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Scarborough Fair / Canticle

by

Simon & Garfunkel



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

Scarborough is a small town on the coast of England. The "Scarborough Fair" was a popular gathering in Medieval times, attracting traders and entertainers from all over the country. The fair lasted 45 days and started every August 15th. In the 1600s, mineral waters were found in Scarborough and it became a resort town. Today, Scarborough is a quiet town with a rich history. (thanks, Sheryl - Seal Rock, OR)
In Medieval England, this became a popular folk song as Bards would sing it when they traveled from town to town. The author of the song is unknown, and many different versions exist. The traditional version has many more lyrics.
Paul Simon learned about this song when he was on tour in England, where he heard a version by a popular Folk singer named Martin Carthy. When Carthy heard Simon & Garfunkel's rendition, he accused Simon of stealing his arrangement. Carthy and Simon did not speak until 2000, when Simon asked Carthy to perform this with him at a show in London. Carthy put his differences aside and did the show.

Martin Carthy learned the song from a Ewan MacColl songbook, and had recorded it on his first album, according to BBC's Patrick Hamphries.

Paul Simon admitted to the July 2011 edition of Mojo magazine: "The version I was playing was definitely what I could remember of Martin's version, but he didn't teach it to me. Really, it was just naivety on my part that we didn't credit it as his arrangement of a traditional tune. I didn't know you had to do that. Then later on, Martin's publisher contacted me and we made a pretty substantial monetary settlement that he was supposed to split with Martin, But unbeknown to me, Martin got nothing."
The lyrics are about a man trying to attain his true love. In Medieval times, the herbs mentioned in the song represented virtues that were important to the lyrics. Parsley was comfort, sage was strength, rosemary was love, and thyme was courage.
This was not released as a single until 1968, when it was used in the Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate. It is on the soundtrack.
Before Simon & Garfunkel got to it, Bob Dylan used the lines, "Remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine" in his 1963 song "Girl From The North Country."
"Scarborough Fair" and "Canticle" are 2 songs that are sung simultaneously to create this piece. The first and last verses are "Scarborough Fair," but lines from "Canticle" alternate after the first line of the other verses, so "On the side of a hill in a deep forest green" and "Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested ground" are from "Canticle."
This song is often listed as "Scarborough Fair/Canticle." On The Paul Simon Songbook, a little known 1965 UK album of Simon-solo demos, there is a song called "The Side Of a Hill." "The Side Of a Hill" was reworked into the Canticle part of "Scarborough Fair." (thanks, Jesse - Roanoke, VA)
With its implicit anti-Vietnam War message, this was used in The Wonder Years TV series in a scene where Kevin Arnold embraces Winnie Cooper while the song was played at the end of the episode. In the show, Winnie's brother had been killed in Vietnam. (thanks, Marciliano - Fortaleza, Brazil)
Simon & Garfunkel
Simon & Garfunkel Artistfacts
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Get some Geography in the Scarborough Fair / Canticle Songplaces
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More songs with spices in the title

Comments (50):

On February 24th 1968, "Scarborough/Canticle" by Simon and Garfunkel entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #61; and on April 14th it peaked at #11 (for 1 week) and also spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
It spent four weeks at #13 before jumping to #11...
Though it just missed making the Top 10; the duo's next four releases did (starting with "Mrs. Robinson" (#1 for 3 weeks), "The Boxer" (#7), "Bridge Over Troubled Water (#1 for 6 weeks), and finally "Cecilia" (#4)...
Mr. Simon & Mr. Garfunkel will celebrate their 73rd birthdays in the fall, Mr. Simon on October 13th and Mr. Garfunkel one month later on November 5th.
- Barry, Sauquoit, NY
I have read the posts and know alot about his song as it has always been one of my favorites. This is a song about one who misses his lover and wants to be with her, however there are differences. Traditionally this was sung probably as a duet. The man inquires if his friend is going to the fair and if he sees his former lover, "remember me to her". He wants her to make him a shirt without seams or needle work, an impossible task. She wants an acre of land between the water and the sand, again an impossible task. She asks him to plant and reap it in a way that is once again impossible. Reference to the herbs is reference to the strength they were thought to posess at the time. The critical missing verse from the S and G version goes something like Love imposes impossible tasks (parsely sage rosemary and thyme) But not no more than any heart asks...And I know she's a true love of mine.
- dawn, orangevale, ca, CA
Are the lyrics to the "Canticle" portion available anywhere? Some of the lines are from "The Side of a Hill", but some are not, like "in the deep forest green". Some of the words are hard to hear, since they are sung simultaneously with the main lyrics of "Scarborough Fair". As far as I know, they have never been published, and I am wondering why.
- Danny, Bronx, NY
Jesse: Indeed, it IS harpsichord! Played by John Meszar, and exquisitely well, I believe. The interplay with the guitar is just gorgeous. . .
- DrYattz, Atlanta, GA
SiriusXM is currently dedicating an S&G channel, and one of the bits of trivia they're reporting is that Artie wrote Canticle. I've also always thought it was from "The Side of a Hill".
- L, Yardley, PA
I wasn't in the studio when they recorded this fine hit, but I'm really thinking that the boys (or the producer, or SOMEONE) was playing a harpsichord to REALLY give it that haunting tone about it. That would be at the point when it builds to its mid-point crescendo. I speed-read all the comments and nobody seems to point out that fact. Mandolin? Maybe. But I'm much more thinking harpsichord. That is such a fine instrument! And the way it's played in this song just fascinates me to no end! The fast fingerwork has always been difficult for me, being a drummer. It should be easy, but maybe I'm double-jointed in a bad way or something. My wrists are conditioned to all get-out, but my fingers can't work independently. Any knowledge on that? I'm thinkin' harpsichord...
- Jesse, Madison, WI
After reading your comments here, it just ocurred to me what if the singer himself is a dead soldier
singing from 'elsewhere' to us in this world.
This beautiful yet so sorrowful voice of Art and all those impossible tasks then all come together
to make sense to me. S & G may have taken this
interpretation.

