Green Grow the Rushes-O (The Twelve Apostles, Come and I Will Sing You)
DESCRIPTION: Cumulative song with religious themes e.g., "I'll sing you three-o/Green grow the rushes-o/What is your three-o/Three for the Hebrew children/Two, two, the lily-white babes/clothed all in green-o/One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so."
EARLIEST DATE: 1823 (Sandys, _Christmas Carols--Ancient and Modern_)
KEYWORDS: ritual cumulative religious nonballad
FOUND IN: Britain(England,Scotland),US(Ap,MA,MW,NE,Ro,SE,So) Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (29 citations):
SharpAp 207, "The Ten Commandments" (5 texts, 3 tunes)
Sharp-100E 97, "The Ten Commandments" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph 605, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
Randolph/Cohen, pp. 425-429, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 605)
BrownII 50, "The Dilly Song" (2 texts; the first starts with the number 5!)
BrownSchinhanIV 50, "The Dilly Song" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
JHCoxIIB, #17, pp. 159-162, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune, somewhat conjectural)
Roberts, #37, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
Flanders/Brown, pp. 83-85, "The Twelve Apostles" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Gardner/Chickering 150, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text)
Fuson, p. 187, "Scripture in the Nursery" (1 text)
Hubbard, #193, "The Ten Commandments" (1 text)
Peters, pp. 61-62, "Come and I Will Sing You" (1 text, 1 tune)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 74-75, "I'll Sing You One Ho!" (1 text, 1 tune)
Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 154-155, "The Twelve Apostles"; Broadwood/Maitland, pp. 156-159, "Green Grow the Rushes, Oh!" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Palmer-ECS, #146, "One, O" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 88, "Dus Ha My A Gan Dhys (Come and I Will Sing You)" (1 Cornish text, 1 tune)
Gundry, p. 37, "Dilly Song" (1 text plus a Cornish translation, 1 tune)
Greenleaf/Mansfield 41, "The Twelve Apostles" (2 texts)
Peacock, pp. 800-801, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
Karpeles-Newfoundland 89, "The Twelve Apostles" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lehr/Best 23, "Come and I Will Sing You" (1 text, 1 tune)
Fireside, p. 116, "Green Grow the Rushes, Ho!" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber-FSWB, p. 359, "Green Grow the Rushes" (1 text)
DT, GRNRUSH* (see also GRNRUSH2) GRNRUSH5
ADDITIONAL: Robert Chambers, The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1870 ("Digitized by Google")), pp. 44-47, "Song of Numbers"
Enid Porter, _The Folklore of East Anglia_, Batsford, 1974, p. 69, "(no title)" (1 text)
Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928, notes to #258, ("What will be our twelve, boys") (1 text)
Bob Stewart, _Where Is Saint George? Pagan Imagery in English Folksong_, revised edition, Blandford, 1988, pp. 124, "Seven Was the Keys of Heaven" (1 tex)
Patrick Gaffney, "Green Grow the Rushes Oh" (Columbia 350-D, 1925)
cf. "Children Go Where I Send Thee" (theme and structure)
cf. "Eleven to Heaven" (theme and structure)
Singing the Ten Commandments
NOTES [1232 words]: Chambers, p. 47, cites his source as "a large manuscript collection of hitherto unpublished Scottish songs, by Mr P. Buchan." - BS
This is a song cluster extending as far as the Jewish Passover service, but whether it passed from there to folk song or vice versa is hard to say. -PJS (Sharp and Marson connects it with the Hebrew ritual "Counting the Omer/Song of the Kid" ; Newell links it to the Passover chant "Echod Mi Yodea," a connection supported by Cohen; Archer Taylor tried to link it to Sanskrit roots! - RBW)
[Compare also the American piece "Children Go Where I Send Thee." Botkin prints a text of that song] from a 1942 field recording and remarks:
"The present cumulative song is a version of 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers' (often known as 'The Dilly Song'). There is a good deal of variation in the symbolism of the twelve numbers, and in the present song their significance has often been lost.
"For texts and notes, see 'The Twelve Apostles,' by Phillips Barry, Bulletin of the Folk-Song Society of the Northeast, Number 9 (1935), pp. 3-4; 'Ballads and Songs,' by George Lyman Kittredge, Journal of American Folklore, Volume XXX (July-September, 1917), pp. 335-337; 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers,' by William Wells Newell, ibid., Volume IV (July-September, 1891), pp. 215-220; and 'The Carol of the Twelve Numbers,' by Leah Rachel Clara Yoffie, Southern Folklore Quarterly, Volume IV (June, 1940), pp. 73-75." - NR
Not to be confused with Burns's "Green Grow the Rashes-O," or with the "Green Grows the Laurel/Lilacs" family.
The Cornish words printed by Kennedy are by Talek and Ylewyth; they are translated from an English version, though Kennedy lists versions in other languages.
Some people consider this to be a variation of "Children Go Where I Send Thee"; since I'm not sure, I split them.
