Scarborough Fair (ballad)

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"Scarborough Fair" is a traditional English ballad. The song lists a number of impossible tasks given to a former lover who lives in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. The melody is in Dorian mode and is very typical of the middle English period.


The lyrics of "Scarborough Fair" appear to have something in common with a Scottish ballad titled "The Elfin Knight" (Child Ballad #2), collected by Francis James Child,[1] which has been traced as far back as 1670. In this ballad, an elf threatens to abduct a young woman to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task ("For thou must shape a sark to me / Without any cut or heme, quoth he"); she responds with a list of tasks that he must first perform ("I have an aiker of good ley-land / Which lyeth low by yon sea-strand").

Dozens of versions existed by the end of the 18th century. A number of older versions refer to locations other than Scarborough Fair, including Wittingham Fair, Cape Ann, "twixt Berwik and Lyne", etc. Many versions do not mention a place-name and are often generically titled ("The Lovers' Tasks", "My Father Gave Me an Acre of Land", etc.).

The references to the traditional English fair, "Scarborough Fair" and the refrain "parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" date to 19th century versions and the refrain may have been borrowed from the ballad Riddles Wisely Expounded, (Child Ballad #1), which has a similar plot. The modern version was included in Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes (1891), which reported it as being "as sung in Whitby streets twenty or thirty years ago", or about the 1860s.[2]


The lyrics, as published by Frank Kidson, begin:

"O, where are you going?" "To Scarborough fair,"
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme;
"Remember me to a lass who lives there,
    For once she was a true love of mine.

"And tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Without any seam or needlework,
    And then she shall be a true love of mine.

"And tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
    Savoury sage, rosemary, and thyme,
Where no water sprung, nor a drop of rain fell,
    And then she shall be a true love of mine."[3]

— Stanzas 1-3

Alternative refrains[edit]

The oldest versions of "The Elfin Knight" (circa 1650) contain the refrain "my plaid away, my plaid away, the wind shall not blow my plaid away". Slightly more recent versions often contain one of a group of related refrains:

  • Sober and grave grows merry in time
  • Every rose grows merry with time
  • There's never a rose grows fairer with time
  • Yesterday holds memories in time

These are usually paired with "Once (s)he was a true love of mine" or some variant. "Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme" may simply be an alternate rhyming refrain to the original based on a corruption of "grows merry in time" into "rosemary and thyme".


The earliest commercial recording of the ballad was by actor/singers Gordon Heath and Lee Payant, Americans who ran a cafe and nightclub, L'Abbaye, on the Rive Gauche in Paris. They recorded the song on the Elektra album Encores From The Abbaye in 1955.[4][5][self-published source?] Their version used the melody from Frank Kidson's Traditional Tunes (1891).[2]

The song was also included on A. L. Lloyd's 1955 album The English And Scottish Popular Ballads, using Kidson's melody. The version using the melody later used by Simon & Garfunkel in "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was first recorded on a 1956 album, English Folk Songs, by Audrey Coppard.[2][6] It was included by Ewan MacColl on Matching Songs For The British Isles And America (1957), by MacColl and Peggy Seeger on The Singing Island (1960), and by Shirley Collins on the album False True Lovers (1959).[4][2][7][self-published source?] It is likely that both Coppard and Collins learned it from MacColl, who claimed to have collected it "in part" from a Scottish miner. According to the Teesdale Mercury and Martin Carthy's daughter, it emerged that researcher-musician MacColl wrote a book of Teesdale folk songs after hearing Mark Anderson sing in the late 1940s. The book included Anderson's rendition of a little-known song called "Scarborough Fair". However, according to Alan Lomax, MacColl's source was probably Cecil Sharp's One Hundred English Folk Songs, published in 1916.[7][8] The melody in 'One Hundred English Folksongs' is not that used by MacColl or later artists.

In April 1966, Marianne Faithfull recorded and released her own take on "Scarborough Fair" on her album North Country Maid about six months prior to Simon & Garfunkel's release of their single version of the song in October 1966.[9][user-generated source?]

