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Scarborough Fair: A Short Story - Part 2


Some More History

In Part 1 we looked at some of the history of Scarborough Fair as it began in 1235 AD under a charter by King Henry III allowing Scarborough to hold a yearly trade fair. The purpose of the fair was to spark local commerce as people came from far and wide to buy and sell their wares.

The customs of the day focused on long-distance courtships, which rarely were successful. It was from this background that the Old-English folk song Scarborough Faire came to be. Folk music was passed on from person to person and from generation to generation. The songs would develop and evolve as they made the rounds to different places at different times.

As time went by, verses were often added to a song. As we look at the song, Scarborough Fair, most of us know of only five verses. In reality, there are at least 13 verses, and they are worded slightly different in different versions. I refer to one of the other verses here in Part 2 of the short story.

I also left you with some videos below that explore the history of both the music and the lyrics. You will notice how the song has evolved over the years. Before 1956 the song we have come to know as Scarborough Fair is almost unrecognizable.

The version we are probably most familiar with is that of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The song was recorded in 1966 and was actually two songs in one - Scarborough Fair/Canticle. Canticle runs a counter-melody to that of Scarborough Fair but is a different and separate song with a different meaning. Canticle reflects the turbulent times of the 1960s and the prevalent anti-war philosophy of that time.

So how do they fit together? The lover in Scarborough Fair is asked to perform a series of impossible tasks. The anti-war movement was crying out for peace - another impossible task from a human viewpoint.

The words to Canticle taken from Paul Simon's official website are as follows:

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green
Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown
Blankets and bedclothes the child of the mountain
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call

On the side of a hill in the sprinkling of leaves
Washes the grave with silvery tears
A soldier cleans and polishes a gun
Sleeps unaware of the clarion call

War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions
Generals order their soldiers to kill
And to fight for a cause they have long ago forgotten

You can hear the interweaving of the two songs in the video below. Watch the videos. Then let's move on to Part 2 of Scarborough Fair - A Short Story.

A History of the Melody to Scarborough Fair

A History of the lyrics to Scarborouigh Fair

From Part 1

Reginald pleads with Godfrey to deliver a box representing their love to Lady Katherine. What was in the box, only Reginald knew.

Godfrey was off to find Katherine. It wasn't long until he spied her a few shops down the street. He carefully put the box under his cloak and approached her. "Lady Katherine," he called as he quickened his step.


Katherine turned around as he spoke. "My good Godfrey! 'Tis so good to see you again. Has the year been good to you?"

"It most certainly has, my Lady, but first things first. I met a man along the way. He wished me to give this to you." Godfrey pulled the box from under his cloak. Tears glistened in Katherine's eyes as the morning sun beamed on her face.

Godfrey added, "His name is Reginald. Why the mist in your eyes, my Lady?"

"Yes. I know of Reginald. I believed him to be my true love, but he was not. The box - day by day we would fill it with writings of our devotion to each other. But alas, I was pushed aside."

"Promises of true love? Then you must open the box. Perhaps he has reconsidered his lot. Please, open it now!"

Katherine took the box from Godfrey's hands and began to tug at the lid.


Within the box, lay two sheets of fine linen paper. Katherine gently lifted the first piece. She read as disappointment began to cover her face.

In an attempt to ease Katherine's pain, Godfrey asked, "What is it, my Lady. Surely it is good news. Is it not?"

"Oh, Godfrey! He asks me to do impossible tasks to win his love. He mocks me."

"My Lady, what does it say?"

"He asks me to make him a shirt of cambric but with no seam or sewing. He asks me to find him land in the middle of the ocean. He asks me to reap heather with a sickle of leather, and then gather it in bunches. Oh, and he adds, 'then you'll be a true love of mine.' He mocks me! He mocks me!"

"My dear Katherine, I spoke to Reginald myself. I believe he cares for you. What is that other piece of paper within the box?"

Katherine was careful to lift the other piece of paper from its resting place. Under the paper were four herbal sprigs tied neatly together. Katherine lifted the first from the box and held it in Godfrey's view.

Godfrey studied the plants. Then a smile broke through his lips. "My Lady, this is the message Reginald wants to share with you. Look! Parsley. Parsley eases bitterness. He is saying he has no bitterness and begs you not to be bitter as well."

Godfrey studied the second sprig. "Sage - sage speaks of strength. He adds to his message. Be not bitter but strong."

Godfrey's eyes danced with delight as he held the third herb for Katherine to inspect. "Katherine, 'tis rosemary. Reginald is asking you to be faithful as he has been to you. He wants you for his own. And this last one, thyme. Thyme speaks of comfort. Do you see? He wants you to be free of bitterness and filled with strength. Be comforted by the fact that he desires your companionship from this day forward!

Katherine was touched by the hidden message of the herbs, but she still was confused. "If he is asking for me, why has he given me such impossible tasks to prove my devotion? He mocks me, Godfrey,"

Katherine stood in tears holding the parchment she removed from the box. Godfrey noticed immediately.

"Katherine, there is a message on the underside of that page. What does it say?

She studied the words closely. Then she read aloud,

"If she tells me she can't, then I'll reply
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Let me know, that at least she will try.
Then she'll be a true love of mine."

Godfrey was deep in thought. Scratching his head, he exhorted, "My dear Lady, all he asks is that you try. We will do this! Quickly go back to the shop of fabrics. Bring me two good lengths of cambric. I must go to my fellow John. I shall return soon. I'll explain then."

Godfrey was off - running up and down the streets inquiring for John. He finally met him as he was examining goats at the livestock pavilion.

"John! John! My good fellow. Lady Katherin is in need of your assistance. You must come with me!"

"Godfrey, my old friend, what is so urgent?"

"Reginald has asked for Katherine's hand in marriage. He also has asked her to perform some very difficult tasks to prove her devotion. She needs our help. I will explain as we head back to the shop of fabrics. Please, we must hurry!" The two traveled back to the shop to meet Katherine. who was waiting patiently for their return.


© 2018 William Kovacic

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