She Moves Through the Fair: Alternate Lyrics (Our Wedding Day)

I once had a wee lass and I loved her well,
I loved her far better than my tongue can tell,
Her parents disliked me for my want of years,
So adieu to all pleasure since I lost my dear.

Then I dreamt last night that my love came in,
And she walked up so soft that her feet made no din.
I thought that she spoke and those words she did say,
“It won’t be long now, love, till our wedding day.”

Then according to promise at midnight I rose
And found nothing there but the down-folded clothes,
The sheets they were empty, as plain as you see,
And out of the window with another went she.

Oh, it’s Molly, lovely Molly, what’s this that you have done?
You have pulled the thistle, left the red rose behind;
The thistle will wither and decay away soon,
But the red rose will flourish in the merry month of June.

Then if I was a fisherman down by the seaside
And Molly a salmon, coming in with the tide,
I would cast out my net and catch her in a snare,
I would have lovely Molly, I vow and declare.

Or if I was an eagle and had two wings to fly,
I would fly to my love’s castle and it’s there I would lie,
In a bed of green ivy I would leave myself down,
With my two folded wings I would my love surround.

From Songs of the People, Sam Henry

“Wee lass” is sometimes replaced with “true love” or “sweetheart”.


She Moves Through the Fair: Modern Lyrics and Variations

Padraic Colum’s Poem

My young love said to me, “My brothers won’t mind,
And my parents won’t slight you for your lack of kind,”
Then she stepped away from me, and this she did say,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day”

She stepped away from me, and she moved through the fair
And fondly I watched her go here and go there,
Then she went her way homeward with one star awake,
As the swan in the evening  moves over the lake.

The people were saying no two were e’er wed
But one had a sorrow that never was said,
And I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

I dreamt it last night that my young love came in,
So softly she entered that her feet made no din;
She came close beside me and this she did say,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day”

Common Variations

My young love said to me, “My mother won’t mind,
And my father won’t slight you for your lack of kind,”
And she laid her hand on me, and this she did say,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day”

“Brothers” and “parents” have become “mother” and “father”.

“She stepped away from me” (repeated in the next verse) has been changed to “she laid her hand on me” – an intimate gesture. Her subsequent words also become more intimate, as opposed to a phrase called over her shoulder as she departs.

As she stepped away from me and she moved through the fair,
And fondly I watched her move here and move there,
And then she turned homeward with one star awake,
Like the swan in the evening moves over the lake.

“Go” has become “move”; “went her way” has become “turned”; “as” has become “like”.

The people were saying, no two e’er were wed,
But one had a sorrow that never was said,
And she smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear,
And that was the last that I saw of my dear.

Verse 3 is often omitted altogether. This may be due to the obscurity of the verse’s meaning.
Where it is sung, it is often the young love who smiles, not the narrator (“I smiled” / “She s
miled“). This implies that she might have a secret from him (especially if she ends up running off instead of dying).

Last night she came to me, my dead love came in,
So softly she came that her feet made no din,
As she laid her hand on me and this she did say,
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

A dream (“last night I dreamt it”) has become real, and the dream apparition of the narator’s “young love” has become a ghost (“dead love”).

I have also heard the first line of this verse rendered as, Last night she came to me, she came softly in. (Celtic Woman uses this lyric.)

Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Henry was a collector of folk songs and his book is one of the definitive collections for Ireland; it includes several versions of “She Moves Through the Fair”, in assorted guises and under various titles. See my post on the book here.

Longer Version

The seven verse version quoted below seems to conflate Colum’s poem with the alternate version that begins I once had a sweetheart… I do not know of a recorded version that uses this set of lyrics; these were posted in this  Mudcat thread (Taconius posted them on 27 Jun 07). I have coloured the words that follow Colum teal and those that follow the alternate version pink.

My young love said to me, “My brothers won’t mind.
“Nor will my parents slight thee for thy lack of kind.”
Then she placed her hand on me and this she did say:
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

Then she stepped away from me and moved through the fair.
And fondly I watched her move here and move there.
Then she turned her way homeward with but one star awake.
Like the swan in the evening moving over the lake.

The neighbors were saying we two ne’er would wed
For one had a sorrow that never was said.
But I smiled as she passed with her goods and her gear.
And that was the last time that I saw my dear.

The modifications highlighted in orange, above, seem to make more sense than Colum’s original. Here folks are denying that the couple will get married due to some unfortunate open secret on one of their parts; but the narrator feels confident that they are wrong.