Simon & Garfunkel version[edit]

"Scarborough Fair/Canticle"
Scarborough Fair Canticle by Simon and Garfunkel US vinyl.png
Side-A label of the 1968 US vinyl single
Single by Simon & Garfunkel
from the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
B-side"April Come She Will"
  • February 1968 (1968-02) (single)
  • 10 October 1966 (1966-10-10) (album)
Recorded26 July 1966
Songwriter(s)"Scarborough Fair": Traditional
"Canticle": Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel
Producer(s)Bob Johnston
Simon & Garfunkel singles chronology
"Fakin' It"
"Scarborough Fair/Canticle"
"Mrs. Robinson"
Music video
"Scarborough Fair / Canticle" (audio) on YouTube
Alternative release
Cover of the 1968 Netherlands single
Cover of the 1968 Netherlands single

Paul Simon learned the song in London in 1965 from Martin Carthy,[10][11] who had picked up the tune from the songbook by Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger[12] and included it on his eponymous 1965 album. Simon & Garfunkel set it in counterpoint with "Canticle" – a reworking of the lyrics from Simon's 1963 anti-war song, "The Side of a Hill",[13] set to a new melody composed mainly by Art Garfunkel.[12][14] "Scarborough Fair/Canticle" was the lead track of the 1966 album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, and was released as a single after being featured on the soundtrack to The Graduate in 1968.[12] The copyright credited only Simon and Garfunkel as the authors, causing ill-feeling on the part of Carthy, who felt the "traditional" source should have been credited.[12] This rift remained until Simon invited Carthy to perform the song with him as a duet at a London concert in 2000.[12] Simon performed this song with The Muppets when he guest starred on The Muppet Show.

Before Simon had learned the song, Bob Dylan had borrowed the melody and several lines from Carthy's arrangement to create his song, "Girl from the North Country",[15] which featured on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963), Nashville Skyline (1969) (together with Johnny Cash), Real Live (1984) and The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration (1993).

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1968) Peak
Australian Kent Music Report 49
Irish Singles Chart 5
UK Singles Chart[16] 9
US Billboard Hot 100 11

List of recordings[edit]

  • In the 1960s The Alan Copeland singers recorded a song that combined "Classical Gas" with "Scarborough Fair".
  • In 1968, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66 recorded this song in their album Fool on the Hill and it was featured in Ralph Bakshi's second animated feature film Heavy Traffic in 1973.
  • The Coolies' first album, dig..?, released in 1986 by DB Records, consisted of nine tongue-in-cheek covers of Simon & Garfunkel classics, including this track. "Scarborough Fair" b/w "The Sound of Silence" was released as a 7" single.
  • In 1989, Justin Hayward recorded this song in his covers album Classic Blue.
  • Iconic Manchester band The Stone Roses featured a track named “Elizabeth My Dear” on their eponymous debut album The Stone Roses in 1989, which is a cover of Scarborough Fair with cryptic lyrics which are said to be about the assassination of Queen Elizabeth II
  • Queensrÿche released this song initially as the second song on the single release of "Empire" from Empire. It was also added as a CD bonus track on the 2003 re-issue of their 1990 album Empire. Their version was recorded in 1986 before they became a successful rock group in the 1990s.
  • Sarah Brightman released this song in January 2000. Track 3 in her album La Luna. A promotional film of the song was made.
  • Aoi Tada sang a version of "Scarborough Fair" in the eighth episode of Gunslinger Girl.
  • In 2005, Mediæval Bæbes included a rendition of the song on their album Mirabilis.
  • Celtic Woman, an all-female Irish musical ensemble, made a rendition for its 2007 album, Celtic Woman: A New Journey.
  • In 2009, My Dying Bride English doom-metal band, recorded this song on their Bring Me Victory EP.
  • Kokia sang a version of "Scarborough Fair" in her 2010 album, Musique a la Carte.
  • The Gothard Sisters released a folk version on their 2011 album, Story Girl.[17]
  • In the video game Phantasy Star Nova, two instances of "Scarborough Fair" appear, an instrumental version and an ending theme sung by Juno (Saori Hayami).[18]
  • Variations of the song are used as the music for England civilization in Civilization VI.
  • In 2012, Nox Arcana released a version of the song on their album Winter's Majesty. It is presented as a ghost story with new lyrics and musical arrangements.
  • In 2013, Vera Blue, also known as Celia Pavey, included a cover of "Scarborough Fair" on her album This Music.
  • The song and the history of variations is a major plot point in the 2014 BBC One series Remember Me.
  • In 2016, the Argentinian Folk Metal band Cernunnos recordered a Metal version for the album "Leaves of Blood" and later an acoustic version for the album "From Roots" (2017).
  • In 2017, Tamaru Yamada sang a version of "Scarborough Fair" for the opening episode of WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?.
  • In 2017, Norwegian singer Aurora was invited by Brazilian TV channel Rede Globo to sing a version of "Scarborough Fair" for the opening theme of telenovela Deus Salve o Rei.[19]
  • In 2018, Jess & Matt covered the song on their album Songs from the Village.
  • In 2018, the singer Valen covered the song for a series of commercials promoting HLN's original programming.
  • In late 2019, HLN had John Mark McMillan cover the song to promote new seasons of its programming that would debut in early 2020.
  • The Israeli poet and songwriter Yaakov Shabtai created a Hebrew-language adaptation, named "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim" (בסמטת התותים "On Strawberry Lane") which named no specific geographical location but retained the original dialogue of the lovers and their impossible demands of each other. Sung by Dani Litani and Sandra Johnson, it had considerable success in Israel.[20][21]


