Jenny Greenteeth

Jenny Greenteeth

Jenny Greenteeth

Another super-naiive illustration for this collection of songs:

Lyrics about
Merfolk and other Water-Creatures

by Giles Watson, 2000

Hywel and the Mermaid

On the rocks beyond Gwbert where white seagulls fly,
With nothing before him but grey sea and sky,
Sat Hywel the fisherman, whistling a tune,
Whiling away a quiet afternoon.

He cast his blue eyes o’er the deep, swelling sea,
And watched the birds wheel, unfettered and free.
He looked down the shoreline, and she caught his eye:
A soft-singing mermaid, sitting nearby.

Her voice was like waves lapping pools in the sand,
Her tresses were long, with a comb in her hand,
And shellfish and sea-stars clung to her hair.
“I’ll take her home with me,” cried Hywel, “I swear!”

He carried her bodily back to his shack,
And Modlen the mermaid wept, “Sir, take me back!”
But he took her inside and he bolted the door;
She wept and she sobbed on the fisherman’s floor.

But Hywel’s friend Maredudd frowned when he heard,
Dark was his countenance; stern was his word:
“When a man takes a mermaid to be his fair bride
The end’s always tragedy – let her go at high tide

She’ll cast a spell on you; you must let her go!”
But he kept her his captive ‘til the rains turned to snow,
And she pleaded, “Dear Hywel, take me back to the sea,
And I’ll warn of all danger, and watch over thee.”

In the surf then he waded, Modlen in his arms;
The shells in her hair like trinkets and charms.
Her hand trailed in water; her tail threshed the foam;
She slipped from his arms and swam back to her home.

One day Hywel’s fishing, he’s wiping his brow,
When Modlen appears at the end of the prow;
Crabs scuttle about as they fall from her hair;
The look in her eyes tells him, “Hywel, beware!”

“Hywel, Hywel!
Draw in your net!
Hywel, Hywel!”
Her hair’s lank and wet!
“Hywel, Hywel!”
Her eyes stare with fear
“Hywel! Hywel!
For danger is near!”

“Hywel, Hywel!”
Yet calm is the sea.
“Hywel! Hywel!
O hearken to me!
Hywel! Hywel!
The winds may be calm,
Hywel! Hywel!
Yet you’ll come to harm!”

“Hywel! Hywel!”
He hauls on the ropes,
“Hywel! Hywel!”
And for the oars gropes.
“Hywel! Hywel!”
For the shore does he steer.
“Hywel! Hywel!”
Other fishermen jeer.

“Hywel! Hywel!”
She touches his hand.
“Hywel! Hywel!”
As his boat reaches land.
“Hywel! Hywel!”
The mighty clouds form.
“Hywel! Hywel!”
The oncoming storm.

Bewildered then Hywel stood on the shore,
Beholding the lightning with wonder and awe:
Capsized the boats and their owners all drowned,
And gone the sweet woman with sea-creatures crowned.

“To Modlen the mermaid, whom I took for wife,
Do I owe my repentance, my love and my life.”
He turned for his home, weatherbeaten and cold,
Now no one will ever his mermaid behold.

Source material: Welsh folk-tale, from Eirwen Jones, Folk Tales of Wales, London, 1947, pp. 94-97.

The Mermaid of Zennor

His voice enticed me, in my green ocean bower;
I looked up, through the waves, at the church’s dark tower,
He lured me at last from my cave ‘neath the sea
For the song of dry land was beckoning me.

My hair lank and dripping, I crept into the nave;
My soul rode his song like the crest of a wave,
Cockles and scallops were clenched in my hand,
But I was bewitched by the song of dry land.

By a stained-glass window darkened by yew,
He sang of a strange god, and nothing I knew
But the sight of the hymn-book, clutched by his hand,
And the longing and pain of the song of dry land.

Then as he knelt, and he drank the rich wine,
My fingers grew smooth with the drying of brine,
I waited and watched, by the font took my stand,
And I swore I would steal the song of dry land.

I clutched at his hand when his worship was done,
And we ran to the cove, ‘neath the drying white sun;
I dragged him at last through the dunes and the strand,
And I stole his sweet breath and the song of dry land.

