A traditonal English folk song, with many very short verses separated by nonsensical chorus. As with traditional songs, the lyrics come in many forms, the one here being the version by Steeleye Span, as found on their album Ten Man Mop.

Unless you listen carefully, the song can be confusing; but in written form it makes a lot more sense. It is a moral tale involving love, deceit, trust, gullibility and attempted murder.

Other more descriptive names for the song include "Gullibility rewarded by a ducking", and "The pact between the doctor and the butcher".


There was a woman in our town and in our town did dwell
She loved her old man dearly but another man twice as well

And sing fal-the-lal-lal-the-lal-li-day
Fal-the-lal lal-li-day

She went down to the doctor to see if she could find
Anything in the whole world to make her old man blind

"Oh take him sixteen marrowbones and make him eat them all
And when he's finished he'll be so blind that he won't see you at all."

So the doctor he wrote a letter and he sealed it with his hand
And he sent it up to the old man to make him understand.

But the old man being a crafty bugger, he knew it all before
He ate them up and he says "Me dear, oh I can't see you at all"

Says he, "I'll go to the river, and there meself I'll drown"
Says she, "I'll walk along with you to see that you don't fall down."

They walked along together till they come to the river's brim,
So gently there she's kissed him and she crept away behind.

She ran and she ran behind him to try to push him in,
But the old man heard and he jumped aside and
she went tumbling in.

So loudly she did holler and loud for mercy call
But the old man says, "I am so blind, I can't see you at all."

She swam and she swam and she swam around till she came to the further brim,
But the old man got the barge pole and he pushed her further in.

Oh it may take sixteen marrowbones to make your old man blind,
But if you want to murder him you must creep up close behind.

The Hoodeners have altered verse 6, placing the motive for going to the river on the wife, rather than the man; thereby changing the wife's crime from an opportunist murder, to a premeditated one.

Says she, "We'll go to the Wantsum River And there perhaps the air
Will help you to regain your sight. Come on, I'll guide you there."

Because of the strange timing of the words to the music, they may seem not to scan when reading them alone. Believe me, it does work. I find particularly interesting, the implied 'him' at the end of verse 7. The rhyme is there (river's brim), and there is a spare beat in the music; but it is absent. It's strange how your brain inserts it.