William The Coroner’s Forensic Files

Wednesday, 29, April, 2009

Witch of the Westmoreland

Filed under: Poetry — williamthecoroner @ 22:31

millais_bridesmaidPale was the wounded knight, that bore the rowan shield,
Loud and cruel were the ravens’ cries that feasted on the field,
Saying “Backwater cold and clear will never clean your wound,
There’s none but the Witch of the Westmorland can make thee hale and sound.”

So turn, turn your stallion’s head ’til his red mane flies in the wind,
And the Rider of the Moon goes by and the Bright Star falls behind,
And clear was the paly moon when his shadow passed him by
Below the hill were the brightest stars when he heard the owlet cry,

Saying “Why do you ride this way, and wherefore came you here?”
“I seek the Witch of the Westmorland that dwells by the winding mere.”
And it’s weary by the Ullswater and the misty Breakford way,
‘Til through the cleft in the Kirkstone Pass the winding water lay.

He said “Lie down me brindled hound, and rest ye me good grey hawk,
And thee, my steed, may graze thy fill, for I must dismount and walk.
But come when you hear my horn, and answer swift the call!
For I fear ere the sun will rise this morn ye will serve me best of all.”

And it’s down to the water’s brim he’s born the rowan shield,
And the goldenrod he has cast in to see what the lake might yield.
And wet rose she from the lake, and fast and fleet went she.
One half the form of a maiden fair with a jet black mare’s body.

And loud, long and shrill he blew, ’til his steed was by his side,
High overhead the grey hawk flew, and swiftly he did ride,
Saying “Course well, my brindled hound, and fetch me the jet black mare!
Stoop and strike, my good grey hawk, and bring me the maiden fair!”

She said “Pray sheathe thy silvery sword. Lay down thy rowan shield,
For I see by the briny blood that flows you’ve been wounded in the field.”
And she stood in a gown of the velvet blue, bound ’round with a silver chain.
And she’s kissed his pale lips once and twice, and three times ’round again.

And she’s bound his wounds with the goldenrod, full fast in her arms he lay,
And he has risen hale and sound with the sun high in the day.
She said “Ride with your brindled hounds at heel, and your good grey hawk in hand,
There’s none can harm the knight who’s lain with the Witch of the Westmorland.

Trad. extensively shortened by modern performers, ‘cos the source poem was huge.


  1. Beautiful.

    Comment by Brigid — Thursday, 30, April, 2009 @ 06:06 | Reply

  2. Interesting poem- and well worth the read! Thanks!

    Comment by Old NFO — Thursday, 30, April, 2009 @ 07:26 | Reply

  3. Is there a real poem this is based on? Source?

    It’s usually reported that the song was written by a Scottish folk singer a few decades ago and is mistaken for a medieval poem.

    for great performance check out youtube:

    Comment by Rob — Tuesday, 14, July, 2009 @ 12:27 | Reply

    • oops that was different song, search Stan Rogers and you’ll find the one I mean

      Comment by Rob — Tuesday, 14, July, 2009 @ 12:28

    • There is a traditional one with half a gazillion verses that Archie Fisher borrowed from, and he edited his down to something shorter that folks won’t die of boredom while listening too.

      Comment by williamthecoroner — Tuesday, 14, July, 2009 @ 13:46

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