The Mallard Song is an ancient tradition of All Souls' College, Oxford. Every year it is sung at the Bursar's Dinner in March and the college's Gaudy in November. But it is also sung once a century, in a special ceremony.
In the ceremony, Fellows parade around the College with flaming torches, led by a "Lord Mallard" who is carried in a chair, in search of a giant mallard that supposedly flew out of the foundations of the college when it was being built in 1437. The procession is led by an individual carrying a duck — originally dead, now just wooden — tied to the end of a vertical pole. The ceremony was last held in 2001, with Martin Litchfield West acting as Lord Mallard. His predecessor as Lord Mallard was Cosmo Lang, who presided over the centenary ceremony in 1901.
The words of the song are as follows:
- The Griffine, Bustard, Turkey & Capon
- Lett other hungry Mortalls gape on
- And on theire bones with Stomacks fall hard,
- But lett All Souls' Men have ye Mallard.
- Hough the bloud of King Edward,
- By ye bloud of King Edward,
- It was a swapping, swapping mallard!
- Some storys strange are told I trow
- By Baker, Holinshead & Stow
- Of Cocks & Bulls, & other queire things
- That happen'd in ye Reignes of theire Kings.
- The Romans once admir'd a gander
- More than they did theire best Commander,
- Because hee saved, if some don't foolle us,
- The place named from ye Scull of Tolus.
- The Poets fain'd Jove turn'd a Swan,
- But lett them prove it if they can.
- To mak't appeare it's not att all hard:
- Hee was a swapping, swapping mallard.
- Hee was swapping all from bill to eye,
- Hee was swapping all from wing to thigh;
- His swapping tool of generation
- Oute swapped all ye wingged Nation.
- Then lett us drink and dance a Galliard
- in ye Remembrance of ye Mallard,
- And as ye Mallard doth in Poole,
- Let's dabble, dive & duck in Boule.
The word "swapping", repeatedly used in the chorus, is a now-obsolete use from Middle English meaning "striking" (as in "what a remarkably big duck that is!").
The identity of King Edward in the song is not known; it could refer to any of the five English monarchs of that name (three numbered, and two earlier monarchs) up to the time the song was created.
Not surprisingly, the Victorians disapproved of the reference to the mallard's "swapping tool of generation", mightier than any other in "ye wingged Nation" (of birds). They dropped this verse from the song, but to the delight of traditionalists, it was restored in the 2001 ceremony. (And apparently this honour does indeed belong to a duck, though not a mallard.  )
The last two lines are an invitation to the singers to retire to a convenient watering-hole. They could be paraphrased as saying "in much the same way as the Mallard dives into a pond, let us dive into a drinking bowl."
- Gregoriadis, Linus; O'Neill, Sean (15 January 2001). "Mallard Leads Oxford Fellows a Merry Dance". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
- MacLeod, Donald (12 January 2001). "Oxford Dons Go Quackers". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2011.
- Horan, David (1999). Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion. Oxford: Signal Books Limited. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9781902669052.
- Palmer, Roy (1979). Everyman's Book of English Country Songs. London: J. M. Dent
- Summers, Keith (2009-05-06). "The mallard". Keith Summers English Folk Music Collection. British Library. Retrieved 2018-07-10.