[From A Second Manx Scrapbook]

CHAPTER IX
" WE'LL HUNT THE WREN "

2. The Song.

THE WREN-SONG IN MAN. The Wren-song which is given below was taken down from its singers in the Isle of Man by William Harrison in 1843. 1 With this the version published very shortly afterwards by Train 2 is virtually identical, as is another included in a volume of old English ballads published in 1841 by the Percy Society. Moore,3 couples with it a version in the Manx language which he describes in his Introduction 4 as being partly derived from oral sources and partly a translation into Manx of the English words; how much there is of each he does not tell us. The English, he says, is, from its form, " clearly a literal translation from the Manx ; " but the existence of many corresponding sets of words, some of them partially identical, in England, Wales and Scotland, together with Welsh translations in a fragmentary state, will be seen to dispose of this patriotic claim. In recent times the song has been sung, in the Isle of Man, in a shortened form and in English only. It is customary to gabble it at top speed, just as with the Hop-to-naa song, so that the words would be difficult to follow by one not previously familiar with them.

WE'LL HUNT THE WREN.

We'll away to the wood, says Robin to Bobbin,
We'll away to the wood, says Richard to Robin,
We'll away to the wood, says Jack of the Land,
We'll away to the wood, says every one.

What shall we do there ? etc.

We'll hunt the wren, etc.

Where is he ? where is he ? etc.

In yonder green bush, etc.

I see him, I see him, etc.

How shall we get him down ? etc.

With sticks and with stones, etc.

He is dead, he is dead, etc.

How shall we get him home ? etc.

We'll hire a cart, etc.

Whose cart shall we hire ? etc.

Johnny Bill Fell's, etc.

Who will stand driver ? etc.

Filly the Tweet, etc.

He's home, he's home, etc.

How shall we get him boiled ? etc.

In the brewery pan, etc.

How shall we get him in ? etc.

With iron bars and a rope, etc.

He is in, he is in, etc.

He is boiled, he is boiled, etc.

How shall we get him out ? etc.

With a long pitchfork, etc.

He is out, he is out, etc.

Who's to dine at the dinner ? etc.

The King and the Queen, etc.

How shall we get him eat ? etc.

With knives and with forks, etc.

He is eat, he is eat, etc.

The eyes for the blind, etc.

The legs for the lame, etc.

The pluck for the poor, etc.

The bones for the dogs, says Robin to Bobbin,
The bones for the dogs, says Richard to Robin,
The bones for the dogs, says Jack of the Land,
The bones for the dogs, says every one.

A lady who for some years resided on the Island, Miss Eliza Cookson, heard the first stanza sung thus

:"Away to the woods, says Dick to Tom,
Away to the woods, says every one.
What to do there, ye merry Manx-men ?
To hunt to death the wicked witch-wren."

This she calls " a Manx carol," in her note on " the tradition of the Fairy-Wren ; " the tit-wren, she says, was selected as the victim.5 This is the" Cutty Wren" of South Wales, the " Chitty Wren" of Somerset and Northern Ireland, and Bewick's " Kitty Wren."

THE WREN-SONG IN WALES.

Harrison's record of the song is the longest we possess ; nearest to it comes the one associated with the same custom at Tenby ; its ten stanzas are equivalent to twenty on the Manx plan.

THE CUTTY WREN.

O where are you going ? says Milder to Melder (or " Molder")
O where are you going ? says the younger to the elder (or " older "),
O I cannot tell, says Festel to Fose ;
We're going to the woods, says John the Red Nose.
We're going to the woods, says John the Red Nose.

O what will you do there ? says Milder to Melder,
O what will you do there ? says the younger to the elder,
O I do not know, says Festel to Fose ;
To shoot the cutty wren, says John the Red Nose.
To shoot the cutty wren, says John the Red Nose.

O what will you shoot her with ? says Milder to Melder,
O what will you shoot her with ? says the younger to the elder,
O I cannot tell, says Festel to Fose ;
With bows and with arrows,6 says John the Red Nose.
With bows and with arrows, says John the Red Nose.

O that will not do, says Milder to Melder,
O that will not do, says the younger to the elder,
O what will do then ? says Festel to Fose ;
With great guns and cannons, says John the Red Nose.
With great guns and cannons, says John the Red Nose.

O what will you bring her home in ? says Milder to Melder,
O what will you bring her home in ? says the younger to the elder,
O I cannot tell, says Festel to Fose ;
On four strong men's shoulders, says John the Red Nose.
On four strong men's shoulders, says John the Red Nose.

