Riddles Wisely Expounded is the first of the Child Ballads, a series of English (and Scottish) folk songs collected by the folklorist Francis Child. It tells the story of three sisters who court a knight, though in some versions he is not who he seems to be.
The knight takes a fancy to the youngest sister, and asks her to answer 'three times three' riddles before they are married, which she does with ease. In some versions they are married happily ever after, while in others the nature of his riddles betray to the clever woman that he is in fact the Devil, and she banishes him to Hell.
The refrain gives the song its alternate titles - Juniper, Gentle and Rosemary and Bow Down to the Bonny Broom. It is also sometimes called The Devil's Nine Question, or The Three Sisters.
On Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XqA4Eh1Ik4g
The tune it is usually sung to with variants can be found here.
Lyrics from a 1660's broadside:
There was a lady of the North Country,
Refrain: Lay the bent to the bonny broom
And she had lovely daughters three.
Fa la la la, fa la la la ra re
Juniper, gentle and rosemary
As the dew flies over the mulberry tree)
There was a knight of noble worth
Which also lived in the North.
The knight, of courage stout and brave,
A wife he did desire to have.
He knocked at the ladie's gate
One evening when it was late.
The eldest sister let him in,
And pin'd the door with a silver pin.
The second sister she made his bed,
And laid soft pillows under his head.
The youngest daughter that same night,
She went to bed to this young knight.
And in the morning, when it was day,
These words unto him she did say:
`Now you have had your will,' quoth she,
`I pray, sir knight, will you marry me?'
The young brave knight to her replyed,
`Thy suit, fair maid,shall not be deny'd.
`If thou canst answer me questions three,
This very day will I marry thee.'
`Kind sir, in love, O then,' quoth she,
`Tell me what your [three] questions be.'
`O what is longer than the way,
Or what is deeper than the sea?
`Or what is louder than the horn,
Or what is sharper than a thorn?
`Or what is greener than the grass,
Or what is worse than a woman was?`
`O love is longer than the way,
And hell is deeper than the sea.
`And thunder is louder than the horn,
And hunger is sharper than a thorn.
`And poyson is greener than the grass,
And the Devil is worse than woman was.'
When she these questions answered had,
The knight became exceeding glad.
And having [truly] try'd her wit,
He much commended her for it.
And after, as it is verifi'd,
He made of her his lovely bride.
So now, fair maidens all, adieu,
This song I dedicate to you.
I wish that you may constant prove
Vnto the man that you do love.
'Devil' ending as sung by John Kirkpatrick
“And the devil is worse than a woman's tongue
Refrain: Bow down to the bonny broom,
And you Sir Knight you are the devil's father's son.”
Bonny lass, once and twice and three times round full soon.
And when he heard her name his name,
O he rose up in a fire of flame.
He clapped his wings and aloud did cry,
In a flame of fire away did fly.