lyrics text

A Lyke Wake Song

words A C Swinburne; tune Greenoaken

Fair of face and full of pride
Sit ye doon by a dead man's side

Ye sang songs a' the day
Sit doon at neet in the red worm's way

Proud ye were a' day long
Ye'll be but lean at evensong

Ye had gowd kells on your hair
Nae man kens what ye were

Ye set scorn by the silken stuff
Now the grave is clean enough

Ye set scorn by the rubis ring
Now the worm is a saft sweet thing

Fine gold and blithe fair face
Ye are come to a grimly place

Gowd hair and glad grey een
Nae man kens if ye have been

Fair of face and full of pride
Sit ye doon by a dead man's side

Ye sang songs a' the day
Sit doon at neet in the red worm's way.

The poet A C Swinburne (1837-1909), though born in London, had a strong familial and emotional connection to Northumberland. The Swinburne family seat was at Capheaton Hall, where the poet spent his childhood holidays. He developed a deep fascination for the songs of the region, collected and edited many of them, and wrote his own very singable pastiches, of which this is one. From his posthumously-published Ballads Of The English Border. The Lyke Wake was the vigil traditionally kept over a corpse ("lyke/lych/ leich") through the first night of its laying out. As a keen folksong scholar, Swinburne would likely have been familiar with the Cleveland Lyke Wake Dirge and its haunting refrain: "This ae neet, this ae neet / Every neet and all / Fire and fleet and candle-leet / And Christ receive thy saule…"

▲ return to list