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Where shall I meet you my pretty little dear
With your red rosy cheeks and your coal black hair
I’m going a milking kind sir she answered me
But it’s dabbling in the dew where you might find me
The cusp of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw a revived fascination with the native song of England, perhaps best known through the work of that crusading folklorist Cecil Sharp. But while the music was inoffensive enough to genteel ears, the violent, ribald and frequently erotic lyrical content was definitely not the respectable Victorian or Edwardian’s cup of tea. Accordingly, the folk verse that did find its way into print was invariably neutered by what Alan Lomax describes as ‘the dictates of the puritanical and namby-pamby editors of the Mauve Decade’.
In The Idiom of the People (1958), James Reeves has revisited Cecil Sharp’s manuscripts, restoring a selection of 115 folk lyrics to their authentic, unexpurgated form. The result is a fascinating record of England’s traditional verse, in all its robust, vigorous and beguiling glory.
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