Lord Randall

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"Lord Randall"
Lord Randal.jpg
Illustration by Arthur Rackham in Some British Ballads, ca. 1919
Written17th century (earliest known)
GenreBorder ballad, folk song

"Lord Randall", or "Lord Randal", (Roud 10, Child 12) is an Anglo-Scottish border ballad[1] consisting of dialogue between a young Lord and his mother.[2] Similar ballads can be found across Europe in many languages, including Danish, German, Magyar, Irish, Swedish, and Wendish.[3] [4] Italian variants are usually titled "L'avvelenato" ("The Poisoned Man") or "Il testamento dell'avvelenato" ("The Poisoned Man's Will"), the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona.[5]


Lord Randall returns home to his mother after visiting his lover. Through the mother's inquiry, it is gradually revealed that the Lord has been poisoned by his lover.[6] The song usually includes details of Lord Randall's wishes for his possessions.

Cultural uses[edit]

The English fiction writer Dorothy L. Sayers used a phrase from some variants for the title Strong Poison, a 1930 murder mystery about a man apparently murdered by his lover. In 1962, Bob Dylan modeled his song "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" on "Lord Randall", introducing each verse with variants of the introductory lines to each verse of "Lord Randall". Dylan's ballad is often interpreted as a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Dylan himself disclaimed this as an oversimplification; actually, Dylan first publicly performed the song a month before the crisis.[7][8]

Robert Shaw sang the work in the Academy Award-winning 1966 film 'A Man for All Seasons.

The song "Pictures in a Mirror" from the album I Looked Up by the Incredible String Band, mentions Lord Randall.

The nursery rhyme "Billy Boy" borrows the verse structure and the narrative format about a suitor visiting his lover, with a happier ending.

The poem is repeatedly alluded to in the novel The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

In the novel Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, the character Mack quotes the recurring phrase of the poem while lying defeated in his bed.

A Boy Scout campfire version of this song is "Green and Yellow" (alternatively rendered "Green and Yeller").[9] A mother is interrogating her son who "[has] got to be sick" and who requests that she "lay [him] down to die". He tells her that he has been in the woods "eating eels" that are revealed to have actually been poisonous snakes, which kill him. This version was frequently heard in English folk clubs in the 1960s, the music and words published by Spin Magazine in 1968.[10] The notes said author Ron Gould remembered the song from his childhood in London's East End.


  • Caedmon Records issued a composite track of traditional singers performing a few verses each on "The Folksongs of Britain IV: Child Ballads I". The singers were Jeannie Robertson, Elizabeth Cronin, Thomas Moran, Colm McDonagh, Eirlys & Edis Thomas.
  • The Voice of the People Vol 3 includes a full version entitled "Lord Donald" by the traditional singer John Macdonald.
  • Cecil Sharp's arrangement of "Lord Rendal" was recorded by the Russian tenor Vladimir Rosing in the mid-1920s on Vocalion (A0167).
  • The Wagnerian soprano singer Helen Traubel recorded it with Robert Armbruster And His Orchestra in her 1954 album Folk Songs & Ballads RCA Victor – LM-7013.
  • The folk singer Buffy Sainte-Marie included it on her 1967 album Fire & Fleet & Candlelight.
  • A version by New York jig-punk band the Prodigals on their 2001 album Dreaming in Hell's Kitchen.[11]
  • There is also version by Russian folk rock band Melnitsa on their 1996 album lunar day
  • Scottish folk-singer Emily Smith includes a version entitled "Lord Donald" in her album Traiveller's Joy (2011)
  • Einstürzende Neubauten include a German variation, "Ein Stuhl in der Hölle" (A Chair In Hell), on their album Haus der Lüge (1989)
  • A version by English folk band Steeleye Span on their 1998 album Horkstow Grange.
  • A version by Abner Jay on the 2010 album Folk Song Stylist released on Mississippi Records.
  • Two versions by Martin Carthy, one on the 1972 Shearwater album and one on the 1979 album Because It's There.
  • A version by Harry Belafonte on the 1954 album Mark Twain
  • Galley Beggar included their version, 'Rendall' on their eponymous second album
  • Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts included a version on his album No Earthly Man entitled Lord Ronald. He admits on his website that he gave the song the wrong title as he misremembered the lyrics after hearing it sung by Donald Lindsay.[12]
  • Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" is closely modeled on the melody of "Lord Randall."
  • The 2017 epic fantasy film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword includes a variant of the song complete with voice under the track title "The Devil and the Huntsman". This version, performed by Sam Lee and composed by Daniel Pemberton maintains the motif of a huntsman returning ill and eventually dying during a Hunter's moon whilst giving reference to Woody Nightshade. The young huntsman however ultimately attributes his sickness to the Devil (possibly by way of Woody Nightshade) and no traitorous lover is invoked. The name Randal is not used.
  • A version by the folk singer John Jacob Niles has the protagonist's name Americanised to "Jimmy Randall" but retains the Scottish pronunciation "mither" and "doon" for 'mother' and 'down'.
  • A Hebrew version by the Israeli rock musician Hila Ruach, titled "Ayef Ani", on her album "Rofaa ba'Maarav".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Border Ballads By William Beattie, Compiled by William Beattie, Published by Penguin Books, 1952, p. 17
  2. ^ Francis James Child, English and Scottish Popular Ballads, "Lord Randal"
  3. ^ Leonhardt, Luise (1968). "Spin Magazine article on Finding Folk Songs". Spin Magazine. 6 (4): 17.
  4. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v. 1, pp. 153–55, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  5. ^ Alessandro D'Ancona, La poesia popolare italiana Livorno, 1878, cf. "L'avvelenato"
  6. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v. 1, p. 153, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  7. ^ Mike Marqusee,Wicked messenger: Bob Dylan and the 1960s. Seven Stories Press, 2005, pp. 64ff
  8. ^ Robert Shelton,No direction home: the life and music of Bob Dylan. Da Capo Press, 2003, p. 152
  9. ^ "Green And Yellow - We Know Campfire Songs". weknowcampfiresongs.com. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  10. ^ "Spin Magazine article on 'Enery My Son". Spin Magazine. 6 (4): 18. 1968.
  11. ^ "Song of the Day: The Prodigals, "Lord Randall" » Cover Me". covermesongs.com. Retrieved 2014-09-03.
  12. ^ http://www.alasdairroberts.com/content/2005/03/14/no-earthly-man/
  13. ^ https://genius.com/Hila-ruach-ayef-ani-lyrics

External links[edit]