Three green ladies

Beech, by P Lewis (Wellcome Collection, P. Domain)

I once tweeted a thread featuring a highly abridged adaptation of a folktale called ‘One Tree Hill’ for #FolkloreThursday, which seemed like it might make a poem. Below is my attempt to do just that, with a ballad-style version of the story.

I first came across the tale in Katherine Briggs’ A Dictionary of British Folk Tales, that version is set somewhere in Yorkshire. There seem to be various other similar stories from around the UK, including another, where I found the beeches, which I’ve borrowed for mine.

Three green ladies

Three beeches once stood 
on a hill that none dared to climb, 
for fear of three green ladies
who danced on the crown

Save one man, a farmer,
each midsummer’s day, 
carrying flowers as tribute,
never staying, nor waiting for dusk 

In time his sons followed after,
once Dad’s slow, sore bones 
had grown cold, though not all 
boys behaved like their father

One year, the eldest took up an axe, 
swung at the tallest old tree,
which screamed as he struck,
and gave him a clout with a branch

That brother, he never came home,
the second went up the next time,
greedy for timber and vengeance,
but he too was not coming back

When only the youngest remained,
he did what his father had done,  
took flowers in respect for the women,
always sure to be gone by sundown

This he did until wearied, he stopped,
now nobody goes to the hill any more,
nobody walks there, and nobody sees,
the green lady who dances alone.

Illustration: Licence and credit

Licence: Public Domain Mark

Credit: Two trees, beech (Fagus) and elm (Ulmus), with details of form. Watercolour by P. Lewis.

Wellcome Collection.

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