  1. ^ Child, Francis James (1894). The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Part 9. 9. Boston / Cambridge: Houghton, Mifflin and company / The Riverside Press. p. 206.
  2. ^ a b c d Rypens, Arnold. "The Originals". Archived from the original on 4 August 2015. Retrieved 27 May 2017.[self-published source?]
  3. ^ Kidson, Frank (1891). Traditional Tunes. Oxford: Chas. Taphouse & Son. p. 43.
  4. ^ a b Rosemont, Dick. "The Originals Project". Retrieved 29 September 2016.[self-published source?]
  5. ^ "Gordon Heath & Lee Payant Discography". Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  6. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways". Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution. 20 March 2013. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  7. ^ a b Grant, Stewart (15 September 2009). "Even More Roots of Bob & Notes About Some Other Kind of Songs". Humming a Diff'rent Tune. Archived from the original on 28 February 2012. Retrieved 27 May 2017. Originally published November 2006 at[self-published source?]
  8. ^ Sharp, Cecil J. (1916). "One Hundred English Folksongs". Oliver Ditson & Co. Retrieved 29 September 2016 – via
  9. ^ Unterberger, Richie. "North Country Maid - Marianne Faithfull | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 September 2016.[user-generated source?]
  10. ^ "Sold on Song - Song Library - Scarborough Fair". BBC. Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b c d e Humphries, Patrick (2003). "Scarborough Fair". Sold on Song. BBC. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
  13. ^ "Song and Lyrics, Scarborough Fair/Canticle". Sony Music Entertainment. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  14. ^ Bennighof, James (2007). The Words and Music of Paul Simon. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 21–24. ISBN 9780275991630. Retrieved 19 June 2015.
  15. ^ JK. ""...She Once Was A True Love Of Mine" - Some Notes About Bob Dylan's "Girl From The North Country"". Retrieved 23 November 2017.
  16. ^ "Official Charts Company - Simon And Garfunkel". 21 July 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  17. ^
  18. ^ "WWCE-31357~9 | Phantasy Star Nova Original Soundtrack - VGMdb". Retrieved 11 January 2019.
  19. ^ "'Deus Salve o Rei': confira o clipe da música de abertura da nova novela das sete". Gshow (in Portuguese). Rio de Janeiro: Grupo Globo. 10 December 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2017.
  20. ^ Online Hebrew lyrics of "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim" [1]
  21. ^ Youtube recording of "Be'Simtat Ha'Tutim" [2]

External links[edit]