Another song from the great Pop Maynard. I first heard this on the Topic LP Ye Subjects of England but learned it with help from the transcription in Ken Stubbs’ excellent little booklet The Life and Songs of George Maynard (an EFDSS reprint from the 1963 Journal of the English Folk Dance & Song Society, December 1963). The recording on Ye Subjects of England was made by Peter Kennedy. More recently, different recordings made by Reg Hall and Mervyn Plunkett, and Ken Stubbs, have appeared on the Who’s That at My Bed Window? (Volume 10 of The Voice of the People series), and the Musical Traditions compilation Just Another Saturday Night. In the notes to the latter collection, Rod Stradling notes that a significant number of the versions collected by Cecil Sharp were from singers who don’t appear to have sung him anything else:
Maybe this is an easy song to learn and remember, so that someone who didn’t know anything else could trot it out for the roving collector … or maybe it was one of the titles Mr Sharp listed when he asked the singer “D’you know any of those old folk songs? You know, songs like Rolling in the Dew?” I offer this suggestion purely on the evidence that he collected 31 of these examples!
An interesting conjecture.
The song is clearly of considerable age – the printed ballad sheet shown below dates back to 1688 or 1689.
It occurs to me that the song can be viewed in two ways. It could be seen as typical male fantasy: he makes all kinds of suggestions why the milkmaid might not want to have sex with him, and (wanton, depraved female that she is) she just brushes them all aside. But I prefer to see her as a sexually-liberated, independently-minded woman who knows what she wants, and intends to get it on her own terms.
Rolling in the Dew