What does Scarborough Fair/Canticle mean?

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Simon & Garfunkel: Scarborough Fair/Canticle Meaning

Tagged: War [suggest]

Scarborough Fair/Canticle Lyrics

Are you going to Scarborough Fair
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

On the side of a hill in the deep forest green
Tracing of sparrow on snow-crested brown
Blankets and...

  1. 1TOP RATED

    kemman85
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    Apr 13th, 2006 4:47pm report


    This piece is not the first time S&G used two interwoven lyrics with the aim of creating a jarring dislocation in the mind of the listener. On the face of it the melody and the main lyrics are a fine old folk-style traditional challenge issued to a female suitor:

    Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
    Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme;
    Without no seams nor needle work,
    Then she'll be a true love of mine.

    and so on, the challenges being impossible to carry out. Thus, a rebuff framed as a set of challenges.

    Then, interwoven between the main verses we have the fragments of the oft-stated-as-anti-war-lyrics:

    On the side of a hill a sprinkling of leaves.
    Washes the grave with silvery tears.
    A soldier cleans and polishes a gun.
    Sleeps unaware of the clarion call.

    Followed by the other lines :

    War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions.
    Generals order their soldiers to kill.
    And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten.

    and so on...

    My feeling is that these fragments were added as simple dramatic counterpoint to the main melody, yes - the sentiments they express are anti-war but I'm not convinced that this makes Scarborough Fair per se an anti-war song despite its temporal placement in geopolitical history. I think the message was simpler, and very similar to the message in 7 0'clock news/Silent night:

    - the message that our world is full of dissonence ambiguity, good and evil and that these weave together to make up the rich tapestry that is life. If I were to take a further message from it, it could be the simple one that good shines through.



  2. 2TOP RATED

    anonymous
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    Jul 12th, 2009 7:33am report


    The song is about a soldier dying on a distant battlefield. As he passes away, in his fading delusion he asks his fellow soldiers if they are going to the Scarborough fair... and if so to pass on a message to the lady that he once loved, but was rejected by. By this point he is mortally wounded, and is only thinking the message as the words can't escape him. The disturbing cannonade of war crashes about like an ethereal fog, fading in and out as he whispers his sad entreaty, while his fading gaze is fixed vainly upon that distant memory of that girl, the final passing vision before his candle is completely spent.



  3.  

    cookaboorra
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    Oct 19th, 2014 10:05pm report


    For what I know about the story: these are four well known herbal remedies against weakness AND pregnancy.
    Historical ballads are full of sincere life attitudes, and they are the meaning, in times where not so many people were able to read and write.
    So, they communicate a message with multiple meanings, for men and woman; a love potion, joined to many impossible achievements to reach a true love; and a death potion, where the girl knows how to do, when his true love would fail his missions to gain her heart, promoting a simple passion to a full new life.



  4.  

    anonymous
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    Jul 9th, 2014 7:12pm report


    This absolutely is a beautiful song. My first experience with it was singing it for a concert in fifth grade. Even then the haunting lyrics drew me in. I interpret this song as a soldier's immense sense of longing while on the battle field. All the requests he's making of his love are just as futile as his ability to leave a war that means nothing to him. He's asking for the impossible because he believes he will never return to normalcy anyway as evidenced by the craziness going on all around him. He is waiting for his own inevitable (as he sees it) death. And so even as reality happens all around him he dreams of the things on earth that brought him happiness and of the "perfection" that awaits him after he dies. I love this song....



  5.  

    anonymous
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    Aug 5th, 2013 8:55am report


    I believe Scarborough Fair is about young lovers that have impossible tasks for one another to complete and then they shall be true loves again, however both lovers are considering making a love potion filled with some parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. And to top it all off, they have a great deal of fear for the bubonic plague.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  6.  

    anonymous
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    Oct 31st, 2012 10:50pm report


    Extract from the Monthly chronicles of North Country Lore and Legends dated Jan 1889 seems this song has been around for a long time mentions sixteenth century in text which i have left with spelling mistakes. Thought some may be of interest.

    http://www.archive.org/stream/monthlychronicle03jubiuoft/monthlychronicle03jubiuoft_djvu.txt

    WHITTINGHAM FAIR.
    jjALLADS embodying a series of riddles are
    much rarer in the English language than in
    the language of Sweden, Denmark, or other
    Northern nations. The riddles in these
    ballads are sometimes propounded to a knight, sometimes
    to a lady, and often to the Evil One himself ; in the
    latter case, the demon is sure, of course, to be puzzled and
    unable to answer the questions.

