Child ballad 78, composed in England circa 1400
Alternate titles: Cold Blows the Wind, William and Marjorieand Charles Graeme (a Scottish variation)
Cold blows the wind to my true love,
And gently drops the rain.
I've never had but one true love,
And in green-wood he lies slain.
I'll do as much for my true love,
As any young girl may,
I'll sit and mourn all on his grave,
For twelve months and a day.
And when twelve months and a day was passed,
The ghost did rise and speak,
"why sittest thou all on my grave
And will not let me sleep?"
"Go fetch me water from the desert,
And blood from out the stone,
Go fetch me milk from a fair maid's breast
That young man never has known."
"My breast is cold as clay,
My breath is earthly strong,
And if you kiss my cold clay lips,
You days they won't be long."
"How oft on yonder grave, sweetheart,
Where we were want to walk,
The fairest flower that e'er I saw
Has withered to a stalk."
"when will we meet again, sweetheart,
When will we meet again?"
"when the autumn leaves that fall from the trees
Are green and spring up again."
This is a classic riddle song, in the same tradition as Scarborough Fair.
Some scholars say that the lyrics refer to the idea that a betrothal outlasted even death. The betrothed had to perform heroic tasks to be released from the commitment. This makes the quests the ghost sets (fetching water from the desert, blood from a stone, etc) the equivalents of the tasks set to heroes in fairy tales.
A close reading of the words doesn't support this interpretation. Rather, it's a vivid description of the belief that excessive grief disturbed the rest of the dead. The ghost's quests are not difficult, but impossible. They are poetic metaphors for what cannot be, gentler ways of saying that things will never be the same again. The bereaved must move on.
The ballad is deeply ingrained in the folk tradition. There are several alternative versions, including some where the woman is the ghost and her husband to be the one mourning to excess. In addition, verses from The Unquiet Grave appear in a number of other songs of the same era, hinting at a longer, lost version.
The most well-known recording of this song is by Joan Baez, released in 1964. Leonard Lehrman used it as the basis for his Variations for Piano on "Cold Blows the Wind" in 1966. Faith & The Muse also recorded a version of it in 1994.