Pretty Polly (ballad)

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"Pretty Polly", "The Gosport Tragedy" or "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter" (Laws 36, Roud 15) is a traditional English-language folk song found in the British Isles, Canada, and the Appalachian region of North America, among other places.[1]

The song is a murder ballad, telling of a young woman lured into the forest where she is killed and buried in a shallow grave. Many variants of the story have the villain as a ship's carpenter who promises to marry Polly but murders her when she becomes pregnant. When he goes back to sea, he is haunted by her ghost, confesses to the murder, goes mad and dies.[2]

American versions of the ballad, such as those of B.F. Shelton and Dock Boggs, tend to begin in the first person ("I courted Pretty Polly...") and switch to the third person for the murder ("he stabbed her to the heart"); Judy Collins' 1968 recording featured alternating verses switching back and forth between Polly and Willie's perspectives. American versions also tend to omit the reason for killing Pretty Polly and Willie's subsequent madness or haunting by Polly's ghost.[3]

The ballad is likely the musical basis for Ballad of Hollis Brown by Bob Dylan who played "Pretty Polly" himself in his early years.[4][5]

Woody Guthrie used the tune of "Pretty Polly" for Pastures of Plenty.[6]

Notable artists who have performed "Pretty Polly"[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Cruel Ship Carpenter". English Folk Dance and Song Society. Retrieved 4 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "The Cruel Ship's Carpenter". folkinfo.org. Retrieved 4 June 2010. 
  3. ^ Wilentz, Sean; Marcus, Greil (2005). The rose & the briar: death, love and liberty in the American ballad. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-393-05954-0. Retrieved 31 August 2011. 
  4. ^ Marcus, Greil (15 May 1998). Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes. Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-5842-0. [page needed]
  5. ^ Gegenhuber, Kurt (15 March 2006). "The Celestial Monochord: Hollis Brown's South Dakota". celestialmonochord.org. Retrieved 4 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Remembering the Old Songs: Pretty Polly, by Bob Waltz". Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, January 1997. Retrieved July 20, 2012. 

External links[edit]