O that will not do, says Milder to Melder,
O that will not do, says the younger to the elder,
O what will do then ? sas Festel to Fose ;
On big carts and wagons,' says John the Red Nose.
On big carts and wagons, says John the Red Nose.

What will you cut her up with ? says Milder to Melder,
What will you cut her up with ? says the younger to the elder,
O I do not know, says Festel to Fose ;
With knives and with forks, says John the Red Nose.
With knives and with forks, says John the Red Nose.

O that will not do, says Milder to Melder,
O that will not do, says the younger to the elder,
O what will do then ? says Festel to Fose ;
With hatchets and cleavers, says John the Red Nose.
With hatchets and cleavers, says John the Red Nose.

What will you boil her in ? says Milder to Melder,
What will you boil her in ? says the younger to the elder,
O I cannot tell, says Festel to Fose ;
In pots and in kettles, says John the Red Nose.
In pots and in kettles, says John the Red Nose.

O that will not do, says Milder to Melder,
O that will not do, says the younger to the elder,
O what will do then ? says Festel to Fose ;
In brass pans and cauldrons, says John the Red Nose.
In brass pans and cauldrons, says John the Red Nose.7

An inferior version of the Tenby words comes from Rhydberth, a village four miles from Tenby. Though corrupt, it has several additional stanzas, besides differing in another. Where Tenby says, " O what will you cut her up with ? " Rhydberth asks, " How shall we feather her ? says Milder to Melder," etc., and continues, " Seven women of the parish, says John the Red Nose.

" That won't do, says Milder to Melder,
That won't do, says the younger to the elder;
I cannot tell, says Fiddledefoze ;
Then we'll have the whole Parish, says John the Red Nose.

After the brass pans and cauldrons which Tenby ends with, Rhydberth goes on thus:-

Who is to eat her ? says Milder to Melder,
Who is to eat her ? says the younger to the elder ;
I cannot tell, says Fiddledefoze ;
The Poor of the Parish, says John the Red Nose.

That won't do, says Milder to Melder,

That won't do, says the younger to the elder; I cannot tell, says Fiddledefoze ;

Then we'll have the whole Kingdom, says John the Red Nose. That is well said, says Milder to Melder,

That is well said, says the younger to the elder ; I cannot tell, says Fiddledefoze ;

That is well said, says John the Red Nose.

What's to be done with the spare meat ? says Milder to Melder, What's to be done with the spare meat ? says the younger to the elder ;

I cannot tell, says Fiddledefoze ;

We'll give it to the Poor of the Parish, says John the Red Nose.8

The date appended to this Wren-song from Rhydberth is 1849. The editor of the Miscellany, Mr. Arthur Mee, adds the remark that " the custom of Bearing the Wren has by no means died out in Pembrokeshire ; but Moody and Sankey's hymns and the like are taking the place of the quaint old songs."

Though they do not belong to the standard type of Wren-song, I will include here two folk-ballads connected with the custom of hunting the bird and carrying it about, not only for their intrinsic charm but because of their folk-lore interest as well. For his help in translating them from the Welsh I have to thank Mr. C. W. Griffiths of Carmarthen.

THE SONG OF THE WREN.
(Solva, Pembrokeshire.)

Little wren is the man,
About him there's a stir,
There's an inquest upon him
To-night everywhere.

He was captured, the rascal,9
Last night with rejoicings,
In a snug, pretty chamber,
And his brothers thirteen.

The stronghold was broken,
The young man was taken,
And placed 'neath a shroud
In a fair motley bier.

Ribbons all-coloured
Encompass the wren,
Ribbons thrice-twisted
Are his for a roof.

Jenny Wrens have grown scarce,
They have flown to the valley,10
But they will come back by
The old meadow-paths.11

O fair little mistress,
Give heed to our plaint!
Young children are we,
Let us into your house,
Come open your door
Or we'll all run away. 12

 

THE SONG OF THE WREN.

(St. David's.)

Little wren is the man,

About him there's a stir, There's an inquest upon him To-night everywhere.

He was captured, the rascal, Last night with rejoicings In a snug pretty chamber With his brothers thirteen.13

He was placed 'neath a shroud In a fair motley bier, Ribbons all-coloured

Are tied round the wren, Ribbons all twisted

In place of a house.

Thou shalt have dinner of apples and flour

That came from the orchard this morn of St. Stephen, Thou shalt have dinner of green leaves of bay That came from the garden so early this morning, Thou shalt have dinner on shining white stones That came from the brook after supper.

O fair little mistress, give heed to our plaint! Young children are we, let us into your house, O come to us quick or we'll all run away! 14

A fragment rescued from Kidwelly finds the wren itself, not the wren's dinner, in the orchard.

