Archie Fisher’s “The Witch of the Westmoreland”
Some months ago, someone introduced me to “The Witch of the Westmoreland.” Set in northern England and featuring a knight, complete with hawk and hound, it sounds like it could be a medieval ballad, but it was composed in the 20th century by Scottish folk singer/songwriter Archie Fisher.
You’ll likely need the lyrics to understand it, so here they are.
The Witch of the Westmoreland, by Archie Fisher
Pale was the wounded knight
That bore the rowan shield,
Loud and cruel were the ravens’ cries
That feasted on the field,
Saying, “Beck water, cold and clear,
Will never clean your wound.
There’s none but the Maid of the Winding Mere
Can mak’ thee hale and soond.”
“So course well, my brindled hounds,
And fetch me the mountain hare
Whose coat is as gray as the Wastwater
Or as white as the lily fair.”
Who said, “Green moss and heather bands
Will never staunch the flood.
There’s none but the Witch of the West-mer-lands
Can save thy dear life’s blood.”
“So turn, turn your stallion’s head
Till his red mane flies in the wind,
And the rider o’ the moon gaes by
And the bright star falls behind.”
And clear was the paley moon
When his shadow passed him by;
Below the hill was the brightest star
When he heard the houlet cry,
Saying, “Why do you ride this way
And wharfore cam’ you here?”
“I seek the Witch of the West-mer-lands
That dwells by the Winding mere.”
“Then fly free your good grey hawk
To gather the goldenrod,
And face your horse intae the clouds
Above yon gay green wood.”
And it’s weary by the Ullswater
And the misty brake fern way
Till through the cleft o’ the Kirkstane Pass
The winding water lay.
He said, “Lie down, my brindled hounds,
And rest, my 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
You may serve me best of all.”
And it’s down to the water’s brim
He’s borne 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 gaed she,
One half the form of a maiden fair
With a jet-black mare’s body.
And loud, long and shrill he blew,
Till his steed was by his side;
High overhead his grey hawk flew
And swiftly he did ride,
Saying, “Course well, my brindled hounds,
And fetch me the jet-black mare!
Stoop and strike, my good grey hawk,
And bring me the maiden fair!”
She said, “Pray sheath 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,
She’s kissed his pale lips aince and twice
And three times ’round again.
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 hound at heel
And your good grey hawk in hand.
There’s nane can harm the knight who’s lain
With the Witch of the West-mer-land.”