The Daemon Lover

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"The Daemon Lover", also known as "James Harris", "James Herries", or "The House Carpenter" (Roud 14, Child 243) is a popular Scottish ballad.

Synopsis[edit]

It tells the story of a man (usually the Devil), who returns to a former lover after a very long absence, and finds her with a husband (usually a carpenter) and a baby. He entices her to leave both behind and come with him, luring her with many ships laden with treasure. Together they board one of his ships (which in many versions she is surprised to find does not have a crew) and put to sea.

"But if I should leave my husband dear,
Likewise my little son also,
What have you to maintain me withal,
If I along with you should go?"

"I have seven ships upon the seas,
And one of them brought me to land,
And seventeen mariners to wait on thee,
For to be love at your command."

She soon begins to lament leaving behind her child, but is heartened by spying a bright hill in the distance. Her lover informs her that the hill is heaven, where they are not bound. Instead he indicates a much darker coast, which he tells her is hell, their destination. He then breaks the ship in half with his bare hands and feet, drowning them both. In other versions, the ship is wrecked by a storm at sea.

"O what a bright, bright hill is yon,
That shines so clear to see?"
"O it is the hill of heaven, " he said,
"Where you shall never be."

"O what a black, dark hill is yon,
"That looks so dark to me?"
"O it is the hill of hell," he said,
"Where you and I shall be."

This ballad was one of 25 traditional works included in Ballads Weird and Wonderful (1912) and illustrated by Vernon Hill. The New York Times review of Hill's illustrations accompanying this ballad was noted as a particular highlight of his illustrations thus:

... the design of Satan rushing down through the waves with the boat containing the faithless wife, is tremendous. Satan himself has one of the most graceful and beautiful human bodies ever drawn; the rhythm of the whole is thrilling, and the conventionalized waves are splendid.

Variants and derivatives[edit]

Many American versions use the title "The House Carpenter".[1][better source needed]

Shirley Jackson's collection The Lottery and Other Stories includes a story called "The Daemon Lover", about a woman searching for her mysterious fiancé.

Bob Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat" is the story told from the house carpenter's perspective.

Recordings[edit]

Versions of the song, under its several titles, have been recorded by:

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://bobdylan.com/songs/carpenter.html
  2. ^ Solo album: Abocurragh, Andy Irvine AK-3, 2010.