    In addition to its enigmatical character, the metrical
    construction of " Whittingham Fair " is of a duolinear
    form, common to many ballads which have descended to
    us from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These
    compositions were generally of a rude and simple kind,
    consisting of verses of two lines only, with an interval of
    rest at the end of each, which the minstrel made use of to
    play a symphony (either to lengthen the ballad or to
    display his musical skill). Vocalists, when singing such
    ballads without instrumental accompaniment, it may be
    easily inferred, would introduce some burden to replace
    the symphony of the minstrel. Some of these burdens
    consisted of short proverbial expressions, such as " 'Tis
    merry in the hall, when beards wag all." Others were
    mere nonsense lines that went glibly off the tongue,
    giving the accent of the music, but having no connection
    with the subject of the ballad. Examples of these
    burdens are common in the plays of Shakspeare and the



    Elizabethan dramatists. The " Willow willow " of Ophe-
    lia in " Hamlet," and "Hey ho ! the wind and the rain "
    of the clown in "Twelfth Night," are specimens, as are
    also the "Fallal la" and the "Tol derol"of our own day.

    "Whittingham Fair," like many other old ballads, has
    been relegated to the nursery, and is sometimes sung
    without the first verse, though it is then evidently in-
    complete.

    The melody which here accompanies the song we
    believe to be the original tune, and is always sung to it in
    North and West Northumberland.



    Are you go ing to Whit-ting-ham Fair?




    Pars - ley, sage, rose - ma - ry and thyme, Re-

    jjP^r fljb^fe^g^

    mem-ber me to one that lives there, For




    once she was a true



    lov - er



    ine.



    Tell her to make me a cambric shirt,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;*

    Without any seam or needlework,
    Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell her to wash it in yonder well,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;

    Where never spring water or rain ever fell,
    And she shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell her to dry it on yonder thorn,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;

    Which never bore blossom since Adam was born,
    Then she shall be a true lover of mine.

    Now he has asked me questions three,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;

    I hope he'll answer as many for me
    Before he shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell him to buy me an acre of land,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;

    Betwixt the salt water and the sea sand,
    Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell him to plough it with a ram's horn,
    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;

    And sow it all over with one pepper corn,
    And he shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell him to sheer't with a sickle of leather,

    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;
    And bind it up with a peacock feather,

    And he shall be a true lover of mine.

    Tell him to thrash it on yonder wall,

    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,
    And never let one corn of it fall,

    Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

    When he has done and finished his work,

    Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ;
    Oh. tell mm to come and he'll have his shirt,

    And he shall be a true lover of mine.

    The second line of the song " Parsley, sage, rowmary, and
    thyme," fullv bears out the condition of being a nonsense line,
    having no connection with the lubjeet ; but when we once heard
    the ballad the singer achieved a still higher pitch of absurdity by
    solemnly chanting "Parsley, sage, grwa merry in time, an the
    correct burden.



  7.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Oct 27th, 2012 10:56am report


    It is an equation of love to war. One set of lyrics addresses the conditional relationship of the lovers, where in the lover must satisfy a set of domestic tasks and be a perfect wife before she can be his true love; meanwhile, the other set addresses the conditional circumstance of the war, in which the soldiers must have forgotten the cause in order to continue to fight in it. [referring to the Hundred Years War] Because both are conditional relationships, mingled to create one whole, the song therefore equates the subject of one conditional relationship to the other: love is war.



  8.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    Jan 19th, 2012 1:21pm report


    The song is about a soldier dying on a distant battlefield. As he passes away, in his fading delusion he asks his fellow soldiers if they are going to the Scarborough fair... and if so to pass on a message to the lady that he once loved, but was rejected by. By this point he is mortally wounded, and is only thinking the message as the words can't escape him. The disturbing cannonade of war crashes about like an ethereal fog, fading in and out as he whispers his sad entreaty, while his fading gaze is fixed vainly upon that distant memory of that girl, the final passing vision before his candle is completely spent.



