Geordie is a folk ballad, one of the narrative poems that belong to the oral tradition and were popular in the late Middle Ages. Ballads were originally meant for singing and dancing and were rediscovered and translated into English in the 19th century, when the interest in the past was revived.
Geordie tells the story of a fair pretty maidwho rides up to London on her white pony in the hope of saving her lover’s life. Her man, Geordie, is accused of stealing sixteen deer from the king’s forest.
Unfortunately she is too late, the sentence has already been pronounced by a cruel judge; yet, because Geordie is of royal blood, he will be hanged from a golden chain. The maid is desperate because she cannot fight for her beloved.
Many different versions of Geordie’s ballad have been produced and circulated in Great Britain. Almost all are centered on the maid pleading for her beloved and condemn the absurd privileges of the ruling classes, here represented by the “forest laws”. These laws, established by the Normans, punished with death whoever was found poaching in the royal woods. For this implicit criticism Geordie’s ballad was used by modern singers like the Italian Fabrizio de André (1964) and the American Joan Baez (1967).
This ballad is made up of eight stanzas of four lines each (quatrains), the rhyming pattern (a b c b) has been kept, even if the rhymes are often improper, and the rhythm is quite regular.
As I came over London Bridge
One misty morning early,
I overheard a fair pretty maid
Lamenting for her Geordie.
“Go, bridle me my milky horse
Go, bridle me my pony,
I’ll gallop fast to London’s Court,
And plead for the life of Geordie”.
And when she was inside the hall
She saw of lords and ladies plenty,
Down on her knee the maid did fall,
To plead for the life of Geordie.
“Oh, Geordie stole no cow nor calf,
Nor sheep he ever stole any,
But he stole sixteen of the king’s wild deer,
And sold them in Bohenny”.
“Oh, two pretty babes I’ve had from him,
And the third lies in my body;
I’d freely part with them every one,
If you spared me the life of Geordie.
The judge look’d over his left shoulder,
And said : “Fair maid, I ‘m sorry,
So, fair maid, you must be gone,
For I cannot pardon Geordie”.
Let Geordie hang in golden chain,
Such chain as never any was,
Because he came of royal blood,
And lost a virtuous lady.
“I wish I was in yonder grove
Where times I have been many,
With my sharp arrow and my bent bow,
I’d fight to save my Geordie”.
maid: young lady
bridle: put reins on, get ready
plead: beg for mercy
stole: (steal, stole, stolen) took away unlawfully
calf: young of the domestic cow
deer: wild quick-running animals
Bohenny: an imaginary place
spared: showed mercy
his left shoulder: the left side is considered to be unlucky.
hang: be pendent
lost (lose, lost, lost) made (her) fall in love
yonder: over there
grove: bush, wood
bow: curved instrument used to throw arrows