The first verse reads: 'Late at e'en, drinking the wine, / And ere they paid the lawing, / They set a combat them between, / To fight it in the dawing.' This broadside includes decorative detail around the title, and a small illustration of a sailing vessel after the last verse.
As with many early ballads, the origins of 'The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow' are shrouded in mystery. A popular and well-known song, there are still to this day a number of different versions in existence, including one which starts 'There lived a lady in the North'. As part of the oral tradition, it was common for ballads to undergo changes with each telling. The Yarrow Valley stretches down through the Scottish borders towards Selkirk. Although neither were responsible for this ancient ballad, the Scottish literary heavyweights, James Hogg (1770-1835) and Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), are both said to have drawn inspiration for their work from the beautiful Yarrow Valley.
Early ballads were dramatic or humorous narrative songs derived from folk culture that predated printing. Originally perpetuated by word of mouth, many ballads survive because they were recorded on broadsides. Musical notation was rarely printed, as tunes were usually established favourites. The term 'ballad' eventually applied more broadly to any kind of topical or popular verse.
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