We have an orchard,
And in it flutters a little wren ;
Ruler of all the birds is that one.15

Another song sung by the procession of men and boys in Pembrokeshire on Twelfth Day emphasized the wren's kingship and pre-eminence over the rest of the birds. The following fragments are all that came to the collector's notice :

For we are come here
To taste your good cheer,
And the King is well-dressed
In silks of the best.

He is from a cottager's stall
To a fine gilded hall . . .16

To the same district and the same time of year belonged a similar type of Wren-song recorded more recently, of which there was said to be a version in Welsh :

Joy, wealth, love and peace Be to you in this place. By your leave we will sing Concerning our King:

Our King is well-dressed In silks of the best. With his ribbons so rare No King can compare,

In his coach he doth ride With a great deal of pride, And with four foot-men To wait upon him.

We were four at a watch, And all nigh of a match ; And with powder and ball We fired at his hall.

We have travelled many miles Over hedges and stiles

To find you this King Which we now to you bring. Now Christmas is past, Twelfth Day is the last. The Old Year bids adieu; Great joy to the New.17

So much, at present, for the South. The vernacular versions of the Wren-song which survive, or survived a few years ago, in North Wales are fragments of longer songs on the Manx and Tenby model, from which they can have differed, before their disintegration, only to a very small extent. The resemblance is strongest in their opening lines. They come from Llanrhaiadr-ym-Mochnant on the border of Denbighshire and Montgomery, from Amlwch in Anglesey, from the Lleyn peninsula, and from Llwyngwril near Dolgelley. That from Llanrhaiadr will be noticed further on. Amlwch agrees with Man and Tenby in carrying her wren home by means of a horse and cart and eating it with knives and forks. Lleyn finds hers in a certain " vineyard," but comes nearest to Man in the names of her interlocutors, Dibyn and Dobyn (who get a leg each), Risiart and Robin (a wing each), and John-of-the-Causeway-End (if I understand slryd aright), who goes halves in the head with " all in common," or every-one. Llwyngwril executes her wren with a butcher's knife and an awl -mynawyd, not manaL,yd, a pole, which would have been more in the gasconading spirit of the Wren-song.18

A nursery-rhyme or song translated from a North Welsh source likewise, though incomplete, preserves more of the standard Wren-song :

Will you come to the wood ? says Owen to Hugh, Will you come to the wood ? says Morgan to Pugh, Will you come to the wood ? says John Jones and Son, Will you come to the wood ? says every-one.

Let us think what to do, says Owen to Hugh, Let us think what to do, says Morgan to Pugh,

Let us think what to do, says John Jones and Son, Let us think what to do, says every-one.

We will hunt the wee wren, says Owen to Hugh, We will hunt the wee wren, says Morgan to Pugh, We will hunt the wee wren, says John Jones and Son, We will hunt the wee wren, says every-one.

To be sure! and what then ? says Owen to Hugh, To be sure! and what then ? says Morgan to Pugh,

To be sure! and what then ? says John Jones and Son, To be sure! and what then ? says every-one.

We will boil it for broth, says Owen to Hugh, We will boil it for broth, says Morgan to Pugh,

We will boil it for broth, says John Jones and Son ; And they did. And the broth drowned every-one.19

A touch of pity or affection sweetens these Welsh songs-to an English ear at least-in an expression which is common to them all, dryw, bach, " little wren," the equivalent of " cutty wren" in some of the English songs.

THE WREN-SONG 1N ENGLAND.

Three versions, with their respective airs, have been printed in the Journal of the Folk-song Society.20 The provenance of the first is not quite clear to me. There is evidently a great deal missing.

Come to the woods, says Ricketty Robbit, Come to the woods, says Ricketty Robbit, Come to the woods, says Johnny so long, Come to the woods, says every one.

What'n do there ? etc. Shoot Jenny Wren, etc. What'n kill un with ? etc.

Powder and shot, etc. How shall we go ? etc. In a cart with six horses, etc. What'n do with the offal ? etc. Give to the poor of the parish, etc.

The second was taken down by Cecil Sharp from a Yorkshire source. There is an impromptu look about the latter part of it.

I fun' a bird's nest, says Robin-a-bobbing,
I fun' a bird's nest, says Richard to Robin,
I fun' a bird's nest, says Billy Baloo,

I fun' a bird's nest, says every one. What will we do wi' ut ? etc. We'll tak' it to keepers, etc.

What shall we get for it ? etc. Three ha'pence apiece, etc. What shall we do wi' ut ? etc. We'll go and get drunk, etc. How shall we get home ? etc. We'll hire a cab, etc.

