The Unquiet Grave

Album: Children's Favourites (1907)


  • "The Unquiet Grave" is both a poem and a song. Intensely sad, and written in the first person singular, the mourner laments the love of his life sitting weeping at her graveside for a year and a day, at which point her ghost rises up and asks who will not allow her to sleep. He identifies himself and asks for "one kiss of your clay-cold lips." She disavows him of that notion, and tells him to put his grief behind him and enjoy the rest of his life "till God calls you away."
  • Like most traditional songs there are many variations, of the title as well as the lyrics in this case. Extensive research on its origin and development can be found in Volume II of The Traditional Tunes Of The Child Ballads With Their Texts, according to the Extant Records of Great Britain and America, by Bertrand Harris Bronson, which was published by Princeton University Press in 1962.

    According to this book, none of the extant texts of the ballad is older than the early 19th Century but it probably dates from about the end of the 15th. A version was recorded by [ie sung to] musicologist Cecil Sharp on January 23, 1907 by Mrs. Ware of Eley Over Stowey. The same day, Sharp recorded "Cold Blows The Wind" by James Chedgey of Bincombe Over Stowey.

    Sabine Baring-Gould (who is best known for writing the lyrics to "Onward Christian Soldiers") collected a version, from J. Woodrich, a blacksmith of Wollacot Moor, Thrushleton, in 1889.

    Probably the earliest recorded version is "Cold Blows The Wind" which was sung by Elizabeth Doidge, a nurse of Brentnor, and collected by Mrs Gibbons, the daughter of W.L.Trelawney, Bart, c1830. This version had the tune usually associated with "Childe The Hunter."

    There is also "How Cold The Winds Do Blow," sung by Mrs Rugman of Dunsfold, Surrey, 1896; "Cold Blows The Wind To-night, Sweetheart," sung by Mrs, Bowker of Sunderland Point, Lancashire, in September 1909, and further afield, "The Auld Song From Cow Head" sung by the Reverend Mr Gibbs Bull of Newfoundland in 1929.
  • Another musicologist who researched "The Unquiet Grave" in some depth was the aforementioned Cecil Sharp. Volume I of the 1994 Oxford University Press edition of his Collection Of English Folk Songs, Edited by Maud Karpeles records no less than seventeen different versions, the oldest of which was sung to him by Mrs Ree at Hambridge, Somerset, on April 4, 1904.
  • "The Unquiet Grave" has been recorded by many artists, including Joan Baez and Karen Mall (suitably amended for gender) and by Luke Kelly. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for all above


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