The Daemon Lover
A man (usually the Devil) returns to his 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. 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 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, springing a leak, causing the ship to spin three times and then sink into the cold 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), edited by R. Pearse Chope and illustrated by Vernon Hill. The New York Times review of Hill's illustrations noted those accompanying this ballad as a particular highlight:
... 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
Elizabeth Bowen's 1945 short story "The Demon Lover" uses the ballad's central conceit for a narrative of ghostly return in wartime London.
Recordings by notable artists
Versions of the song, under its several titles, have been recorded by:
- Alasdair Roberts
- Andy Irvine
- Augie March - re-written as "Men Who Follow Spring The Planet 'Round"
- Bob Dylan recorded the version "House Carpenter" in 1961. Bob was born Robert Zimmerman, a name that means carpenter.
- Buffy Sainte-Marie
- Clarence Ashley
- Custer Larue
- Daithi Sproule
- Damien Jurado
- Dave Van Ronk
- David Grisman
- Dervish (as "Sweet Viledee")
- Doc Watson
- Ewan MacColl
- Eleanor Tomlinson
- Faun Fables
- The Handsome Family
- Jean Ritchie
- Jeff Lang
- Joan Baez
- Kelly Joe Phelps
- Kim Larsen - re-written as "Byens Hotel" in 1973
- Lisa Moscatiello
- Martin Simpson
- Mr Fox
- Natalie Merchant
- Nic Jones
- Nickel Creek
- Oakley Hall
- Paul Simon
- Peter Bellamy
- Peggy Seeger
- Pete Seeger
- Steeleye Span
- Sweeney's Men
- Texas Gladden
- The Baltimore Consort
- The Carolina Tar Heels
- The Ex
- The Mammals
- Tim O'Brien
- Tony Rice
- Cornelis Vreeswijk
- Lloyd, A.L. The Demon Lover, Mainly Norfolk
- Lyle, Emily (ed.), Scottish Ballads Canongate: Edinburgh (1994)
- Carruthers, Gerard. The Devil in Scotland The Bottle Imp, Issue 3
- "Songs | The Official Bob Dylan Site". Bobdylan.com. Retrieved 2015-04-06.
- Solo album: Abocurragh, Andy Irvine AK-3, 2010.
- Combined from several sources including: Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, 1996 by Barnes & Noble Books, and Concise Oxford Dictionary - 10th Edition by Oxford University Press.
- James Harris (The Dæmon Lover): Child Ballad 243
- The Tall Man in the Blue Suit: Witchcraft, Folklore, and Reality in Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, or the Adventures of James Harris: A Study of the use of Child ballad 243 in Shirley Jackson's story collection The Lottery by Norwegian scholar Håvard Nørjordet