The Fox (folk song)

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This article is about the 15th-century and bluegrass song. For the 2013 song, see The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).

The Fox is a traditional folk song. It is also the subject of at least two picture books, The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night: an old song, illustrated by Peter Spier and Fox Went out on a Chilly Night, by Wendy Watson. According to the 2006 Bluegrass Picker's Tune Book by Richard Matteson, the earliest version of this song appears to have been a Middle English poem, dating from the 15th century, found in the British Museum.[1][2]

Modern lyrics[edit]

Typical lyrics are as follows:

The fox went out on a chilly night,
he prayed to the Moon to give him light,
for he'd many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o, town-o, town-o,
he had many a mile to go that night
before he reached the town-o.

He ran till he came to a great big pen
where the ducks and the geese were put therein.
"A couple of you will grease my chin
before I leave this town-o, town-o, town-o,
a couple of you will grease my chin
before I leave this town-o."

He grabbed the grey goose by the neck,
throwed a duck across his back;
he didn't mind their quack, quack, quack,
and their legs all a-dangling down-o, down-o, down-o,
he didn't mind their quack, quack, quack,
and their legs all a-dangling down-o.

Old Mother Flipper-Flopper[3] jumped out of bed;
out of the window she cocked her head,
Crying, "John, John! The grey goose is gone
and the fox is on the town-o, town-o, town-o!"
Crying, "John, John, the grey goose is gone
and the fox is on the town-o!"

Then John he went to the top of the hill,
blowed his horn both loud and shrill,
the fox he said, "I'd better flee with my kill
or they'll soon be on my trail-o, trail-o, trail-o."
The fox he said, "I'd better flee with my kill
or they'll soon be on my trail-o."

He ran till he came to his cozy den;
there were the little ones eight, nine, ten.
They said, "Daddy, better go back again,
'cause it must be a mighty fine town-o, town-o, town-o!"
They said, "Daddy, better go back again,
'cause it must be a mighty fine town-o."

Then the fox and his wife without any strife
cut up the goose with a fork and knife.
They never had such a supper in their life
and the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o,
they never had such a supper in their life
and the little ones chewed on the bones-o.


Origins[edit]

In Joseph Ritson's Gammer Gurton's Garland (1810), the song is recorded (under the name "Dame Widdle Waddle") thus: The cover of the fox by Marty Robbins has the same lyrics as below.

Old Mother Widdle Waddle jumpt out of bed,
And out at the casement she popt out her head:
Crying the house is on fire, the grey goose is dead,
And the fox he is come to the town, oh![4]

The two earliest versions both date from the fifteenth century (c. 1500), and are written in Middle English. The first, usually called "The Fox and the Goose", goes as follows:

"Pax uobis,"[5] quod the ffox,
"for I am comyn to toowne."

It fell ageyns the next nyght
the fox yede to with all his myghte,
with-outen cole or candelight,
whan that he cam vnto the toowne.

Whan he cam all in the yarde,
soore te geys wer ill a-ferde.
"I shall macke some of yow lerde,
or that I goo from the toowne!"

Whan he cam all in the croofte,
there he stalkyd wundirfull soofte;
"For here haue I be frayed full ofte
whan that I haue come to toowne."

He hente a goose all be the heye;
fast the goose began to creye;
oowte yede men as they myght heye
and seyde, "Fals fox, ley it doowne!"

"Nay," he saide, "soo mot I the—
sche shall go unto the wode with me,
sche and I vnther a tre,
e-mange the beryis browne.

I haue a wyf, and sche lyethe seke;
many smale whelppis sche haue to eke;
many bonys they must pike
will they ley adowne!"


The second, called "The False Fox" ("false" here meaning "deceitful"), is as follows:

The fals fox camme unto owre croft,
and so oure gese ful fast he sought;

With how, fox, how!
With hey, fox, hey!
Comme no more unto oure howse
to bere oure gese aweye!

The fals fox camme into oure yerde,
and there he made the gese aferde.

Refrain

The fals fox camme unto oure gate,
and toke our gese there where they sate.

Refrain

The fals fox camme to owre halle dore;
and shrove our gese there in the flore.

Refrain

The fals fox camme into our halle,
and assoyled our gese both grete and small.

Refrain

The fals fox camme unto oure cowpe,
and there he made our gese to stowpe.

Refrain

He toke a gose fast by the nek,
and the goose thoo begann to quek.

Refrain

The good wyfe camme out in her smok,
and at the fox she threw hir rok.

Refrain

The good mann camme out with his flayle,
and smote the fox upon the tayle.

Refrain

He threw a gose upon his bak,
and furth he went to thoo with his pak.

Refrain

The goodmann swore, yf that he myght,
he wolde hym slee or it were nyght.

Refrain

The fals fox went into his denne,
and there he was fully mery thenne.

Refrain

He camme ayene yet the next wek,
and toke awey both henne and chek.

Refrain

The goodman saide unto his wyfe,
"This fals fox lyveth a mery lyfe."

Refrain

The fals fox camme uppoun a day,
and with oure gese he made a ffray.

Refrain

He toke a goose fast by the nek,
and made her to say, "Wheccumquek!"

Refrain

"I pray the, fox," said the goose thoo,
"take of my fethers but not of my to."

Refrain

Modern covers[edit]

"The Fox" has been recorded or covered by:

1950s
1960s
1970s
  • MacLean & MacLean, as a parody with vulgar lyrics on MacLean & MacLean Suck Their Way to the Top
  Tom Glazer - on the album "Children's Greatest Hits, Vol II" (1977)
1980s
1990s
2000s
2010s

References[edit]

  1. ^ See extract in Google books. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2012-02-01. 
  2. ^ George Perkins, "A Medieval Carol Survival: "The Fox and the Goose," Journal of American Folklore 74 (1961): 235–244. [1]
  3. ^ Also "Old Mother Hippletoe", "Old Mother Pitter Patter", or "Old Mother Slipper-Slopper"
  4. ^ Gammer Gurton's Garland
  5. ^ Latin Pax vobis, "Peace to you"
  6. ^ Keillor, Garrison. "The Road Goes On Forever – Prairie Home Companion". NPR. Retrieved October 9, 2011. 

There was a version sung by Marty Robbins in 1954 with the same lyrics. He did a cover of the song to honor his grandfather.