Sunday, 15 July 2007

Bonny Black Hare


One song I particularly enjoy from Steeleye Span's latest album, Bloody Men, is called Bonny Black Hare. The sexual double entendre is so obvious and so explicit that I must confess on a first hearing I was shocked. Then I was amused. I'll treat you to the lyrics:


On the fourteenth of May, at the dawn of the day,
With me gun on me shoulder, to the woods I did stray,
In search of some game, if the weather prove fair,
To see can I get a shot at the bonny black hare.

I met a young girl there, her face like a rose,
And her skin was as fair as the lily that grows.
I says, "My fair maiden, why ramble you so?
Can you tell me where the bonny black hare do go?"

The answer she gave me, oh, the answer was "No,
But under me apron they say it do go,
And if you'll not deceive me, I vow and declare,
We'll both go together to hunt the bonny black hare."

I laid this girl down with her face to the sky.
I took out me ramrod, and me bullets likewise,
Saying, "Wrap your legs round me, dig in with your heels,
For the closer we get, love, the better it feels."

The birds, they were singing in the bushes and trees,
And the song that they sang was, "She's easy to please."
I felt her heart quiver and I knew what I'd done.
Says I, "Have you had enough of me old sporting gun?"

The answer she gave me, oh, the answer was, "Nay,
It's not often young sportsmen like you come this way,
And if your powder is good and your bullets are fair,
Why don't you keep firing at the bonny black hare?"

"Oh, me powder is wet and me bullets all spent,
And I can't fire a shot, for it's choked at the vent,
But I'll be back in the morning, and if you are still here,
We'll both go together to hunt the bonny black hare."


There are lots of things I like about this song. I like how the girl isn't seduced or ravished but is in control of her own sexual destiny. She takes the initiative and is not condemned for that. And, while I'm not advocating it in real life or promoting it in a moral sense, I like the promiscuity in this song. I'm not saying that promiscuity should be celebrated, but this kind of song must've made such a refreshing contrast to all the hymns and the ballads about maidens and their virtue. There's something joyful in its recklessness. I found an older version too:


One morning in autumn by the dawn of the day,
With my gun in good order I straight took my way,
To hunt for some game to the woods I did steer,
To see if I could find my bonnie black hare.

I met a young damsel, her eyes black as sloes,
Her teeth white as ivory, her cheeks like a rose.
Her hair hung in ringlets on her shoulders bare.
"Sweet maiden," I cried, "Did you see my bonnie black hare?

"This morning a-hunting I have been all around,
But my bonnie black hare is not to be found."
The maid she then answered and at him did stare,
"I never yet heard of, or saw, a black hare."

"My gun is in good order, my balls are also,
And under your smock I was told she did go,
So delay me no longer. I cannot stop here,
One shot I will fire at your bonnie black hare."

His gun he then loaded, determined he was,
And instantly laid her down on the green grass.
His trigger he drew, his balls he put near,
And fire one shot at her bonnie black hare.

Her eyes they did twinkle and smiling did say,
"How often, dearest sportsman, do you come this way?
There is few in this country can with you compare,
So fire once again at my bonnie black hare."

His gun he reloaded and fired once more.
She cried, "Draw your trigger and never give o'er!
Your powder and balls are so sweet, I declare.
Keep shooting away at my bonnie black hare."

He said, "My dear maiden, my powder is all gone.
My gun is out of order, I cannot ram home.
But meet me tomorrow, my darling so fair,
And I'll fire once more at your bonnie black hare."


Interesting to see the changes here. The woman is now passive, as we'd expect for the older version. She also seems to enjoy it more, as she's exclaiming in delight and almost begging for him to continue. In short, the man is back in his position of power - sexual power, as well as all his other advantages - over the woman. Interesting, though, there also seems to be more attachment: he calls her, "My darling so fair." Perhaps this is to soften the blow of the promiscuity, but it's hardly credible as such because they've only just met.

Over at A Traditional Music Library, they've got a whole collection of "bawdy" folk songs. A lot of fun to read and, as I said, refreshing after a heavy dose of "Maiden, guard thy maidenhead." It seems that morally dubious things things are always more fun.

1 comment:

PterodromaSolandri said...

i have only heard the fairport convention song (and only recently). i wondered about its origins and did a search (hence finding your blog). the lyrics are so...blatant!

an interesting quote from folkinfo - "This song is not often found in tradition, but in cases like this it's unsafe to draw conclusions. Many singers didn't care for this kind of song, and neither did many of the folk song collectors. Its apparent scarcity was probably also compounded by the fact that a lot of people who did know it wouldn't feel able to sing it in cold blood, so to speak, to a complete stranger; particularly one of a higher social class, and never, of course, to a woman."