Appalachian Music Fellowship 6

Berea College Appalachian Music Fellowship

Day 6, June 8, 2009

Today I started looking at one of the many collections of murder ballads housed in the Special Collections library at Berea. I found this asymmetrical, pared down, eastern Kentucky version of “Barbara Allen” collected from Rendy York, age 78, Bell County, Ky., in 1957. Don’t you love this?

One pleasant May morning
When the June buds they were swelling
He courted her seven long years
Her name was Barbara Allen

She said she would not marry him
Purty William he went home and taken sick
He sent for Barbara Allen

She walked in by his bedside she said
“Young man you are dying”
He turned his pale face to the wall
and busted out to crying

As she walked down them long stair steps
She heard some death bells ringing
Ever bell seem to say
Hard-hearted Barbara Allen

As she walked down that shady grove
She heard some birds singing
Ever bird seem to say
Hard-hearted Barbara Allen

She saw his corpse a-coming
“Lay him down I want to look upon him.
I could’ve saved his life but I wouldn’t”
She busted out to crying

Mother, go dig my grave
Both wide and deep
Purty William died for me today
I will die for him tomorrow

From Purty William’s grave there sprung a rose
From Barbara Allen’s a brier
They grew so high they tied in a true love-knot
And the rose wropped around the brier.

–from the Berea College Special Collections, Hutchins Library

Published by Marianne Worthington

Marianne Worthington is a poet, editor, and co-founder of Still: The Journal, an online literary magazine publishing writers, artists, and musicians with ties to the Appalachian region since 2009. She received the Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council and the Appalachian Book of the Year Award for her poetry chapbook, Larger Bodies Than Mine. She was awarded grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship at Berea College. She co-edited, with Silas House, Piano in a Sycamore: Writing Lessons from the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop, a writing craft anthology from teachers at the Appalachian Writers’ Workshop from the last 40 years. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Oxford American, CALYX, Grist, Shenandoah, The Louisville Review, Appalachian Review, Cheap Pop, and Chapter 16, among other places. She lives in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and teaches communication studies, media writing, and journalism at University of the Cumberlands. Her poetry collection, The Girl Singer, is available from University Press of Kentucky, 2021.

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