Then according to promise at midnight I rose,
But I found nothing of her but linen and clothes.
The window was open; my young love was gone.
And I left behind to wander alone.

Again, the orange bits are a variation from the usual set of lyrics, this time from the alternate version also known as “Our Wedding Day”; the variations here leave the reasons for her absence more ambiguous (usually, it is plain that she’s absconded with another lover). The replacement of “down-folded clothes” with “linen and clothes” may be a modern reinterpretation that ignores the fact that bed linen is frequently known as bed clothes.

Oh love, my young love, what is this path you chose?
You have taken the thistle; forsaken the rose.
The thistle will wither; it soon will decay,
While the red rose turns fallow, and its petals fall away.

Now if I had two wings, like an eagle I’d fly.
I would fly to my young love’s side, and it’s there that I’d lie.
In a bed of green ivy I’d leave myself down,
And with my two folded wings I would my love surround.

Last night she came to me, my young love came in.
So softly she came that her feet made no din.
Then she lay down beside me, and this she did say:
“It will not be long, love, till our wedding day.”

Again, a few modifications to make sense of the supposed situation. A clandestine nightime visit and a promise.

She Moves Through The Fair: Meaning and Interpretation (Part 1)

Most of the interest in the song’s meaning has concentrated on the modern version, based on Padraic Colum’s poem, so I’ll start there.

The original poem starts with the narrator looking forward to the wedding day and enjoying the sight of his “young love” at the fair. The lady in question assures the narrator that neither her brothers nor her parents will have any objection to the match, and reminds him that the day itself isn’t far away. He watches her moving away through the fair – the market – and this seems to please him.

But verse three jars; what of “the sorrow that never was said”? Is it a secret? Whose secret? Is it dissatisfaction? Is it something else? It has been suggested that the “sorrow” is an illness: tuberculosis, which was common at the time. And why was that the last that he saw of her? Does she die? Does she run off with another? Do her family change their minds? Does she just disappear, mysteriously?

I think that the mystery is key to the popularity of this song – along with the hauntingly beautiful melody, of course.

Later versions make a significant alteration to the interpretation by changing just one word. In verse 4, Colum’s “young love” (who appears in a dream) becomes a ghostly “dead love” who visits the narrator. Here we have the answer to the question raised at the end of verse 3 ( it is a shame that so many singers omit this verse). It is now evident that she dies. Now her assurance that the two of them will soon be wed is ominous: will the narrator die, too?

Ghost story or otherwise, there are still a few archaic expressions that may need explaining.

lack of kind – I think that the most likely meaning for this is “lack of kin”, ie the narrator has no family to support him (perhaps he is an orphan, a foundling or his family are so unspeakable that he has forsworn them).

An alternative possibility is the lack of “goods and commodities as distinguished from money” (definition from Merriam-Webster), as used in the phrase “payment in kind”. While many are convinced by this explanation, I am not; why the distinction between belongings and cash? You could, of course, argue poetic licence, which could be enough.

It has also been suggested that this could be “lack of kine”, where kine is cattle, and so the narrator is either poor or not a farmer; however, Colum wrote “kind”.

In the alternate lyric version of the song, the narrator is in want of years, ie he is deemed too young.

the fair – the market. It has been suggested that it is a meadow with flowers, but the alternate version talks specifically about “hand clappen dealers”, which implies buying and selling. The pertinent Oxford definition is a periodic gathering for the sale of goods.

one star awake – early evening. Just one star is showing in the sky (probably the evening star, which is actually the planet Venus).

the swan in the evening – quite literally, a swan in the evening. There is no point looking for deeper meaning here; the swan is employed as a poetical device to describe her graceful movements.

no two were e’er wed – no two people were ever married.

a sorrow that never was said – this is ambiguous. I read it as an unfortunate open secret (perhaps she has had a child out of wedlock; perhaps it is his dreadful family that I alluded to above). Others have read it as referring to a disease – TB (tuberculosis ) was mentioned by one poster (Chris) in this Mudcat thread. It may also refer to the fact that there is always sorrow in this life.

her goods and her gear – a long and poetical way of saying “the things she is carrying”. Things she has bought or is selling; equipment or tools.

no din – no noise, quietly.

She Moves Through The Fair: A History (Part 1)

This is the history of the song as I understand it. Source Web sites are noted at the foot of the post.