eiko, Yokosuka, Japan
- eiko, Yokosuka, Japan
The only real relation this song has to the Vietnam War is when it was released (1966-7). The anti-war sentiment in the Canticle overlap uses imagery from a British military campaign, possibly of the American Revolutionary War (speculative). "Tracing a sparrow on snow crested ground" refers to foraging for food during mid-winter. The clarion call and the "blazing in scarlet battalions" clearly point to British military tradition of that time. As for the Scarborough Fair portion of the song it points to an era earlier still which points out a series of impossible tasks to his/her intended subject in exchange for love. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme were used in embalming, purification, and to ward off evil spirits for sometime before that. The song has roots deeper still in the Scottish ballad of the Elfin Knight which may date back as far as the 1200's.
I think that the song/s, taken in context with the time it was released give us a look at the timelessness of loss and war extending into our own era. Genius and relevance sadly absent in most of the music today.
- Chuck, Oceanside, NY
I personally feel that the narrator blames his lover for just leaving him unexpectedly. But the more I read up about this song's history and origins, the more I'm convinced she died at war, although the narrator keeps that a total mystery, intentionally choosing not to mention anything at all about the war to begin with. As a result, he feels blue without her, and misses her greatly, telling her that he'd forgive her and take her back, and everything would be okay again, if she could just do these impossible tasks. He even makes it sound as though he has blind faith in her, and that although the tasks seem difficult, he has confidence that her love for him is so strong and deep that she would keep diligently persevering and trying again and again and again for the sake of carrying out the tasks to prove she is worthy of his love. And the beauty about that fact is that the herbs that are constantly reiterated throughout the lyrics "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" represent noble virtues such as courage, wisdom, purity, faithfulness and love: Virtues which he desperately reminds his lover of, primarily for the sake of reassuring her that he is certain she will complete the tasks and be his beloved again. However, these herbs have also been known to be used for burial rituals and ceremonies...so the narrator keeps that double meaning consistent throughout the entire song, on the one hand talking to his loved one, on the other mentioning the herbs associated with death until at the very end, he finally realizes, no matter how faithful his lover was, regretfully, she is now long gone. I guess I saw that in the last stanza, he finally gave up. He asks her one last time if she was going to Scarborough Fair, a place where they possibly first met (it was a famous fair that often lasted 45 days) and it's almost as if he finally becomes physically aware of her passing, so he speaks "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" for the last time, asking his beloved to come out of her grave, take him with her, and bury him with the herbs that formerly stood for all the virtues their love had once embodied.
- Jessy, Beirut, Lebanon
The song "Scarborough Fair" was just as popular during the Medieval Period of England in the 16th and 17th Century (1500s and 1600s)as the other two popular songs "Greensleeves" and "Early One Morning" . Back then the four spices , "Parsley , Sage , Rosemary , Thyme" were widely known herbs commonly used in everyday cooking as a seasoning for meat and fish and poultry . This song was sang at the known fair in Scarborough , England possibly around the spring or summer season . A merchant of the village would sing this song not only to the crowd of tourists , but also to the fair maidens ( the young women in the village they had hearts set on ). The singer would charm her by playing this beautiful melody on the mandolin (as the guitar - like instrument was used during that time )and singing the words to her , in order to show his love and effection .
