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The Sword-dancers' Song And Interlude Post by :anglox Category :Poems Author :Unknown Date :May 2011 Read :3658

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The Sword-dancers' Song And Interlude

(As Now Performed At Christmas, In The County Of Durham)

(The late Sir Cuthbert Sharp remarks, that 'It is still the practice during the Christmas holidays for companies of fifteen to perform a sort of play or dance, accompanied by song or music.' The following version of the song, or interlude, has been transcribed from Sir C. Sharp's Bishoprick Garland, corrected by collation with a MS. copy recently remitted to the editor by a countryman of Durham. The Devonshire peasants have a version almost identical with this, but laths are used instead of swords, and a few different characters are introduced to suit the locality. The pageant called The Fool Plough, which consists of a number of sword-dancers dragging a plough with music, was anciently observed in the North of England, not only at Christmas time, but also in the beginning of Lent. Wallis thinks that the Sword Dance is the antic dance, or chorus armatus of the Romans. Brand supposes that it is a composition made up of the gleaning of several obsolete customs anciently followed in England and other countries. The Germans still practise the Sword Dance at Christmas and Easter. We once witnessed a Sword Dance in the Eifel mountains, which closely resembled our own, but no interlude, or drama, was performed.)


Enter Dancers, decorated with swords and ribbons; the CAPTAIN of the band wearing a cocked hat and a peacock's feather in it by way of cockade, and the CLOWN, or 'BESSY,' who acts as treasurer, being decorated with a hairy cap and a fox's brush dependent.

(The CAPTAIN forms with his sword a circle, around which walks.)

(The BESSY opens the proceedings by singing) -


Good gentlemen all, to our captain take heed,
And hear what he's got for to sing;
He's lived among music these forty long year,
And drunk of the elegant {1} spring.

Footnote:
{1} 'Helicon,' as observed by Sir C. Sharp,
is, of course, the true reading.


(The CAPTAIN then proceeds as follows, his song being accompanied by a violin, generally played by the BESSY - )


Six actors I have brought
Who were ne'er on a stage before;
But they will do their best,
And they can do no more.

The first that I call in
He is a squire's son;
He's like to lose his sweetheart
Because he is too young.

But though he is too young,
He has money for to rove,
And he will spend it all
Before he'll lose his love.


Chorus. Fal lal de ral, lal de dal, fal lal de ra ral da.

(Followed by a symphony on the fiddle, during which the introduced actor walks round the circle.)

(The CAPTAIN proceeds -)

The next that I call in
He is a tailor fine;
What think you of his work?
He made this coat of mine!


(Here the CAPTAIN turns round and exhibits his coat, which, of course, is ragged, and full of holes.)

So comes good master Snip,
His best respects to pay:
He joins us in our trip
To drive dull care away.


(Chorus and symphony as above. Here the TAILOR walks round, accompanied by the SQUIRE'S SON. This form is observed after each subsequent introduction, all the new comers taking apart.)

The next I do call in,
The prodigal son is he;
By spending of his gold
He's come to poverty.

But though he all has spent,
Again he'll wield the plow,
And sing right merrily
As any of us now. {2}

Next comes a skipper bold,
He'll do his part right weel -
A clever blade I'm told
As ever pozed a keel.

He is a bonny lad,
As you must understand;
It's he can dance on deck,
And you'll see him dance on land.

To join us in this play
Here comes a jolly dog,
Who's sober all the day -
If he can get no grog.

But though he likes his grog,
As all his friends do say,
He always likes it best
When other people pay.

Last I come in myself,
The leader of this crew;
And if you'd know my name,
My name it is 'True Blue.'

(Here the BESSY gives an account of himself.)

My mother was burnt for a witch,
My father was hanged on a tree,
And it's because I'm a fool
There's nobody meddled wi' me.


Footnote: {2} In the introduction of the 'prodigal son,'
we have a relic derived from the old mysteries and moralities.
Of late years, the 'prodigal son' has been left out, and
his place supplied by a 'sailor.'


(The dance now commences. It is an ingenious performance, and the swords of the actors are placed in a variety of graceful positions, so as to form stars, hearts, squares, circles, &c. &c. The dance is so elaborate that it requires frequent rehearsals, a quick eye, and a strict adherence to time and tune. Before it concludes, grace and elegance have given place to disorder, and at last all the actors are seen fighting. The PARISH CLERGYMAN rushes in to prevent bloodshed, and receives a death-blow. While on the ground, the actors walk round the body, and sing as follows, to a slow, psalm-like tune:-)


Alas! our parson's dead,
And on the ground is laid;
Some of us will suffer for't,
Young men, I'm sore afraid.

I'm sure 'twas none of me,
I'm clear of THAT crime;
'Twas him that follows me
That drew his sword so fine.

I'm sure it was NOT me,
I'm clear of the fact;
'Twas him that follows me
That did this dreadful act.

I'm sure 'twas none of me,
Who say't be villains all;
For both my eyes were closed
When this good priest did fall.

The BESSY sings -

Cheer up, cheer up, my bonny lads,
And be of courage brave,
We'll take him to his church,
And bury him in the grave.

(The CAPTAIN speaks in a sort of recitative -)

Oh, for a doctor,
A ten pound doctor, oh.

(Enter DOCTOR.)

Doctor. Here I am, I.
Captain. Doctor, what's your fee?
Doctor. Ten pounds is my fee!

But nine pounds nineteen shillings eleven pence three farthings I will take from thee.

The Bessy. There's ge-ne-ro-si-ty!

(The DOCTOR sings) -

I'm a doctor, a doctor rare,
Who travels much at home;
My famous pills they cure all ills,
Past, present, and to come.

My famous pills who'd be without,
They cure the plague, the sickness {3} and gout,
Anything but a love-sick maid;
If YOU'RE one, my dear, you're beyond my aid!


Footnote:
{3} Probably the disease here pointed at
is the sweating sickness of old times.

(Here the DOCTOR occasionally salutes one of the fair spectators; he then takes out his snuff-box, which is always of very capacious dimensions (a sort of miniature warming-pan), and empties the contents (flour or meal) on the CLERGYMAN'S face, singing at the time - )


Take a little of my nif-naf,
Put it on your tif-taf;
Parson rise up and preach again,
The doctor says you are not slain.

(The CLERGYMAN here sneezes several times, and gradually recovers, and all shake him by the hand.

The ceremony terminates by the CAPTAIN singing )-

Our play is at an end,
And now we'll taste your cheer;
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And a happy new year.
The Bessy. And your pockets full of brass,
And your cellars full of beer!

A general dance concludes the play.


(The end)
Anonymous's poem: Sword-Dancers' Song And Interlude. As Now Performed At Christmas, In The County Of Durham

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