying to do the same are drowned.
"So it's up Lincull, and down Lincull
Their mothers did whoop and call;
'O Mary mild, call home your Child,
For ours are drowned all.'
Then Mary mild called home her Child
And laid Him across her knee,
And with a handful of bitter withy
She gave Him slashes three.
'And it's oh! the withy, the bitter withy.
That caused Me to smart;
The withy shall be the very first tree
To perish at the heart!'"
Now here we have, first of all, the observation of a fact in Nature. The willow does actually decay before other trees. It "perishes at the heart" while preserving an outward appearance of soundness. Then we have an aetiological myth invented to account for this peculiar property of the willow. It is attributed to a curse laid on the tree by a Higher Power. (The particular story told is a version of an incident in the Apocryphal Gospels. I shall return to this by and by.)
Resulting from the perishable nature of the willow we
- Cf. Journal of the Folk-Song Society, June, 1910.