Bob Stewart, Where Is Saint George? Pagan Imagery in English Folksong, revised edition, Blandford, 1988, p. 74, claims that "The 'Dilly Song' is surely the best known and most popular of all true folksongs." As with most Stewart comments, he offers neither data no description of just what he was drinking when he came up with this idea. Probably he is another who lumps it with a wide variety of other songs. The version he prints, from the Barton Hill Mummers' Play (Bristol), appears rather untypical of tradition -- although very suitable for the rather strange interpretations he will use.
He suggests that the imagery comes from the Qabalah and ideas of the tree of life. (And Palmer actually finds this convincing.) I will agree only in the sense that, although the sense of the song is religious, many of the references are in no sense Biblical. The following annotated version will demonstrate the point, with observations on Biblical links (where there are any) plus what Stewart thinks each number stands for:
I'll sing you one, O
Green grow the rushes, O
What is your one, O
One is one and all alone and evermore shall be so. -- Refers to God or Jesus or both. Clearly it is a reference to the essential unity of God. (Even Stewart, p. 77, agrees with this, which tells you how certain it is -- although he makes a great deal more out of a basic Hebrew formula than the evidence is worth.)
Two, two, lily-white boys, clothed all in green, O -- Non-biblical. Stewart, p. 78, suggests that it links to "The Twa Brothers" [Child 49]! Baring-Gould suggested astrological Gemini twins Castor and Pollux. If we do look for Biblical twins, we have Jacob and Esau, and Judah's sons Perez and Zerah, but the latter pair are not personalities, and there is no hint that the former brothers were ever clothed all in green -- and then never got along.
Three, three, the rivals -- Who knows what this refers to? Not explicitly Biblical. The "three" may be the Trinity. although Stewart denies this; he offers a rather incoherent but Gnostic-sounding explanation
Four for the gospel makers -- Matthew, Mark, Luke John. Stewart, pp. 82-84, goes off on a long discussion of the four beasts associated with the Evangelists (man, eagle, lion, and bull), which he ties into what sound like Gnostic ideas. Here his information is so patently incomplete as to be absurd -- he ignores the use of the symbols in very early Gospel manuscripts, when the sort of heretical ideas he discusses were abhorrent to the Church.
Five for the symbols at your door -- ritual, not Biblical. (Though five could represent the five books of Moses). Stewart, pp. 84-85, connects this with the points of the pentagram, or with the sphere of Mars in the Tree of Life.
Six for the six proud walkers -- Got me (Brown A has "Firemen in the boat." Which doesn't help. Brown B has "ferrymen in the boat," which sounds rather like Charon). Stewart, p. 85, suggests that it is the Saint George whom he claims drowns in his longboat in the "Padstow May Song," whom he in turn links to the murderer in "Edward" [Child 13]. He suggests that the six proud walkers come from "The Joys of Mary."
Seven for the seven stars in the sky -- I'd blame this on J.R.R. Tolkien if it weren't so old. :-) (These would be the Pleiades, important to agricultural peoples as a sign of spring and planting season. - PJS.) Stewart, p. 86 also mentions the Pleiades, but again rings in the Tree of Life as well, and the crown of heaven, and druidic legend.
Eight for the April rainers -- Another ritual oddity (Brown: Eight archangels. Most traditions say there are *seven* archangels, though the Bible doesn't name them all and the Koran gives a different list. The figure eight might be the seven plus an unknown "head of the order")
Nine for the nine bright shiners -- Ditto (Brown: Nine is the night that the star shone bright!). Stewart, np. 87, notes versions which mention pale moonshine, and notes taht Luna, the Moon, was associated with fertility.
Ten for the Ten Commandments -- Ex. 20:2-17; Deut. 5:6-21. Stewart has a reference to the Qabalistic tenth sphere. I could imagine an obscure reference of this sort being corrected to a reference to the Commandments, but Stewart appears to have no actual basis for his tie-in except the number ten.
Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven -- The Twelve Disciples (Matt. 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 10:14-16; Acts 1:13), less Judas Iscariot. Despite this obvious Biblical reference, Stewart links this to the abyss separating the Qabalistic spheres..
Twelve for the twelve Apostles -- same as the above, with either Judas or Matthias (Acts 1:23-26) added. Stewart, p. 88. rings in the twelve signs of the Zodiac as well.
In the Department of Strange Footnotes, this song helped inspire a minor moment in Lloyd Alexander's well-known "Chronicles of Prydain," although not a very happy one. According to Michael O. Tunnell, THe Prydain Companion: A Reference Guide to Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, 1989 (I use the 2003 Henry Holt hardcover), pp. 211-212, "Alexander discovered the Proud Walkers when reading about a Celtic archaeological find.... 'In rituals and ceremonies... (ancient, barbaric customs) indeed there were people walking around on stilts. I saw the term Proud Walkers, and it suddenly connected in my mind with that old folk songs, "Green Grow the Rushes-o"' (Alexander, 1986b). Alexander goes on to explain that one line of the song speaks of the Proud Walksers. From these sources were born the Proud Walkers in The Book of Three." - RBW
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