Bitter Withy, The

DESCRIPTION: Jesus is sent out by Mary to play. He is snubbed by a group of rich boys. He builds "a bridge with the beams of the sun," and the boys who follow him across fall into the river and drown. Mary beats her child with a withy branch
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1888 (Rickert)
KEYWORDS: Jesus poverty punishment religious discrimination
FOUND IN: Britain(England(West))
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Leach, pp. 689-690, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text)
Leach-Heritage, pp. 125-126, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text)
Leather, pp. 181-184, "The Bitter Withy; or The Sally Twigs" (2 texts, the first perhaps mixed with "The Holy Well," 4 tunes)
Wells, pp. 188-189, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text, 1 tune)
Rickert, pp. 86-87, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text)
Friedman, p. 60, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text, 1 tune)
PBB 5, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text)
Hodgart, p. 152, "The Bitter Withy" (1 text)
cf. Belden, p. 102, "Jesus and Joses" (a legend he connects with this piece)
DT 310, BITWITHY*

Roud #452
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "The Holy Well" (plot)
NOTES: It should perhaps be noted that this event has no place in the Bible, nor even in the (known) apocryphal gospels (though it reminds one of various events in the "Infancy Gospel of Thomas," which also contains some rather nasty miracles; Leather also mentions this obscure and vicious piece). The bridge of sunbeams is a commonplace in religious art.
Rickert and others see this as an evolved version of "The Holy Well." If they are actually related, however, I would suspect the evolution of going the other way; the usual tendency of corruptions in religious pieces is for them to make God and Jesus look better, not worse.
Belden sees a connection between this song and the folk legend "Jesus and Joses," in which Joses (Jesus's brother; cf. Mark 6:3) tattles on Jesus and Jesus is beaten with willow twigs. There is a fundamental difference, however: In "The Bitter Withy," Jesus is genuinely guilty; in "Jesus and Joses," he is said to be innocent.
According to Leather, the local title "The Sally Twigs" came about because, in Hereford, a willow wand is called a "sally twig." The phrase is not used in either text she prints.- RBW
Last updated in version 3.8
File: L689

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2015 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.