How shall we get in ? etc. How shall we get out ? etc.
Same way we got in, etc.

The third, and the truest to type, of the Folk-song journal's sets of words comes from Adderbury in North Oxfordshire.

We'll go a shooting, says Richard to Robin,
We'll go a shooting, says Robin to Bobbin, We'll go a shooting, says Jonathan Young, We'll go a shooting, says every one.

What shall us shoot ? etc. I see a wren, etc.

We'll all shoot together, etc. She's down, she's down, etc. How shall we get her home ? etc.
We'll borrow feyther's cart, etc. We must hire a wagon, etc. How shall us get her in ? etc.
We must hire some ropes, etc. We'll all heave together, etc. How shall us cook her ? etc.
We'll lborrowf a furnace, etc. We must hire a cook, etc.

What shall us gie her ? etc.

We must gie her the feathers, etc. That won't be enough, etc.

We must gie her the bones, etc, The feathers will choke her, etc.

The feathers have choked her, etc.
So the poor cook is dead, etc. What shall us do with the braath ? (broth), etc.
Gie't to the poor of the parish, etc.

The foregoing song was noted in 1907, 1911 and 1917. The singer was an old shepherd who marked the accented notes by banging the floor with his stick, and stamped vigorously at the words " every one." This, he declared, was the right way to sing it. It is the " right way," because the traditional way throughout the country, to sing all such songs as lend themselves to it ; the Manxman expresses his gusto by hand - clapping or stamping to mark the beat.

At Winson, in East Gloucestershire, the following song has been handed down for generations, but as with those collected by the Folk-song Society, there is no suggestion that it ever accompanied an actual wren-procession :

Oh, what shall we shoot at ? said Richat to Robet, Oh, what shall we shoot at ? said Robet to Bobet, Oh, what shall we shoot at ? said John in the Long, Oh, what shall we shoot at ? said every one.

We'll shoot at a wren, etc.

How shall we carry it home ? etc. We'll hire three men, etc.

How shall we cook it ? etc. We'll hire six cooks, etc. How shall we eat it ? etc. We'll invite all the town, etc. The scraps for the poor, etc.21

In Devonshire the Wren-song was still, in the earlier half of the 19th century, sung during the ceremonies performed with the bird. These took place during Christmas week ; the villagers suspended the wren from a stout pole and carried it on their shoulders as though it were a heavy burden. They made pretence of hoisting the monstrous creature into a wagon, at the same time singing this song :

I've shot a wren, says Rabbin to Bobbin;
Hoist! hoist! says Richard to Robin; Hoist! hoist! says John all alone,

Hoist ! hoist! says every one.

I'll take a leg, says Rabbin to Bobbin; Hoist ! hoist! says Richard to Robin; Hoist! hoist! etc.

I'll take the head, says Rabbin to Bobbin ; Hoist! hoist! etc.

I'll take a wing, says Rabbin to Bobbin ; Hoist ! hoist ! etc.

" and so on, always chorusing with affected labour and exertion, " Hoist ! hoist ! "22

THE WREN-SONG IN SCOTLAND.

In Chambers's Popular Rhymes of Scotland 23 a Wren-song, " also preserved in Herd's collection," is thus introduced " On St. Stephen's Day, the common people assembled, and carried about a wren tied to the branch of a tree, singing this song :

Will ye go to the wood ? quo' Fozie Mozie, Will ye go to the wood ? quo' Johnie Rednosie, Will ye go to the wood ? quo' Foslin 'ene, Will ye go the wood ? quo' brither and kin. What to do there ? etc.

To slay the wren, etc.

What way will ye get her hame ? etc. We'll hire cart and horses, etc. What way will ye get her in ? etc. We'll drive down the door-cheeks, etc. I'll hae a wing, quo' Fozie Mozie,

I'll hae anither, quo' Johnie Rednosie, I'll hae a leg, quo' Foslin 'ene,

And I'll hae anither, quo' brither and kin."

No locality is mentioned in Chambers, but the dialect appears to be South-Western.

The song has penetrated so far North as Orkney, but has lost its wren on the way, and as in other districts has been put to a domestic use

AN ORKNEY CRADLE-SONG.

We'll aff to the wids, says Tosie Mosie,

We'll aff to the wids, says Johnnie Red-hosie, We'll aff to the wids, says Wise Willee,

We'll aff to the wids, says the Brethren Three. Whit tae do there ? etc.

Tae shut the wirran, etc.