- Mike, Franklin County, PA
S&G make this song sound very wonderful!
TY, guys!
- steve dotstar, los angeles, CA
I first heard the song(s)in 1968 in Kampala-two years before entry into University in Dustin Hoffman's film 'The Graduate.' It haunted me for a long time. Listening to it again in 1977 when I was in Nairobi as a refugee cathartic.
- John, Kampala, Uganda
I believe the comment about Bob Dylan's lyrics is backwards - HE got the lyrics from the one of the "original" versions of the Scarborough fair song, not he other way around. He used lyrics from poems/literature for many of his songs (Jack Kerouac, etc..)
- Sean, Brockton, MA
This song needs to be re-listed as Scarborough Fair/Canticle, because that's the way it appears on the original recording, and it is truly two songs sung with partially overlapping lines. *** Andy/Corning,NY -- actually, you've got 'em backwards--S.Fair is the love (or lost-love) song, while Canticle is anti-war. As for which war, the mood/style seems to me more evocative of the US Civil War. But since it came out when it did, it was taken as anti-VN War, and was no doubt intended that way.
- Fred, Laurel, MD
I always felt this song was referring to a dead (soldier) who wishes his lover to prepare him for burial.
- Chris, Sault Ste Marie, MI
Don't know if anyone said this, but I know some spoke of the parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme representing traits that one would want in a lover/spouse. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme was also a popular love potion in the medeival period.
- Christina, New York, NY
this has to be the most beautiful song i have ever heard. love simon & garfunkel! i think he's talking about someone who he used to love, but his love for her died and he can basically never love her again. i agree with john from kansas. he says that if she does all these impossible tasks then they can be together again, so pretty much its not going to happen. anyways its a beautiful song about love
- sarah, Madison, WI
There was only one time they performed Scarborough Fair live with Canticle and that was performed on the Andy Williams show. Simon and Garfunkel and Andy Willams peformed it.
- Daniel, Staten Island, NY
you can hear a piece of this in lost in translation movie, its the second or third evening in the bar
- Emilia, Gdańsk, Poland
I think this was the singer's way of saying, "If she's thinking of us getting back together, it'll happen after she does these tasks... in short, she can forget it."
- John, Overland Park, KS
Part of the "haunting" sound of this song comes from its use of a Dorian scale as opposed to a "regular" Major or Minor.
- Kent, Raleigh, NC
It seems to me all the tasks he sets for his lover to do are impossible, then she'll be a true love of mine. Such as making a shirt with no seams or needlework, reaping a land with a sickle made of leather!, and an acre of land between the salt water and the sea's strand, etc, all are impossible tasks.
- Joanie, Bowling Green, KY
There seems to me to be two separate streams of thought throughout this song. One from the point of view of a observer of the war and another from the point of view of a dying soldier. Lines such as ?And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten? appear to be general comments on the war itself, where lines like ?Tell her to make me a cambric shirt? would be more from a specific individual. This line in particular seems interesting in that immediately following it after the chorus is the line ?Without no seams nor needle work?, which kind of makes you wonder what exactly he is referring to (ignoring the double negative). Perhaps this could be alluding to a death shroud of some sort. I think the idea that a dying soldier is at least responsible for some of the words is easy enough to see when his love ?Washes the grave with silvery tears?. I am sure some of this is obvious to most, but I would be interested in other points of view.
- John, Hickory, NC
Real meaning of Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme:

