Remembering the Old Songs:

Rhinordine [Laws P15]

by Lyle Lofgren
(Originally published: Inside Bluegrass, December 1998)

Hang around traditional music very long, and you run into adult topics. In addition to war, robbery, and murder, there's seduction. "The Soldier and the Lady," for example, is a common tale of accommodation followed by abandonment. It's easy to say, "You should have had more sense." But what can one do when faced with supernatural seduction? Even the President, after all, has few powers of resistance when faced with merely human bewitchers. Stories of humans mated with immortals, sometimes with heroic results, as exemplified by Leda and the Swan, are probably as old as human narrative.

Rhinordine has an interesting history, as delineated by Jon Pankake in his notes to the Smithsonian-Folkways CD 40040, The New Lost City Ramblers, Vol. 2 -- Out Standing In Their Field (buy the album for the full story). Jon uses the history of Rhinordine (which is not sung by the Ramblers) as an example of the commerce between professional entertainers and the folk. For us city performers, the "original" source is the Gant Family, Austin, Texas, 1934, recorded by John and Alan Lomax, Library of Congress AAFS 67A2. The ballad probably originated in England (or perhaps France, if you take seriously the English spelling "Reynardine" to signify the foxy French). He's a long-lived supernatural being (perhaps the Wandering Jew of European folklore?) who has a castle on the mountain and a penchant for innocent young girls. The ballad has been collected throughout the British Isles, Newfoundland, and the southern U.S. The twist to the story is that a text published in The American Songster, 1836, one hundred years before the Gants, is almost identical to the Gant's version. The book described it, not as an old ballad, but a "Modern and Popular song," performed on Broadway! Its existence in the intervening century is a mystery. There are also some surprises in the text. The narrator (Rhinordine himself) waits until the end to hint at his identity, and the song avoids the usual moral message about mountaintop rakes. We would expect such techniques from the Muse of tradition, but not from the Broadway stage.

Surprise by itself is no big deal -- it happens all the time. But when the story is a work of art, and particularly one with a theme as primal as this, you never tire of the surprise. In fact, I relish it more every time I sing it, even though I know very well how it's all going to turn out.


Complete Lyrics:

As I rode out this morning,
Three miles from old Saint Croix,
I spied a farmer's daughter
Here on this mountain high.
Her ivory cheeks, her ruby lips,
Her face it looked so fair,
I said, "my pretty maiden,
I'm pleased to meet you here."

She said, "young man, be civil,
my company forsake;
I have a great opinion,
I fear you are some rake.
And if my parents should hear of this,
My life they would destroy,
For the keeping of bad company,
Here on this mountain high."

I said, "Kind miss, I am a bum,
Although I'm not to blame;
I'm begging for forgiveness,
All in the judge's name.
Your beauty has concerned me,
I cannot pass you by;
With my rifle I will guide you,
Here on this mountain high."

And then this pretty little thing,
She fell into a daze.
With eyes as bright as emeralds,
How fondly she did gaze.
She said, "young man, be civil,
And I will be your bride."
And then she fell into my arms
Here on this mountain high.

I had but kissed her once or twice,
Till she come to again,
And said to me so kindly,
"Kind sir, what is your name?"
"My name is nothing extry,
Although I'm sure you'll find,
Written down in Ancient History,
My name is Rhinordine."


Although usually called "Reynardine" by Folk Revival singers, the common title of this piece in tradition is "Rinordine," and under that title it is Laws P15. Laws lists versions from Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, Vermont, and West Virginia, as well as Nova Scotia. He also lists assorted broadsheets and songsters. Interestingly, only one version from Britain is known.

The above version is unusual in that it lacks the ending in which Rinordine disappears, leaving the girl to warn others against the mysterious (supernatural?) figure.

Despite its British "look," it seems likely that the Broadway version mentioned by Lyle is in fact the original, or nearly, and that all the traditional versions derive from that.

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