Two months ago, I had to try to think up something to do with Christmas. The reward for doing December is that I also get to do February, and Valentine's Day.
Obviously there are a few thousand traditional songs suitable, in some sense or other, for a fake holiday devoted to courtship. But as I was glancing through MacEdward Leach's Folk Ballads & Songs of the Lower Labrador Coast, I ran across this, and I was hooked.
The origins of this song seem to be completely obscure. Leach couldn't trace it. Nor can I, nor Steve Roud, nor anyone else I've consulted. I can tell you a lot of places where it isn't found, but that doesn't tell us much.
I do suspect that it's composed; it's too arty. It also, obviously, reverses the roles we usually see in folklore, with the daughter wanting to marry above her while the mother wants her to marry her beloved. But it's fun, and it's traditional now; Leach collected it in 1960 from Martin Hocko of Pinware, Labrador. It's said to have been popular in that town.
The tune I don't recognize. In fact, I don't think this can be what Hocko actually sung; the timing is all wrong. That, plus the occasional odd notes, forced me to produce the strange and rather lush set of chords I've marked here. (Leach didn't give chords; just the tune.) If the song failed to become popular elsewhere, it's probably because the melody was so weak.
If you want to try something else, there are alternatives. It works quite well to the verse of Ernest "Pop" Stoneman's In the Land Beyond the Blue, and that tune fits the quasi-tragic love affair so well that I may just start singing it to that. You might be able to find something else, or to make up your own tune. That might also make it more suitable for bluegrass harmonization; this version is obviously too high, and some of the intervals are rather nasty as well.
1. One evening in a cottage sat maiden young and fair;
Her mother dear was seated by her side;
"Jack was here today to see me and he pleaded for my hand;
I love him, but I'll never be his bride."
2. "I mean to marry Banker Brown although he's old and gray;
I do not love him; yet someday we 'II wed."
The mother laid her knitting down and turning with a sigh,
She gently kissed her daughter and she said:
3. "Wed the man you love, or don't wed at all;
Remember, dear, and don't forget
That a maiden who gave up her hand
For a mere bag of gold will find life one long regret.
4. Whenever I see old age linked with youth,
It brings back the story now old,
How men long ago sold love's roses, you know,
For a thorn tipped with gold.
5. Just one short year had passed and gone, when on a winter's eve
There came a knock upon the cottage door.
Then the mother's heart was broken, when she saw her daughter's face
And heard her cry, "My happiness is o'er."
6. "My mansion grand brings me no joy, for what is wealth to me --
The golden light of love's forever fled --
I gave up love's sweet freedom, just to wear a golden chain
And memory of my life brings the words you said:"
(Repeat verses 3 and 4).