Source material: The mermaid of Zennor, depicted on a bench-end in Zennor Church in Cornwall, was, ironically enough for a mermaid, enticed onto dry land by the singing of a chorister named Matthew Trowhella. She came into the church on several occasions in order to listen to him, until at last she persuaded him to follow her to her home in Pendour Cove, and from that day onwards, the lad was never seen again, although his singing may apparently still be heard, issuing from the mermaid’s underwater bower. See Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and Her Kin, Chieveley, Berkshire, 2000, pp. 105-107.

Treasure from the Deep

She brought him treasure from the deep
Every time they met;
Golden torcs and doubloons bright,
All sea-worn and wet.

But mortal men are faithless all,
Heartless men and cold;
He courted women of the town
And gave them all her gold.

And oftentimes he went with them
While his lover waited,
And he who’d gained a mermaid’s love
‘Ere long was rued and hated.

She met him, in her boat of pearl,
And took him to her cave,
She showed him hoards of crusted gold:
“So this is what you crave?”

And he slumped, swooning on the rocks,
He writhed with stinging pains,
The treasure swam before his eyes,
He woke in golden chains.

“Never shalt thou leave this cave,
Nor find your way to shore.
I gave the riches of my heart –
You loved this treasure more.”

Source material: Caithness mermaid legend, recorded in Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, p. 129.

The Mermaid of Knockdolian

Upon my rock I sat by night and combed my tresses gold,
Where sea-spray tinged my mouth with salt and moonlit breakers rolled,
And long I sang into the night, amid the phosphorescent light,
Of porpoises and sunken treasure, mariners’ delight.

But on the cliffs above my perch, where skuas mewl and whirl,
There lived a wicked woman and her little baby girl.
She said my singing woke her child; how she cursed me and reviled.
My song, which seven schooners sunk, left her unbeguiled.

One night I swam out with the seals, as lightning streamed and flashed;
When I returned, I found that my beloved rock was smashed;
By men with hammers, sent by she who loathes the music of the sea.
Broken ‘neath the waves it lies, and ever more shall be.

I’ve found her baby in the crib; I’ve dripped brine on the floor;
I’ll leave the doll’s house upside down, smashed against the door.
That woman, fast asleep in bed, little knows her child lies dead,
And I shall swim away to sing upon some distant shore.

Source material: Folk tale from Girvan, Ayreshire, in Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, p. 131.

Soul Cages

Soul cages for mariners drowned in the deep,
Kept where the stalk-eyed crustaceans creep,
Soul cages for men from the tall ships, who died,
And only their white skulls shall roll in the tide.

I am a merry Merrow, I live in the Irish sea;
No denizen of darkest deep is friendlier than me,
For I’ve shared many a cask of rum, and many a woman’s bed,
And I have a fine collection of the spirits of the dead.

I line them up like lobster pots upon the ocean floor,
To catch the souls of mortal men who’ll never see the shore,
Before their spirits float away like bubbles in the blue;
Those whose lungs are filled with brine, and those the pirates slew.

I’ll drink a glass for each of them, each spirit in a pot,
Whiskey if they’re Irishmen, good brandy if they’re not,
And if they’re from a Russian ship that happens to capsize,
I’ll drink their health in vodka as the fishes eat their eyes.

I’ll keep their clay pipes in a chest, a tobacco pouch from each;
I’ll lay it in the sun to dry and smoke it on the beach,
And as the starfish span their skulls, watched by octopi,
I’ll drink to dangers of the sea, which helped them all to die.

And when the sea is very still, I watch them in the night,
Each soul inside its lobster pot, a little glowing light,
I hear them softly moaning as they bid me set them free;
I smile and say, “Not ‘til I’ve drunk ten thousand draughts for thee.”

Source material: Adapted from a folk tale related by Thomas Crofton Croker in Fairy Legends and Traditions of South Ireland, (1825), and also recorded in in Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, pp. 118-124. A Merrow is an Irish merman.

The Skinner and the Seal

A fisher stunned and skinned a seal,
Thinking she was dead,
For twenty times he’d beaten her
About her whiskered head;
He struck her with a driftwood club
While she flailed and squealed;
He slit her skin and pulled it off,
As the blood congealed.

He threw her body in the cove,
But rolling in the sea,
Her carcass moaned and breathed again;
She cried most piteously.
Her skin-stripped body stung by salt,
In agony she sank.
The fisher tucked her skin away
And with his friends he drank.

