Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme

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parsley, sage, rosemary and thymeFalling asleep last night, thinking of what my first post would be, the song “Scarborough Fair” came to me.

Researching this song has been fascinating. It is believed that it can actually be traced back to an older ballad from 1670. There are dozens of versions and translations due to it’s age, but here is one version of the lyrics sung as a duet:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Remember me to one who lives there,
For she/he once was a true love of mine.

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Without any seam nor needlework,
And then she’ll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Which never sprung water nor rain ever fell,
And then she’ll be a true love of mine.

Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born,
And then she’ll be a true love of mine.

Ask her to do me this courtesy,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And ask for a like favour from me,
And then she’ll be a true love of mine.

Have you been to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Remember me from one who lives there,
For she/he once was a true love of mine.

Ask him to find me an acre of land,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Between the salt water and the sea-strand,
For then he’ll be a true love of mine.

Ask him to plough it with a lamb’s horn,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And sow it all over with one peppercorn,
For then he’ll be a true love of mine.

Ask him to reap it with a sickle of leather,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
And gather it up with a rope made of heather,
For then he’ll be a true love of mine.

When he has done and finished his work,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Ask him to come for his cambric shirt,
For then he’ll be a true love of mine.

If you say that you can’t, then I shall reply,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
Oh, Let me know that at least you will try,
Or you’ll never be a true love of mine.

Love imposes impossible tasks,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,
But none more than any heart would ask,
I must know you’re a true love of mine.

Scarborough Fair was a 45-day trading event held in Scarborough, North Yorkshire during the late medieval times, starting in 1253 AD. Merchants and tradesmen from all over the area came to trade their goods through the barter system. It became a huge annual event with music, food and festivities. During the early 17th century, increasing taxation and competition from local markets and fairs caused the popularity of the fair to decline. Yet, even today, people still gather for a medieval-themed fair in Scarborough.

So, where does the “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme” come in? This refrain (along with the addition of Scarborough Fair), appears in the ballad translation from the early 19th century. There are many thoughts as to why this line was included in the ballad; one of them being, “may simply be the result of an attempt to fill in forgotten portions of [the song].” From Wikipedia:

“On the other hand, elaborate theories have been proposed concerning the symbolism of these herbs. Parsley, used to this day as a digestive aid, was said to take away the bitterness, and medieval doctors took this in a spiritual sense as well. Sage has been known to symbolize strength for thousands of years. Rosemary represents faithfulness, love and remembrance, and the custom of a bride wearing twigs of rosemary in her hair is still practiced in England and several other European countries today. Thyme symbolizes courage, and during the medieval era, knights would often wear images of thyme on their shields when they went to combat. The speaker in the song, by mentioning these four herbs, wishes his true love mildness to soothe the bitterness which is between them, strength to stand firm in the time of their being apart from each other, faithfulness to stay with him during this period of loneliness and, paradoxically, courage to fulfill her impossible tasks and to come back to him by the time she can.

“Also, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme are the ingredients of a love spell that was very popular in the Middle Ages.”

Scarborough Fair – Celtic Woman

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