“She Moves Through The Fair” is variously credited as “traditional” or as by Padraic Colum (words) and Herbert Hughes (music). In truth, its origins are a little obscure. The most likely story, which seems to be generally acknowledged, is that Padraic Colum (1881-1976), who was a poet and a folklorist, collected the song – in collaboration with Hughes (1882-1937) in Donegal and rewrote the lyrics. He is believed to have based his lyrics on an amalgamation of more than one traditional song (elements of Colum’s final version can be found in “Our Wedding Day” and “Out of the Window”). The song was published in 1909; Colum also published the lyrics as a poem in 1922 without acknowledging its traditional origins.

The most commonly sung version of the song is Colum’s. It was popularised by the English folk-rock band Fairport Convention, whose then vocalist, Sandy Denny, learnt it from the Northumbrian singer, Anne Briggs. Briggs in turn learnt it from the Irish traveller and street singer, Margaret Barry. Barry is on record (literally; hear the recording of the interview on I Sang Through the Fairs) saying that she learnt the song from recordings of the Irish tenor (Count) and music hall performer, John McCormack, and the Scottish tenor, Sydney MacEwan (who combined his singing career with a position as a catholic priest). The versions sung by these two tenors appear to be the earliest recordings currently available.

The main variations from Colum’s poem are:

  • the introduction of a “dead love” into the final verse, a simple amendment that changes the whole meaning of the song – from a wistful love song to a ghost story
  • the omission of one of the verses. Most commonly, verse 3, which concerns “a sorrow that never was said” is left out, but some variants omit verse 2, which has “one star awake” and the swan. Verse 3 is rather obscure in meaning, and this may be why it is so often ignored.

Other variants of the song exist. While I have not been able to get confirmation of this, it seems that the alternate version also known as “Our Wedding Day” may be one of Colum’s source songs. The lyrics are rather less concise and, I would say, not as elegant, but the meaning appears to be essentially the same. There is also a song called “Out of the Window” which may also have been one of Colum’s sources.

Information Sources

She Moves Through the Fair: A relationship with a song

I have a mild obsession with this song. I intend to put down everything I have discovered about it, but first I’m going to write about why I’m so interested in it.

It all started around 1988. I was 17. I had money to spend on an LP record (yes, a big black thing with a hole in the middle), and I spent it on All About Eve’s eponymous debut album. The single “Martha’s Harbour” had been a big hit, and I liked the song; I think I was also aware of previous singles, possibly via the Channel Four Chart Show.

I would say that I played that album to death, but it wouldn’t be true, because I still have that slab of vinyl and it still plays. But it rapidly became my favourite album (admittedly, this wasn’t difficult, as I didn’t own very many records back then). It still ranks in my top three.

I loved every song on the album. One of them is “She Moves Through The Fair”. It’s the only song that wasn’t written by the band. It is listed as a “traditional” song, although the truth is more complicated – as I will explain later.

At some point, I realised that this song represented “folk music” (as opposed to pop or rock or classical), and that I liked it. So I went to the local library, which had a fair selection of records to borrow, and flipped through the folk section. Most of them didn’t appeal – their sleeves all seemed to show pictures of old men. But one looked interesting: I took home Clannad’s Macalla. This is the album which includes a couple of collaborations with Bono from U2, notably the song “In A Lifetime”.

Slowly, I began to investigate other folk – pop – rock crossovers. There wasn’t an Internet back then, so the information was a bit tricky to find, and I wasn’t searching very hard. I was living in a world of pop and rock music – as, in fact, I still am.

I read that Julianne Regan – the singer with All About Eve – was influenced by Sandy Denny. Sandy was best known as the lead singer of Fairport Convention in the 1960s, but I was a bit hazy on those sort of details. I must have been about 20 or so when I bought a copy of The Best of Sandy Denny. “She Moves Through the Fair” isn’t on that album. It is, however, on Fairport Convention’s What We Did On Our Holidays.

After I got hold of What We Did On Our Holidays, I started to seek out other versions and to look into the history of the song.

What is the Knife and Fork Factory?

Basically, the Knife and Fork Factory is anything I want it to be.

When I was just a little girl, I used to come home from playschool with lovely, colourful, splashy paintings that weren’t pictures of anything. My mother would ask me what it was a picture of. My standard answer was “Colours” (which was basically accurate), but that didn’t seem to satisfy her. One day – I think that she had asked me to set the table for a meal – I made up a subject on the spot: “It’s a knife and fork factory”.

The title has stuck in my mind and has become synonymous with making things up as I go along.

It has occurred to me that it would make a good name for the Art Gallery that I have no intention of opening. So, instead, I am using it as a name for a blog containing musings on assorted subjects close to my heart. Which will, I am sure, include art.