A mermaid found the bloodied seal
Upon the ocean floor,
“You’ll have your skin and be avenged,”
The water-woman swore,
And when the men cast out to sea
The next day in their boat,
The mermaid called a raging storm
And nought was left afloat.

The fishermen breathed stinging brine
And all of them were drowned;
Their bodies swayed in murky depths
By spiny urchins crowned,
And deeper sank the seal’s skin
Where mud-crabs make their home,
And as the wreck smashed on the rocks
Seals frolicked in the foam.

Source material: A selkie tale from Shetland, adapted from Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, pp. 135-136.

Lutey’s Song

Stranded by the tide, she was, the first bright day I saw her,
Cockles climbing through her hair, her tail draped before her,
And though I wore another’s ring, when I heard the woman sing
I could not but adore her.

“My children will be missing me,” with coral lips she told me,
I lifted her above the strand, no earthly care could hold me,
And though I owed another love, I heard her hair cascade above,
And felt her arms enfold me.

And as she slipped out from my grasp, she said, “I have not paid you,
Remember, Lutey, I shall come, with but one call, to aid you.”
And when, that night, I held my wife, my soul belied me, “By my life
I sorely have betrayed you.”

For seven years I saw her not, though oftentimes I sought her,
Yet when she called me to the deep, with bitter tears I fought her,
But one taste of her briny lips could couple foes and scupper ships:
No earthly love could thwart her.

I know what they have said on land: “It was the sea that took him.
He’s not the sort to break his bond; temptation never shook him.”
But I am Lutey, he who pales before his mistress’s gleaming scales,
Since faithfulness forsook him.

Source material: The tale of ‘Lutey and the Mermaid’ was recorded by William Bottrell in Traditions and Hearthside Stories of West Cornwall, (1870), and is repeated in Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, pp.107-108.

The Doom Bar of Padstow

I have lived in Padstow harbour
Since before the town was born;
I have floated in the evening calm,
I’ve frolicked in the morn,
I have eaten oysters in her tides,
Their bodies bathed in brine,
And when a clipper comes to grief
The blame is always mine.

Land-loving Jimmy shot at me,
His musket filled with lead,
He took nought but a lock of hair
And left me there for dead,
But I awoke, with one dread thought
Swimming through my mind:
The sea would give me my revenge
On all of humankind.

I swam to where the sand dips down
Through waters cold and deep,
Where sea-stars span the dappled depths
And spiny creatures creep;
I beat my tail against the sand
And clouded all the sea,
My hand clutched to my bleeding breast,
“O Neptune! Pity me!”

And by the dawn a sandbank rose,
The harbour choked with silt,
For thus I served all Padstow
Knowing Jimmy felt no guilt,
And when a clipper sailed for land
At wealthy Padstow pier
She came aground amid the squalls,
All hands were seized by fear.

And as the lifeboats touched the sea
I pulled them all far under –
The gold doubloons and seamen drowned,
I took them all for plunder,
And so shall any clipper end
That sails in Padstow Bay,
For Jimmy shot me in the breast
But all mankind shall pay.

I have lived in Padstow harbour
Since before the town was born;
I have floated in the evening calm,
I’ve frolicked in the morn,
I have eaten oysters in her tides,
Their bodies bathed in brine,
And when a clipper comes to grief
The blame is always mine.

Source material: Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, p. 109.

The Drowning

Among the pools where chitons clasp
And limpets clench the stone
She climbed, and watched the blennies dart
Beneath a salt-bleached seagull’s bone.

Anemones would grip her skin,
And periwinkles trace
The edges of the ocean wrack
Which undulate like mermaids’ lace.

A hermit crab hid from her sight
Inside its crusted shell,
And she saw threshing in the foam
Of the rising ocean swell.

With that, she dived into the sea,
Her parents cried aloud:
“O now our daughter shall be lost,
And only kelp can be her shroud.”

But she swam laughing to the shore,
Radiant and wild,
And after that, wise women said,
“Beware, she is a changeling child.”

And none grew lovelier than she
On any Cornish land;
Like lapis was her glinting eye,
And white as sea-foam was her hand,

So Walter Trewoofe courted her,
And carried her to bed;
She sickened with the growing child,
But Walter scorned with her to wed.

Betrayed and spurned, she pined away,
And died on birthing bed,
And hearken how much Walter cared:
He never learned that she was dead.