Hoo will we tak' him hame ? etc. In a cairt or a waggon, etc. Whit will we boil him in ? etc. In pot and in pan, etc.

Whit will we do wi' his banes ? etc. Bury them in the land, etc. They'll brak' men's pleughs, etc. Cast them in the sea, etc.

They'll grow into great rocks, etc. They'll wrack ships and boats, etc. We'll burn them in fire, etc.24

Although the dialect in which it is given belongs to much further South, this was evidently a long-known rhyme in Orkney, for its contributor says that sixty years ago he heard it sung to the first half of the tune " The Campbells are Coming," and that this adaptation of air to words was made in 1715. This, if it is a tradition to be relied on, makes it by far the earliest version of all I have reproduced here.

There is another Scottish Wren-song in Buchan's collection of ballads which begins :

Where are ye goin' ? quo' Hose to Mose, Where are ye goin' ? quo' Johnny Rednose,
And where are ye goin' ? quo' the Brethren Three To shoot the Wren, quo' Wise Willee.25

Yet others, both Scottish and English, may be preserved in obscure publications devoted to local lore, in dialect collections, and in manuscripts, while many must have perished without ever having been recorded. Even in the cases where the song has accompanied the ritual of the wren, the words may sometimes have been varied on the spur of the moment.

WREN-SONGS IN BRITTANY.

Though no account of an actual ceremony connected with the wren in Brittany has come to my notice, the following ballad is quite in the spirit of the more typical Wren-songs of other Brythonic lands, though it may not suffice as evidence that Bretons ever hunted the wren and distributed its feathers. (Disregarding the lack of proof, which may exist unknown to me, I believe that the Bretons at some former time did both.) The English is from the French of Luzel's Soniou Breiz-Izel --Chansons Populaires de la Basse Bretagne, where the Breton original may also be found.

THE DEATH OF THE WREN. (Cradle-song.)

One day I went out for a ramble,

And what did I catch but a wren !

When he was caught he was properly caught;
He was put in the cowhouse to fatten,

And there he grew fatter and fatter,

Till they sent for the butcher to kill him.
The butcher and all his assistants

Cried out at the tops of their voices,
They were simply unable to hold him

When he saw the lad come with the knife !
Four carts upon iron-shod wheels

Have carried his feathers to Nantes,
And enough are still left in the house

To furnish four fine feather-beds !

The remainder has no concern with the wren. A description of the killing and plucking appears to have fallen out of the middle part. The song was sung at Loguivy-Plou, on 11th November, 1863. The month and the day are not without interest, particularly with reference to the Welsh slaughtering festivals shortly to be mentioned.

Another Breton song begins so promisingly that one regrets there is no more of it :

I went a hunting in the wood,
(Never shall I get there !)
And in the wood I caught a wren,
(Never, never, never shall I get there !)

Was the difficult progress due to the weight of the wren ?

Besides these, Brittany has at least two more songs about the wren, which likewise are to be found in Luzel's collections. One, " The Wren's Wedding," is a cante-fable which does not reflect either the hunting of the wren or any of the subsequent ceremonial. The wren invites all the birds to her wedding, and reminds them to bring presents because she is very poor--an old Welsh custom, even when the human couple were not very poor. All the birds turn up except one, understood to be the eagle on account of his jealousy about the kingship. The fourth Breton song, " Plucking the Wren," will be noticed later.

WREN - RHYMES IN IRELAND.

These ballads of extravagant make-believe do not seem to have been used in Ireland, where the Wren-boys were content with shorter sets of rhymes in which the chief theme

was a demand for contributions of money or food. Other begging-parties which had nothing to do with wrens used the same rhymes, or portions of them. They are common in England also, and the Isle of Man knows at least one of them :

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On Stephen's Day was caught in the furze;
Although he is little his family's great
We pray you, good people, to give us a trate

This quatrain is tacked on to Harrison's and Train's version of the true Wren-song as it was sung in the Island. That a continuation of it had been translated into Irish is suggested by the doggerel chorus which followed it a hundred years ago in parts of Munster

Sing overem, overem, droleen !
Sing overem, overem, droleen !
Sing overem, overem, chintimicore,
Lebemegola tambereen !

