The Ash Grove

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The Ash Grove (Welsh: Llwyn Onn) is a traditional Welsh folk song whose melody has been set to numerous sets of lyrics. The best-known version was written in English by John Oxenford in the 19th century.

The first published version of the tune was in 1802 in "The Bardic Museum". The book was written by Edward Jones, a harpist. About 4 years later a version with words appeared, under the name "Llwyn Onn". It tells of a sailor's love for "Gwen of Llwyn". At the end of the song, Gwen unfortunately passes away, and in one version of the piece, the writer talks about him mourning and that she is lying " 'neath the shades of the lonely ash grove". The tune might be much older, as a similar tune appears in "The Beggar's Opera" by John Gay (1728), in the song "Cease Your Funning". In 1922, however Kidson claimed that John Gay's tune derives from the morris dance tune "Constant Billy", which is first known in Playford's "Dancing Master".

The first known version of "The Ash Grove" was published in 1862, in Volume I of "Welsh Melodies, With Welsh And English Poetry", authored by John Thomas the harpist, with Welsh words by John Jones (Talhaiarn) and English words by Thomas Oliphant. The first verse of this version is incorporated into Oxenford's version.

The tune of "The Ash Grove" is used for the hymn "Let All Things Now Living" in 1939 by composer Katherine K. Davis. This hymnal version resulted in it being included on a number of Christmas albums up through the 1950s; like Jan August's 1955 album "Christmas Favorites" (Mercury Records #MG 20160). It was in use as a hymnal long before the 20th century under the title "The Master Hath Come" by Sarah Doudney (1871) and has been updated since in a retelling of the nativity by Robert Cullinan as "On This Night, Most Holy" (1996).

Another hymn set to the tune of the Ash Grove is "Sent Forth by God's Blessing"

Roger Quilter's setting of the song was included in the Arnold Book of Old Songs, published in 1950.

Around 1962 another song called "The Irish Free State" was written to this tune.

"The Ash Grove" featured in the 1980 BBC mini-series Pride and Prejudice. The tune is also featured in Black & White, a 2001 video game by Lionhead Studios; the lyrics are altered according to the game's plot.

Ed Pearl's Ash Grove folk music club at 8162 Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles was named after the song. The Ash Grove opened in 1958 and closed in 1973. The Greenbriar Boys, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Doc Watson, Ry Cooder and many others performed there.

Oliphant lyrics[edit]

Down yonder green valley, where streamlets meander,
When twilight is fading I pensively rove
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander,
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove;
‘T was there, while the blackbird was cheerfully singing,
I first met that dear one, the joy of my heart!
Around us for gladness the bluebells were ringing,
Ah! then little thought I how soon we should part.

Still glows the bright sunshine o'er valley and mountain,
Still warbles the blackbird its note from the tree;
Still trembles the moonbeam on streamlet and fountain,
But what are the beauties of nature to me?
With sorrow, deep sorrow, my bosom is laden,
All day I go mourning in search of my love;
Ye echoes, oh, tell me, where is the sweet maiden?
"She sleeps, 'neath the green turf down by the ash grove."

Oxenford lyrics[edit]

The ash grove how graceful, how plainly 'tis speaking
The harp through its playing has language for me.
Whenever the light through its branches is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends from my childhood again are before me
Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With soft whispers laden the leaves rustle o’er me
The ash grove, the ash grove alone is my home.

Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander
When twilight is fading I pensively rove
Or at the bright noon tide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.
‘Twas there while the black bird was cheerfully singing
I first met that dear one the joy of my heart
Around us for gladness the blue bells were ringing
But then little thought I how soon we should part.

My lips smile no more, my heart loses its lightness;
No dream of the future my spirit can cheer.
I only can brood on the past and its brightness
The dear ones I long for again gather here.
From ev'ry dark nook they press forward to meet me;
I lift up my eyes to the broad leafy dome,
And others are there, looking downward to greet me
The ash grove, the ash grove, again is my home.


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