Miller of Dee

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The weir on the River Dee in Chester

Miller of Dee is a traditional folk song (Roud #503) from the Chester area in the north-west of England. It is often titled "The Miller of the Dee".

The song was originally part of Isaac Bickerstaffe's play, Love in a Village (1762). Subsequently other versions of Bickerstaffe's original song were made by various other poets.

The city of Chester stands on the River Dee and a weir was built across the river here in the Middle Ages to maintain high water levels for several water mills which stood on its banks.

The River Dee rises on the eastern slopes of Dduallt in Snowdonia, Wales and enters the Dee Estuary on the outskirts of Chester. The English name for the river is derived from its Welsh name Afon Dyfrdwy. Its Latin name was Deva.

The song is usually sung to the Welsh harp tune "Llydaw" (the Welsh name for "Brittany"). Many settings of the tune have been made by British composers, most notably Benjamin Britten in his second collection of Folk-song arrangements. Roger Quilter's setting of the song was included in the Arnold Book of Old Songs, published in 1950.

Several versions for choir also exist, such as that by John Rutter. In 1962 Havergal Brian wrote a comedy overture for orchestra based on the tune.

A 1997 local interest book on the history of the Mills and Millers in Chester, was named after this folk song.[1]

The original song from Bickerstaffe's "Love in a village" (1762)[edit]

There dwelt a miller, hale and bold, beside the river Dee;
He danced and sang from morn till night, no lark so blithe as he;
And this the burden of his song forever used to be: -
"I care for nobody, no not I, if nobody cares for me.
"I live by my mill, God bless her! she's kindred, child, and wife;
I would not change my station for any other in life;
No lawyer, surgeon, or doctor e'er had a groat from me;
I care for nobody, no not I if nobody cares for me."
When spring begins his merry career, oh, how his heart grows gay;
No summer's drought alarms his fear, nor winter's cold decay;
No foresight mars the miller's joy, who's wont to sing and say,
"Let others toil from year to year, I live from day to day."
Thus, like the miller, bold and free, let us rejoice and sing;
The days of youth are made for glee, and time is on the wing;
This song shall pass from me to thee, along the jovial ring;
Let heart and voice and all agree to say, "Long live the king."

Lyrics (Version 2)[edit]

There was a jolly miller once
Lived on the River Dee
He danced and he sang from morn till night
No lark so blithe as he.
And this the burden of his song
For ever used to be
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
I live by my mill, God bless her!
She's kindred, child, and wife
I would not change my station
For any other in life.
No lawyer, surgeon, or doctor
E'er had a groat from me
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
When Spring begins its merry career
Oh! how his heart grows gay
No summer drought alarms his fears
Nor winter's sad decay
No foresight mars the miller's joy
Who's wont to sing and say
Let others toil from year to year
I live from day to day.
Thus like the miller, bold and free
Let us rejoice and sing
The days of youth are made for glee
And time is on the wing.
This song shall pass from me to thee
Along this jovial ring
Let heart and voice and all agree to say
Long live the King.

This version was published in The Convivial Songster in 1782.

Lyrics (Version 3)[edit]

There was a jolly miller once
Lived on the River Dee;
He work'd and sang from morn till night,
No lark more blithe than he.
And this the burden of his song
Forever used to be;
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
The reason why he was so blithe,
He once did thus unfold;
The bread I eat my hands have earn'd;
I covet no man's gold;
I do not fear next quarter-day;
In debt to none I be.
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
A coin or two I've in my purse,
To help a needy friend;
A little I can give the poor,
And still have some to spend.
Though I may fail, yet I rejoice,
Another's good hap to see.
I care for nobody, no, not I,
If nobody cares for me.
So let us his example take,
And be from malice free;
Let every one his neighbour serve,
As served he'd like to be.
And merrily push the can about
And drink and sing with glee;
If nobody cares a doit for us,
Why not a doit care we.

This version was discovered in 1857 written on a flyleaf of a 1716 collection of John Dryden's poems.

Lyrics (Version 4)[edit]

There dwelt a miller, hale and bold,
Beside the River Dee;
He worked and sang from morn till night,
No lark more blithe than he;
And this the burden of his song
Forever used to be:
"I envy nobody - no, not I -
And nobody envies me!"
'Thou'rt wrong, my friend," said good King Hal,
"As wrong as wrong can be;
For could my heart be light as thine,
I'd gladly change with thee.
And tell me now, what makes thee sing,
With voice so loud and free,
While I am sad, though I'm the King,
Beside the river Dee?'
The miller smiled and doff'd his cap,
"I earn my bread," quoth he;
"I love my wife, I love my friend,
I love my children three;
I owe no penny I cannot pay,
I thank the river Dee,
That turns the mill that grinds the corn
That feeds my babes and me."
"Good friend," said Hal, and sighed the while,
"Farewell, and happy be;
But say no more, if thou'dst be true,
That no one envies thee;
Thy mealy cap is worth my crown,
Thy mill my kingdom's fee;
Such men as thou are England's boast,
O miller of the Dee!

This version was written by Charles Mackay.[2]

Popular culture[edit]

Rod Steiger, playing serial killer Christopher Gill, whistled "The Miller of Dee" several times in the 1968 movie No Way to Treat a Lady.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Miller of Dee, Roy Wilding, 1997
  2. ^ Ongoing Tales Poem ~ The Miller of Dee