A variant of the first line was :-Sing hubber ma dro my droleen

The Wren-custom cannot safely be termed extinct in Ireland. At Newport, County Mayo, the bird was hunted on St. Stephen's Day, 1919. Participants in the ensuing procession wore quaint straw headdresses. A " fool " and a she-fool (a boy) took part. Two or three generations ago the hunt was undertaken by the parishes independently of each other, whose representatives fought if they happened to meet. Here the rhymes were in English only, even when Irish was the prevailing language. One rhyme concluded :

Dreolin, dreolin, where's your nest ?
'Tis in the bush that I love best,
Between a holly and an ivy tree,
Where none of the birds can meddle with me.*

" Birds " in the last line should, perhaps, be " boys." " Though the ' King of all birds ' is said and sung to be ' caught in the furze ' on St. Stephen's Day, he is invariably caught, and often ruthlessly slain too, on Christmas Day."1. The use of the present tense by the author, Mr. J. J. Marshall, is of interest, since his collection, though now out of print, was published so recently as 1926. He mentions in addition to his own locality the following places where the custom was in use : Tipperary ; Shanagolden, Co. Limerick ; Youghal, Co. Cork ; and Waterford City. In all these instances the principals were young men.

THE ACTION of THE WREN-SONG.

It will have been observed that this uncouth type of song beginning with a visit to " the woods," far from being descriptive of the ceremony, parts company from it at an early stage. The song's proposed treatment of the quarry when caught is obviously meant to have the effect of humorous exaggeration. Is this purely an exercise of the composer's fancy, as, for example, in the song of " The Derby Ram," or is it based on something more substantial ?

Professor Gwynn Jones's Folk-lore of Wales (page 146) describes a custom which may have inspired the terms of the songs. " November is called Mis Tachwedd [Slaughter Month] probably from the custom of slaughtering animals for winter store, cp. the AngloSaxon Blõtmonath, ' mensis immolationum,' so named from a similar custom. . . . What seems to have been a tradition of long standing is the habit prevailing in [the agricultural districts of North Wales] until quite recently of inviting friends and dependents to partake of a kind of feast after the slaughtering of a bullock or fattened cow at the farmhouses. In Merioneth . . . poor people were supplied with pailfuls of broth on those occasions. . . . The social character of the gathering, together with the distribution of a part of the preparation to less favoured neighbours, suggests a kind of sacramental feast as the origin of the custom."

The circumstances of such a slaughtering festivalit is not suggested that it was confined to North Wales or even to Celtic-speaking countries-would explain very well the phraseology both of the songs in English and of the Breton cradle-song (page 400), which is evidently part of a Wren-song put to another use ; and these circumstances would come within the experience of the song-makers. Also, there was probably a tradition or legend adhering to the Wrenrites-a vague notion of the kind still exists-that the wren was a substitute for some larger creature. It would therefore easily be invested, in the songs, with the details of the cattle-slaughtering custom.

It may be that the slaughtering festivals preserved traces of the primitive features which are visible in the ceremonial sacrifices of bears and other animals, sacrifices which Sir J. G. Frazer shows to be related, broadly, to the wren-sacrifice among many others.* In some cases portions of the bird or animal must be eaten in order that its magic virtue shall fortify the human partakers. Among the Aino " when the rest of the flesh of the bear has been cooked, it is shared out . . . among all the people." The Gilyaks also, and another North Asiatic tribe, the Goldi, eat their bear with the same intention. In the typical songs of the wren, cooking and eating it are important items of the programme. The reason for eating the bear is summarized in the Golden Bough thus : " The savage commonly believes that by eating the flesh of an animal or man he acquires not only the physical, but even the moral and intellectual qualities which were characteristic of that animal or man ; so when the creature is deemed divine, our simple savage naturally expects to absorb a portion of its divinity along with its material substance.",f, " By partaking of the flesh, blood or broth of the bear, the Gilyaks, the Aino and the Goldi are all of the opinion that they acquire some portion of the animal's mighty powers." This is done at all the bear-sacrifices. Accounts of similar sacrifices gathered from all over the world show further that particular portions of an animal are credited with appropriate virtues ; the heart and the liver are eaten, or the blood drunk, for courage ; birds' tongues are given to young children to make them talk early. " In Northern India people fancy that if you eat the eyeballs of an owl you will be able like an owl to see in the dark." The Manx Wren-song apportions " the eyes for the blind, the legs for the lame, the pluck for the poor." In five non-Manx versions the poor are to benefit by the spare meat, the broth, the scraps, the offal, and the entire wren. Among a Central African tribe the flesh of the sacrificial lamb is entirely devoted to the poor. The grotesquely disproportionate means imagined in the Manx and similar songs for transporting, cooking, and otherwise dealing with the wren would be obligatory in the case of such large game as bears, buzzards and cattle. The Gilyaks' bear, after being led, or dragged by ropes, while alive, to all the huts in turn that their owners may share in the blessing and be delivered from the designs of evil spirits, is killed and put into a special vessel used only for cooking the bear's flesh, and boiled (never roasted) over a slow fire ; the meat is then fished out of the kettle with an iron hook. The wren, after requiring a cart and horses to get him home, must be put into the brewery pan, or into brass pans and cauldrons, with iron bars and ropes, and got out again, when boiled, with a long pitchfork, and eaten with knives and forks.*