Parsley, is said to take away bitterness. Medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well. Sage is a symbol strength for thousands of years. Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practiced in England and several other European countries today. Thyme symbolizes courage, and at the time this song was written, knights would often wear images of thyme on their shields when they went to combat. The speaker in the song, by mentioning these four herbs, wishes his true love mildness to soothe the bitterness which is between them, strength to stand firm in the time of their being apart from each other, faithfulness to stay with him during this period of loneliness and paradoxically courage to fulfill her impossible tasks and to come back to him by the time she can.

I got this information from the encyclopedia.
- Tony, Boston, MA
Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 had a super hit in 1969 with their own interpretation of this great song. The small combo's touch of light jazz, bossa nova and rich vocal harmonies in SF continues to make for pleasant listening among New Millinnium worldbeat listeners as it did for those of pre-Age of Aquarius pop music enthusiasts. There is nothing finer than smooth, silk voices and a cool, gracious instrumental in the group's own construction. Instead of lulling you away like Paul and Art do, Sergio gently massages your soul with his cover tune. Suave is cool!
- Leya Qwest, Anchorage, AK
Rosemary is the herb of rememberance
- Dennis, Chicagoland burrows, IL
The herbs mentioned in the chorus were commonly used as a contraceptive; an extract of them would be used for abortions, administered by midwives. The process was quite dangerous, menacing not only the unborn's life, but also the mother's. Therefore it may well be that the line in the song/ballad is a reference to this fact. However, I read (about the ballad) that this very line can only be traced back to the nineteenth century and may actually be a corruption of something like "every heart grows merry in time".
- Jan, Berlin, Germany
In 1971, an Israeli group called The Parvarim recorded an album of Hebrew cover versions of Simon and Garfunkel songs. The translations were mostly accurate, but for "Scarborough Fair," the Hebrew words for "parsley, sage, etc." didn't fit into the music, so the spices were changed to "cinnamon, jasmine and myrrh."
- Eric, Teaneck, NJ
The "Canticle" part of the song, originally written alone as "The Side of a Hill" and later juxtaposed with "Scarborough Fair," is an anti-war ballad.
- Eric, Teaneck, NJ
Cainticle partially is a later version of "On the Side of a Hill" (Songbook)
It was fun when a friend and I tried to write our own voices for the song and it sounded quite nice after a while, but I'm sure there will never be a version even half as great as the one of S&G!
- Tanja, Frankfurt, Germany
A song of love, a song for love. I loved, we sang, S&G were our favourites. I enjoy faires nowadays, & I always engage a Bard to play this. For Emily, wherever she may be.
This song is an instant misty eyed nostalgia trip down memory lane. Emily, thank you always.
- Billy, Plymouth, NH
As previoulsy stated, this was based on ballad, the author and date written unknown.

Where are you going? To Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Remember me to a bonny lass there,
For once she was a true lover of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Without any needle or thread work'd in it,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Where water ne'er sprung nor a drop of rain fell,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to plough me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Between the sea and the salt sea strand,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to plough it with one ram's horn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And sow it all over with one peppercorn,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to reap it with a sickel of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
And tie it up all with a tom tit's feather,
And she shall be a true lover of mine.

Tell her to gather it all in a sack,
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
And carry it home on a butterflies back,
And then she shall be a true lover of mine.
- Nikki, Remington, VA
I have always enjoyed this song. It was really beautiful when Simon and Garfunkel performed it at the Concert in Central Park. I also remember Simon performing it on the Muppet Show just so Miss Piggy could bellow, "Getcher red hot parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme!!" at the end of it. When we use these herbs in cooking, we call the dish "a la Simon and Garfunkel".
- Jude, Thomasville, GA
When I saw Art Garfunkel, he mentioned to the audience that this song was about loss.
- Lance, Spring Hill, FL
Paul Simon was living in England for a while, scratching a living round the folk circuit. He heard Scarborough fair from Martin Carthy. Dylan also heard the song from him, and turned it into 'Girl from the North Country'. As an extra fact, Paul Simon had played at a club in Widnes and was getting a train back to London from the next town, Runcorn. On this windswept station he wrote 'Homeward Bound'.
- Mark, Hereford, England
Beautiful song. I always thought it was a love song. Maybe about lost love.
- Stefanie magura, Rock Hill, SC
I always thought the song referred to death, only because it not only mentioned spices used for embalming but some other referrences too.
- Ashley, Magnolia , DE
I too get teary at times when I hear this song. To me it brings images of soldiers and their loved ones being seperated by the evil of war, but even admist this evil, their love prevails. It's ultimately a song of hope, I think, or a prayer for comfort, strength, love and courage.
But it seems deeper than that, I don't know. On another note, I've been learning how to perfect this song on guitar for a while.

Andrew
- Andrew, Kingston, Canada
Scarborough fair was actually closed down cos of a riot (when a load of hardcores wouldny get off the rides after closin time) last year we don't know if it will be back...
- joe, Scarborough, England
I feel like crying every time I hear this song. They played it at the funeral of my cousin who died in a rock climbing accident.
- Chloe, Hampshire, England
I heard somewhere that Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme are also ward against the devil. Supposedly this song was some sort of riddle posed by the devil.
- Thomas, St. Charles, MO
This song is the most peaceful song ive ever heard while smoking marijuana. It's not bad sober either.
I played this song with my school orchestra in eighth grade.
- Tiffany, Dover, FL
parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme were/are actually spices used in a pagan love spell.
- rudi, melbourne, Australia
as they fight for a cause that was long ago forgotten. great line
- chris, Hamilton, New Zealand
one of my all time fave lines is in this song
- chris, Hamilton, New Zealand
One part of the song "Scarborough Fair", is a song about war (anti-vietnam). The other part of the song, "Canticle", is a love song. Basicly, Canticle is played "louder" then "scarborough Fair" is.
- Andy, Corning, NY
In the syncopation, the song underneath "Scarborough Fair" is an anti-war (Viet Nam) song... so the song is much in the same vein as their "7 o'closk news/silent Night".. and given this context was completely misused in the movie.
- Randy, Beaumont, TX
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme were spices that were used in Europe during the Middle Ages when preparing a body for burial.
- Gemma, Brisbane, Australia.
- Noelene, Brisbane, Australia
the stone roses use this tune for 'elizabeth my dear' on the album 'stone roses'
- Gerard, Sheffield, England
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