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 that none dared to climb, 
for fear of three green ladies
seen dancing on top, time after time

Save one man, a farmer
who each midsummer’s day, 
carried a bright posy to give them,
leaving before dusk had got underway

Years later, his sons made the trip, 
once father’s old body grew slow,
though not all behaved as he did,  
scoffing and 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, 
clouting his head, to set his 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 wearied he stopped,
now nobody goes, all 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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