In allotting " the bones to the dogs," however, the ' Manx song is at variance with the general custom in the uncivilized rites to which its verbal resemblances, be they accidental or otherwise, are now being pointed out. The bones are always treated with the greatest possible respect by uncivilized races. " If the beaver's bones are given to the dogs the other beavers would get word of it and would not let themselves be caught ; ' we will keep the dogs from eating your bones.' " And so with the eland, the deer, the elk in North America, and the bear's skull among the Finns of the Kalevala. The Orkney Wren-song previously cited, when it comes to the disposal of the bones takes a different line from the Manx version, and finally launches out into strikingly imaginative ideas, in which some magical doctrine or other may be implied.

The killing of the bear and the consequent feasting, in Rune 46 of the Kalevala, though not an annual custom, is a typical picture which exhibits many of the features of the customs just referred to, and others which are no less reminiscent of the Wren-songs. The bear, so far as can be gathered from the poems in their doctored state, was sent by the goddess of the dark and deathly Northland to destroy the flocks and herds of the Finns. In spite of its errand the bear, as a source of food and clothing, is beloved by the Finns, and as a portent of summer and good fortune is warmly welcomed; they address it in terms of strong affection. Many of these endearing terms are the names of birds : " O my birdling ! " occurs thrice ; it is called a crossbill, a " golden cuckoo of the forest," and its movements are likened to those of the woodgrouse and the goose. Though it has already been killed (with profuse apologies) before it is brought to the village, a pretence is made that it is still alive. It is skinned and boiled (according to the rune) in gilded kettles and copper cauldrons, and the people are bidden to " the feast of cattle, where the shaggy beast is eaten " from golden dishes with knives of silver. After the feast Vainamoinen sings a song which brings to mind the Breton songs about dismembering the blackbird and plucking the wren,* and still more strongly suggests the Manx lines, " the eyes to the blind, the legs to the lame," etc. :

" Now I take the nose from Otso,

That my own nose may be lengthened," followed by the eyes, the ears, and the rest of Otso's (the bear's) cranial anatomy, all for the singer's benefit.fi

We have thus the choice of believing either that the prototype of these songs (to which the modern Manx one probably comes nearest) was composed purely in a spirit of jesting and mockery, without reference to any antecedent beliefs or practices concerning some more substantial creature than a wren, or else that the songs do, by some means, reflect with little exaggeration the slaying and dismemberment of a bulky animal. If such a sacrifice, with its attendant ceremonial, is faintly recognizable in the Manx Wren - rites, it is not unreasonable to think that the picture drawn, in these widely-scattered songs, of proceedings on a much larger scale than the Wren - rites, also perpetuates a memory of obsolete practices, and was not solely inspired by a humorous imagination, as it might seem to be at first sight.

Where, when, and from whose hand the Wren-song originated are questions which are not likely now to be cleared up, but a search through old English ballad-material might at the least be rewarded by the discovery of an earlier version than any at present known, or by their embryo. The Manx one is by no means the earliest recorded. Even if the date of 1715 for the Orkney song lacks substantiation, a collection published about thirty years before Harrison's Mona Miscellany contains a nursery song entitled :

ROBBIN, BOBBIN, RICHARD AND JOHN, OR THE WREN-SHOOTING.

We'll go a-shooting, says Robbin to Bobbin,
We'll go a-shooting, says Richard to Robbin,
We'll go a-shooting, says John-All-Alone,
We'll go a-shooting, says every one.

What shall we kill ? etc.

We'll shoot the wren, etc.

She's down, she's down, etc.

How shall we get her home ? etc.

We'll hire a cart, etc.

Then hoist, boys, hoist ! etc.

So they brought her away after each plucked a feather,
And when they got home shared the booty together.*

The final couplet, in which the third person replaces the first, appears to have been added to the song to describe what was done after the wren was " brought home." The plucking of a feather by each participant is a point of agreement, rare in the songs, with the actual custom as preserved in the Isle of Man. It is a point, moreover, which connects the Wren-ritual with another Manx custom, and with certain non-Manx rites, songs, and myths.

Footnotes

1 Mona Miscellany, part i., page 154. One of the several existing airs accompanies the words.

2 Historical Account of the Isle of Man, ii., 141.

3 Manx Ballads, page 64. With another air.

4Ibid., page xxi.