  9.  

    anonymous
    click a star to vote
    May 11th, 2011 5:43pm report


    The first interwoven part is an anti-war message. It is very clear with lyrics such as soldier cleans and polishes a gun or generals order their soldiers to kill. The other part is an Old English lost love story parsley sage rosemary and thyme were supposed to be the ingredients in a love potion. As well as the parts where it says then she will be a true love of mine.



  10.  

    anonymous
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    Apr 24th, 2011 4:45pm report


    I've heard a few folk versions (Arkansas & Tennessee 1960s) of Scarborough Fair that concluded with "and if she fails, least see that she tried; _Then_ She'll be a true love of mine".
    This turns the meaning from almost mocking the impossibility of their future love, to one of hope. When sung this way, sometimes the tempo of the first part is faster than the popular version until the last which is slowed to emphasize the finial twist.

    Combine this with the herbs that were traditionally used to ease the fowl smell of death and/or to make a love potion. This can be interpreted as easing of the hurt when the relationship died, and the hope of it being revived.

    When performed, sometimes an audience member is drawn in to play the silent roll of the traveler. The singer starts with an attitude of "oh, That's where you are going? -- I have a memory of that place." And as he tells of his painful past love he mocks how he'll never go back to her, laughing at the impossibility of the task she'd have to perform. In the last part of the song his attitude changes, he is introspective and finds that If she would attempt the impossible, his heart would admit his hope for her.
    The song can be sung changing the gender and there are several other traditional impossible tasks I've heard. I also heard of a music professor who challenged each student to come up with another impossible task.

    "And if she fails, least see that she tried THEN, she'll be a true love of mine"



  11.  

    anonymous
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    Feb 17th, 2011 2:33am report


    According to online sources, the original ballad is hundreds of years old, which is why it references the old Scarborough Fair, sewing shirts, and reaping fields. S&G did nothing to the original lyrics except adding their own anti-war lyrics. Therefore, there ought to be different interpretations since each set of lyrics apply to different times and topics.



  12.  

    anonymous
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    Jun 25th, 2009 6:24pm report


    I believe this to be a ghostly song. This could be adressed to a traveler by a ghost, as an instruction to tell another ghost to make a shirt with no seam etc., as both were killed in the war refered to in the canticle.

    This interpretation has been marked as poor. view anyway


  13.  

    anonymous
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    May 7th, 2007 5:24pm report


    I see the Simon and Garfunkel version of Scarborough Fair as a canticle, a hymn of praise for a pursuit of an idealistic life and its joys (i.e. The man's pursuit of a love that will create it) that is graphically contrasted and overshadowed by a haunting spiritual reality of real death (i.e. man's ongoing failure to settle differences without warfare.) It was appropriate that it was in two sets of layered lyrics (i.e war and peace),as some men prepare for war and some men prepare for love at the very same moment in time. The song is not a joyful song, but comforting in the fact that it intones a most meaningful and transcendent theme - the need for peace. It was quite a change from the "olde" versions to be sure!

    Sanamau



  14.  

    anonymous
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    Jan 10th, 2006 1:30am report


    I like that interpretation; looking at it from that light gives you a sort of ironic approach to the song. But for me, I just think the song is about longing, a mans longing towards a woman who he wants to possess but never will, maybe because it will upset his fantasy. Also, I read a bio on this song, that in medieval times, Scarborough fair was a major trading center for foreign and domestic merchants, and that it was considered a noble excercise to pine for a woman, for instance as a knight, and never attaining the objects of your desires, but simply staying away undetected. beautiful song.



  15.  

    anonymous
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    Nov 10th, 2005 11:20pm report


    If you listen carefully to how they rewrote this song (properly named "Scarborough Fair/Canticle"), or look at the lyrics, you will see some anti-war messages. Especially "...blazing in scarlet battalions... generals order their soldiers to war... to fight for a cause, they've long ago forgotten..."

    This is the climax of the song and therefore it's obviously very anti-war in tone. Also, earlier, there's a line about a soldier polishing his gun. The way these lines are sort of intermixed with the main melody, an old English folk song, makes the messages almost subliminal at parts and blazingly clear at others. This is a beautiful song no matter how you look at it.




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