Two fragments of this ballad, A, B, were printed
in the last quarter of the eighteenth century; C-L
were committed to writing after 1800; and, of these, E,
H, J, K are now printed for the first
A-H differ only slightly, but several of these
versions are very imperfect. A young woman, who passes for a leal
maiden, gives birth to two babes [A, B, one,
H, three], puts them to death with a penknife,
B-F, and buries them, or, H, ties them hand
and feet and buries them alive. She afterwards sees two pretty
boys, and exclaims that if they were hers she would treat them
most tenderly. They make answer that when they were hers they
were very differently treated, rehearse what she had done, and
inform or threaten her that hell shall be her portion, C,
D, B, F, H. In I the children
are buried alive, as in H, in J a strangled, in
J b and L killed with the penknife, but the
story is the same down to the termination, where, instead of
simple hell-fire, there are various seven-year penances, properly
belonging to the ballad of 'The Maid and the Palmer,' which
All the English ballads are in two-line stanzas.[foot-note]
Until 1870 no corresponding ballad had been found in Denmark,
though none was more likely to occur in Danish. That year
Kristensen, in the course of his very remarkable ballad-quest in
Jutland, recovered two versions which approach surprisingly near
to Scottish tradition, and especially to B: Jydske
Folkeviser, I, 329, No 121 A, B, 'Barnemordersken.'
Two other Danish versions have been obtained since then, but have
not been published. A and B are much the same, and
a close translation of A will not take much more space
than would be required for a sufficient abstract.
Little Kirsten took with her the bower-women five,
And with them she went to the wood belive.
She spread her cloak down on the earth,
And on it to two little twins gave birth.
She laid them under a turf so green,
Nor suffered for them a sorrow unseen.
She laid them under so broad a stone,
Suffered sorrow nor harm for what she had done.
Eight years it was, and the children twain
Would fain go home to their mother again.
They went and before Our Lord they stood:
'Might we go home, to our mother, we would.'
'Ye may go to your mother, if ye will,
But ye may not contrive any ill.'
They knocked at the door, they made no din:
'Rise up, our mother, and let us in.'
By life and by death hath she cursed and sworn,
That never a child in the world had she borne.
'Stop, stop, dear mother, and swear not so fast,
We shall recount to you what has passed.
'You took with you the bower-women five,
And with them went to the wood belive.
'You spread your cloak down on the earth,
And on it to two little twins gave birth.
'You laid us under a turf so green,
Nor suffered for us a sorrow unseen.
'You laid us under so broad a stone,
Suffered sorrow nor harm for what you had done.'
'Nay my dear bairns, but stay with me;
And four barrels of gold shall be your fee.'
'You may give us four, or five, if you choose,
But not for all that, heaven will we lose.
'You may give us eight, you may give us nine,
But not for all these, heaven will we tine.
'Our seat is made ready in heavenly light,
But for you a seat in hell is dight.'
A ballad is spread all over Germany which is probably a
variation of 'The Cruel Mother,' though, the resemblance is
rather in the general character than in the details. A,
'Hollisches Recht,' Wunderhorn, II, 202, ed. of 1808, II, 205,
ed. 1857. Mittler, No 489, p. 383, seems to be this regulated and
filled out. B, Erlach, 'Die Rabenmutter,' iv, 148;
repeated, with the addition of one stanza, by Zuccalmaglio, p.
203, No 97. C, 'Die Kindsmörderinn,' Meinert, p. 164,
from the Kuhlandchen; turned into current German, Erk's
Liederhort, p. 144, No 41o. D, Simrock, p. 87,
No 37a from the Aargau. E, 'Das falsche
Mutterherz,' Erk u. Irmer, Heft 5, No 7, and 'Die
Kindesmörderin,' Erk's Liederhort, p. 140, No 41,
Brandenburg. F, Liederhort, p. 142, No 41a
Silesia. G, Liederhort, p. 143, 41b, from the
Rhein, very near to B. H, Hoffmann u. Richter, No
31, p. 54, and I, No 32, p. 57, Silesia. J,
Ditfurth, Frankische V. 1., n, 12, No 13. K, 'Die
Rabenmutter,' Peter, Volksthümliches aus
Osterreichisch-Schlesien, I, 210, No 21. L, 'Der Teufel u.
die Müllerstochter,' Prohle, Weltliche u. geistliche V. 1.,
p. 15, No 9, Hanoverian Harz. Repetitions and compounded copies
are not noticed.
The story is nearly this in all. A herdsman, passing through a
wood, hears the cry of a child, but cannot make out whence the
sound comes. The child announces that it is hidden in a hollow
tree, and asks to be taken to the house where its mother is to be
married that day. There arrived, the child proclaims before all
the company that the bride is its mother. The bride, or some one
of the party, calls attention to the fact that she is still
wearing her maiden-wreath. Nevertheless, says the child, she has
had three children: one she drowned, one she buried in a
dung-heap [the sand], and one she hid in a hollow tree. The bride
wishes that the devil may come for her
if this is true, and, upon
the word, Satan appears and takes her off; in B, G,
J, with words like these:
'Komm her, komm her, meine schonste Braut,
Dein Sessel ist dir in der Holle gebaut.' J 9.
A Wendish version, 'Der Hollentanz,' in Haupt and Schmaler, I,
290, No 292, differs from the German ballads only in this, that
the bride has already borne nine children, and is going with the
A combination of B, C, D, F is
translated by Grundtvig, Engelske og skotske Folkeviser, No 43,
p. 279, and I, from the eighth stanza on, p. 282. C
is translated by Wolff, Halle der Völker, I, 11, and
Hauschatz, p. 223; Allingham's version (nearly B a)
by Knortz, L. u. R. Alt-Englands, p. 178, No 48.
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