Also known as "Sweet William and Fair Margaret", "Lady Margaret", and many variations thereof, this song is an English ballad collected by James Francis Child as part of his Child Ballads. As a folk song, it has as numerous variations; the lyrics below are from the version in Cold Mountain. There are more versions here. The tune is here.

 

 

Sweet William and Lady Margaret

 

Lady Margaret was standing in her own room door,

A comb in her long yellow hair,

When who'd she spy but Sweet Wiliam and his bride

As to the church yard they drew near —

 

Well the day passed away, the night came on

And most of the men were asleep —

Lady Margaret appeared all dressed in white

Standing at his bed feet.

 

She asked, "And how do you like your warm bed,

And how do you like your sheet?

And how do you like that fair young girl

That's lying in your arms asleep?"

 

He said, "Very well do I like my warm bed,

Much better do I like my sheet,

But most of all that fair young girl

That's standing at my bed feet."

 

Then once he kissed her lily white hands,

Twice he kissed her cheek,

Three times he kissed her cold corpsey lips

Then he fell into her arms asleep —

 

Well the night passed away, the day came on,

And enter the morning light —

Sweet William said, "I'm troubled in my head

By the dream that I dreamed last night."

 

"Such dreams, such dreams as these, 

I know they mean no good,

For I dreamed that my bower was full of red swine

And my bride's bed full of blood —"

 

He asked, "Is Lady Margaret in her room

Or is she out in the hall?"

But Lady Margaret Lay in a cold black coffin

with her faced turned to the wall.

 

"Throw back, throw back those snow-white robes

Be they ever so fine

And let me kiss those cold corpsey lips

For I know they'll never kiss mine —"

 

Then once he kissed her lily white hands,

Twice he kissed her cheek,

Three times he kissed her cold corpsey lips

Then he fell into her arms asleep —

 

 


 

 

One of the things I like about this song is that it allows one to switch the pronouns around easily, so one could turn the characters into Sweet Billie and Fair Margaret, or have William be the ghost (Indeed, such a variation already exists).

It's a folk song. You can vary it as you like as long as it's still recognizable. There is a core around which all variations are based, and one might call it canon, but it is not the same sort of canon that one finds in published, professional work. It guides the story, but does not set the story in stone.

In that sense, fan fiction has existed as long as we've been telling stories. 


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