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Greensleeves -- Anonymous

Guest poem sent in by Suresh Ramasubramanian
(Poem #1027) Greensleeves
A new Courtly Sonet, of the Ladie Greensleeves.

 Chorus: Greensleeves was all my joy
         Greensleeves was my delight
         Greensleeves was my heart of gold
         And who but my Ladie Greensleeves

 Alas, my love, you do me wrong
 To cast me off discourteously
 And I have lov-ed you so long
 Delighting in your companie


 I have been ready at your hand
 To grant whatever you would crave,
 I have both waged life and land,
 Your love and good-will for to have.


 I bought thee kerchers to thy head,
 That were wrought fine and gallantly
 I kept thee both boord and bed
 Which cost my purse well favouredly


 I bought thee petticoats of the best,
 The cloth so fine as might be;
 I gave thee jewels for thy chest,
 And all this cost I spent on thee.


 Thy smock of silk, both fair and white,
 With gold embroidered gargeously;
 Thy petticoat of sendal right,
 And these I bought thee gladly


 Thy girdle of gold so red,
 With pearles bedecked sumptuously;
 The like no other lasses had,
 And yet thou wouldst not love me


 Thy purse and eke thy gay gilt knives,
 Thy pincase gallant to the eye;
 No better wore the Burgesse wives
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 Thy crimson stockings all of silk,
 With golde all wrought above the knee,
 Thy pumps as white as was the milk
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 Thy gown was of the grossie green,
 Thy sleeves of satten hanging by,
 Why made thee be our harvest Queen.
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 Thy garters fringed with the golde,
 And silver aglets hanging by,
 Which made thee blithe for to beholde
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 My gayest gelding I thee gave,
 To ride where ever liked thee,
 No Ladie ever was so brave
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 My men were clothed all in green,
 And they did ever wait on thee;
 All this was gallant to be seen
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 They set thee up, they took thee downe,
 They served thee with humilitie,
 Thy foote might not once touch the ground
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 For everie morning when thou rose,
 I sent thee dainties orderly;
 To cheare thy stomack from all woes
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 Thou couldst desire no earthly thing,
 But still thou hadst it readily;
 Thy musicke still to play and sing
 And yet thou wouldst not love me.


 And who did pay for all this geare,
 That thou didst spend when pleased thee,
 Even I that am rejected here
 And thou disdainst to love me.


 Well I will pray to God on high,
 That thou my constancy mayst see,
 And that yet once before I die
 Thou wilt vouchsafe to love me.


 Greensleeves, now farewell! adieu!
 God I pray to prosper thee,
 For I am still thy lover true,
 Come once again and love me.

-- Anonymous
  sonet. Obs. rare. [a. OFr. sonet (sonnet), = Prov. sonet, f. son sound. ]
  Song, melody, music. -- OED

One of my favorite songs - a 16th century english ballad called
Greensleeves, by our old friend "Anon".  The song was first licensed
to a printer called Richard Jones, but several others have claimed

At least one version of this song's origin says that Henry VIII wrote
it about Anne Boleyn, but this is unlikely, as the style belongs to a
period after Henry's death, and the first printed version appeared
during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Since then, it became a popular ballad, carried over by the englishmen
to America, where it became one of the classic campfire ballads of the
old west.

The classic 1962 western "How the West Was Won" had a theme song set
to the "Greensleeves" tune - and "Ritchie Blackmore's Night" has a
beautiful cover of this old song (which I am listening to as I type

Blackmore's brilliant guitaring adds to the magic of this old song
(and sounds far better than the ringtone in my colleague's cellphone -
again "Greensleeves" ;)

A beautiful, haunting melody - and words which show the deep grief of
a jilted man who has been rejected by a woman he has showered love
and squandered his fortune on.


Martin adds:

  Greensleeves and Tolkien combine in the popular quote "Do not anger a bard,
  for thy name is silly, and scans to Greensleeves".

  And here's the hilarious Flanders and Swann sketch on the 'history' of
    [broken link]

175 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ash Gulati said...

Greensleeves is the only poem that still makes me cry. Its haunting melody tugs at the heartstrings. I fully empathise with the poet - i know the feeling - BEEN THERE DONE THAT ! Niti Trilokekar

Hilkka Tabell said...

Very interesting - where could one find more info about the origins of this ballad?

Uri Bar Zeev said...

Dear all,
Can somebody send me an explanation as to the meaning of the name(?) greensleeves?
Who was called so for what reason?
Please write to:
Thanks - Uri

Pat Taylor said...

Greensleeves were worn by prostitutes, when sleeves were still
detachable to advertise their trade & seperate them from the goodwives
of the town to prevent non-local men from insulting proper women. When
the Sumptuary(sp?) Laws [who could wear clothes made of specific kinds
of Fabrics & specific colors & when {Church laws designed, inforced &
ment to lable people by station & keep them in their places} fell out
of favor during the Protestant Reformation in Europe & under Henry VIII
in England, (You could judge the price range from the quality of the
material, Homespun was cheaper than Lace or Velvet). Additional
information available from any standard European History text.

Pat Taylor

Caroline Andrews said...

Back in the 1980s I had to sing Greensleeves as a solo at a fund-raising
event attended by some very important people, including the local Member of
Parliament. The event was being held in a very large 16th century house
which the fundraisers were hoping to turn into a hospice for terminally ill
children. It was a very grand event - evening dress was compulsory and one
group of people even turned up in 16th century costume in a real horse-drawn
carriage complete with footmen!

The idea was that there would be musicians in several of the rooms and the
guests would wander around with their drinks and their plates of food into
the different rooms and listen to us performing. I was accompanied by a
lute teacher, but his lute was being mended so he played a guitar instead.

We musicians all had a break after about an hour and a half and we were
allowed into the large tents on the lawns where the food was and we piled
our plates high! We also had a couple of drinks each and we got talking to
each other. The result was that, towards the end of the evening, we all got
together and had an impromptu "jam session". There was me and my
accompanist, the West Indian steel band who'd been playing on the terrace
and a few others I can't remember now, but I think there was a flute or
clarinet player and some string instrument players. There may have been
another singer, but it was a long time ago. Everyone had a wonderful time
and it certainly opened the purses of the backers, because the house was
opened as a hospice just over two years later.

Dan Huzyk said...


I remember, while at university back in the 1960’s, reading a published paper which was a musicological analysis of the “Greensleeves” melody. The study concluded that the melody did not originate either in England or anywhere is Western Europe, but that its components indicated an origin in Eastern Europe. Having sung variations of the song in several choirs, I was intrigued by the article, however now regret that I never photocopied it.

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