5 Poems from Manxland, 1868.

6 In the South of France, in the I 7th century, it was a custom for each inhabitant to shoot an arrow at a wooden wren tied to a pole ; if he missed it he had to give the Seigneur a silver bow. (Folk-lore, xvii., 273.)

7 Tales and Traditions of Tenby, Tenby, 1858, pages 12 ff. ; to an air which has no resemblance to the Manx one. (See p. 375.)

8 The Carmarthenshire Miscellany, May-June, 1892, page 47.

9 Gwalch might be rendered as " rascal," " hero," or " hawk," according to Spurrell's Dictionary. With regard to the last alternative, in a village near Tulle in the lower Limousin the wren was carried on the wrist like a hawk, hooded and with silk tassels on its legs. The whole elaborate ceremony is described in Folk-love, xvii., pages 272, 273.

10 This is the literal sense of hedasant i bant, but i bant, " to the valley," has come to mean simply " away "-an idiom which must have originated with a hill-bred people.

11, Dywy llwybyau'r hen dd6l, "by the paths of the old meadow " ; but might not a place-name, Henddõl, be concerned ?

12 Pembrokeshire Antiquities, page 48.

13 Or " eleven " in a similar but much shorter song contributed from St. David's to the Carmarthenshire Miscellany for JulyDecember, 1892, page too. A fanciful Welsh elucidation says that the custom was allegorical, the " eleven " being the disciples, and the wren Judas.

14 Pembrokeshire Antiquities, p. 46.

15 Welsh Folk-song journal, vol. i.

16 Halliwell Phillips, Popular Rhymes (1849), page 166.

t Notes and Queries, ser. 3, vol. 5, p. 109 ; and Thiselton Dyer, British Popular Customs, page 35-less two lines.

* The Welsh originals of the above fragments will be found in the Welsh Folk-song ,journal, vol. i.

* Jennett Humphreys, Old Welsh Knee-Songs, published by the author, Cricklewood, 1894 ; 38 pages.

Vol. v., part 1.

* Alfred Williams, Folk-songs of the Upper Thames, page 184

Harrison, Mona Miscellany (1869), page 184. He gives no indication of his source. The allotting of leg, head and wing all to Rabbin is evidently wrong, whether the reference is to lifting, or to eating as in other versions. Probably hoisting is meant, and a comparison suggests itself with the words of the Colby Hen-song, " Take thou the head and I'll take the feet."

t Pages 37, 38, among " Rhymes of the Nursery."

* Orkney and Shetland Old-lore, October, 19o8. t Buchan's MSS., i., r66b.

* See Gerald Griffin's Tales of the Munster Festivals, page So ff.

* See the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland for June, ig2o. " Droleen " and " dreolin " are forms of an Irish word for " wren."

t Popular Rhymes and Sayings of Ireland, printed in Dungannon, page 20.

* Golden Bough (abridged edition), chapter liv. f Ibid., chapter Iii.

* In Central Africa " whenever an animal is killed its liver is taken out and eaten, but the Darfur people are most careful not to touch it with their hands, as it is considered sacred ; it is cut up in small pieces and . . . conveyed to the mouth on the point of a knife, or the sharp point of a stick." In the Isle of Man " the livers of fowls and fish are uniformly sacrificed to the fairies." (Bullock, History of the Isle of Man, 1816, page 370.)

See pages 419, 420.

f Instead of the singer's actual organs perhaps we should understand the faculties they represent-smell, hearing, sight, intelligence, vocal powers and eloquence. And, as Schopenhauer reminds us, the sense of smell is connected with the memory, the sense of hearing with the reason, and the sense of sight with the understanding. Thus the object of the incantation, and of the acts that doubtless accompanied it, begins to emerge.

* In its wanderings and limitless metamorphoses the song accords with popular traditional lore of every kind. It has even been reduced to the status of a nursery rhyme which counts the baby's fingers or toes :

Let us go to the wood, says this pig; What to do there ? says that pig;

To look for my mother, says this pig; What to do with her ? says that pig; To kiss her to death ! says this pig. (Early English Poetry, page 115.)

* J. Ritson, Gammer Gurton's Garland (181o, reprinted 1866), page 8, in the portion " first collected and printed by a literary gentleman deceased," and that is all we are told about it. The same song, however, is given in vol. 4 of the Percy Society Publications, Early English Poetry (1841), edited by J. O. Halliwell. In his notes the editor quotes, " from a copy given to me," the same words as those printed by Harrison in The Mona Miscellany, 1869, taken down by him in 1843.


 

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