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 don’t write a lot of poems with fixed rhyme schemes, but it seemed to make sense here.

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, none dared to climb,
for fear of the three green ladies
who danced there, time after time.

Save one young man, a farmer
who each midsummer’s day,
always carried a posy to give them
and left before dusk got underway.

Years later, his sons went up there,
once father’s old body grew slow,
though not all behaved as he did,
scoffing, joking, starting to crow.

One year, the eldest took up an axe,
made a swing for the tallest fair tree,
which cried out a curse as he struck,
clouted his head, setting blood free.

That brother, he never came home,
the second went up the next year,
greedy for timber and vengeance,
cold fury and anger costing him dear.

Then only the youngest remained,
to do what his dear father had done,
fetching flowers for those women,
taking care to be gone with the sun.

Which he did, until weary he stopped
the hill stays quiet now, the people have flown,
nobody walks there and nobody sees
the weeping 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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