Posted by: Tom Triumph | January 26, 2012

169: The Child Ballads. Andrew Bartin: Anonymous

Another roundabout story, but I think that it leads to the interesting topic of how poems fall into becoming a few lines of posey sprinkled about with little deference to the original.  Or understanding. 

And, is that for the best?

When listening to Public Radio International’s sports program “Only a Game” sports writer John Fienstein told of how he ended his anthology “Going One on One with Sports’ Greatest Athletes.”  Years before he had written a book about the Army-Navy football rivalry and had kept in touch with many of the players.  Faced with the tragic death of a former player serving abroad, and the suicide of another player’s wife due to depression, he was comforted by the lines:

I’m wounded not, but I’m not slain.
I’m brusied and faint they say
Just let me lie and bleed awhile;
I’ll not be long this way.

With this, he ended the anthology.

I tried to find the original poem from which these lines came, but that proved difficult.  A page on the Poetry Library site offered a little, but pointed in the direction of John Dryden.  These were the lines people on that site said came from the poem:

I’m wounded not, but I’m not slain.
I’m brusied and faint they say
Just let me lie and bleed awhile;
I’ll not be long this way.

My Spirit’s low and my eyes flow.
My heart is sad and sore;
But when my pen’ent tears are gone,
I’ll stand and fight some more.

I’ll bind these wounds; I’ll dry these tears;
I’ll close this bleeding vein;
I’ll not lie here and weep and die:
I’ll rise and fight again.

‘Twas yesterday I bowed so low,
Was weak from tears and pain;
Today I’m strong; my fears are gone;
Today I fight again.

A dead end.  No poem with a line from this and the name “Dryden” appeared in my search.  One of those bits of misinformation mentioned the “Child Ballads” while another mentioned Andrew Barton (written as Bartin in the ballad).  After several false leads and a trip through Wikipedia, I tracked down the ballad.  Nothing I can find attributes it to Dryden; it seems to be a classic ballad.  Perhaps it’s two poems with similar lines, or that one influenced the other?

What intrigued me was that, at the Poetry Library site, so many people had heard the lines in reading about American politicians and presidents.  One person wrote that Ronald Reagan had it inscribed on a plaque that sat on his desk (Note: I’ve heard of about ten quotes inscribed on plaques that once sat on Reagan’s desk).  Another mentioned Nixon saying he thought of it as he left office.  Someone recalled Adlai Stevenson having used it.  If this is true, then two presidents, a major political figure and several service academy graduates used a completely misquoted poem.

My question is: Does it matter?

In the United States we have little need to know who Andrew Barton is.  It is in an outdated local vernacular, which makes an archaic historical tale even less accessible.  The spelling alone is a distraction. Is this misquoting actually better–better art–than the original in this day and age?  What makes a poem, versus a slogan, in this day when Frost is used to advertise a bank or Whitman to sell blue jeans?  And, what of extracting just the good lines?

Or, is there value in returning to the original?  Of slogging through verse after verse?  Does that extra barrier add more to the meaning by having wrestled with it, even as those who lived then would have accepted it without flinching?  Does time add or subtract? 

You can find the entire ballad of Andrew Bartin here, referred to as The Child Ballads: 167. Andrew Bartin.  Zip down to the 63rd stanza (167.63) to find this part:

The Child Ballads: Andrew Bartin
Anonymous

But att Sir Andrew hee shott then;
Hee made sure to hitt his marke;
Vnder the spole of his right arme
Hee smote Sir Andrew quite throw the hart.
Yett from the tree hee wold not start,
But hee clinged to itt with might and maine;
Vnder the coller then of his iacke,
He stroke Sir Andrew thorrow the braine.
‘Ffight on my men,’ sayes Sir Andrew Bartton,
‘I am hurt, but I am not slaine;
I’le lay mee downe and bleed a-while,
And then I’le rise and fight againe.
‘Ffight on my men,’ sayes Sir Andrew Bartton,
‘These English doggs they bite soe lowe;
Ffight on for Scottland and Saint Andrew
Till you heare my whistle blowe!’
But when the cold not heare his whistle blow,
Sayes Harry Hunt, I’le lay my head
You may bord yonder noble shipp, my lord,
For I know Sir Andrew hee is dead.

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