But he walked, drunken on the shore,
And she, with blood-drained face,
Walked beside him on the sand
And wrapped him in her damp embrace,

And as a storm rose on the sea,
She dragged him through the waves
To where the shipwrecked seamen lie
With only squalls to mark their graves.

But in the pool, where blennies dart,
And crabs lurk in the gloom,
Anemones as red as blood
Shall grow, like roses on a tomb,

And though her mother moans and grieves
A child nought can replace,
By night, the surface of the pool
Reflects a changeling’s face.

Source material: Cornish mermaid legend, normally set in Perranzabuloe, recorded by Robert Hunt in his Popular Romances of the West of England (1881), and repeated in Marc Potts, The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, pp. 108-109. The girl’s name was Selina.

The Inheritor

My mother left home when I was but ten
Forsaking forever the discourse of men;
For the call of the sea she turned tail to the land,
And left me to weep in my web-fingered hands.

Where the white horses surge, my father looked out,
And into the wind, in vain did he shout,
Though nothing returned but the swell of the sea
And the sound of the seagulls a-calling for me.

By night and by day I have wandered the strand,
My face turned to seaward, my back turned to land,
Her song on my lips and her blood in my heart,
And I feel the sweet urging that bade her depart.

So naked I’ll slip out, far into the sea,
And I’ll touch not the land until death sets me free;
I’ll look back on my father, the cliffs and the town
And I’ll seek my dear mother once more ‘ere I drown.

Source material: As Marc Potts observes, “Procreation between mer-folk and humans seems to be a common motif in folklore.” Indeed, some Cornish families claim descent from mer-folk. The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, p. 110.

The Pond at Childs Ercall

At Childs Ercall there lies a pond
With duckweed overgrown,
Where yellow irises bend low
By springtide breezes blown.
Two men walked there one balmy day,
And whistled as they went;
They saw a single mermaid rise,
Her hair green and unkempt.

Duckweed clung upon her skin;
She gazed with fishes’ eyes
Which glinted with a deep azure
Reflected from the skies.
And both the men turned around to flee;
She stopped them with her song
And both were rooted to the spot
For all the morning long.

She drew them deep into the pond;
The weed crept to their chests,
And they disputed, side by side,
Which one loved her best.
“O, I have gold,” the maiden said,
“Come, take it from my hand,”
And both came forward, deeper still,
‘Til they could barely stand.

She dived into the murky depths;
Her tail arched above,
And when she held the gold aloft
Both men were filled with love.
“By Christ!” quoth one man to the other,
And both of them turned wan,
For at the word, she screeched with rage,
And maid and gold were gone.

Source material: Marc Potts,The Mythology of the Mermaid and her Kin, Chieveley, 2000, p. 110-111 remarks that “Whether the man swore and offended the mermaid, or uttered a holy oath and so frightened such a pagan creature is a matter for speculation”. Childs Ercall is a town in Shropshire.

The Kelpie

The rushes swaying by the river,
The water rippling in the breeze,
Scattering the wan reflections
Of the gaunt and budless trees.
“Take me, mother, to the river,
Where it runs cold, dark and deep,
To seek the soul of my dear brother
Where his body lies in sleep.”

Autumn pale was ending, a chill was in the air,
His mother sternly told him, “My little boy beware!
Never wander by the river, my dear darling child!”
Yet he wandered ever onward, deep into the wild.

Turgid was the water, dim and dark with peat,
Black was the mud that clung to his wee feet.
Dismal was the day, the rushes dripped with dew,
And dire were the auguries, if only Mother knew.


A horse stood in the river, silent as the night,
And up tripped the little lad, joyful at the sight.
Darksome, motionless the mare, hair soaked by the rain,
And like the feathers of a raven hung the dripping mane.

He touched it on the muzzle, the eyelids open wide;
He reached to put his little hand upon its clammy side.
He grasped it by the fetlock, he tugged it by the tail,
Yet still the horse unblinking stood amid the evening pale.


The boy stood up to his knees amid the stagnant mud;
The horse turned round to look at him with eyes as red as blood.
“Mummy warned me not to do it. Mummy said beware!”
Yet still he climbed upon its back and grasped its lanky hair.

He cried and trembled as the horse let out a lowly groan
And where the eyebrows should have been he saw a ridge of bone.
The boy let out a sharp shrill scream that echoed in the gloom;
The Kelpie sunk into the depths and dragged him to his doom.


Autumn pale was ending, a chill was in the air,
“Don’t go where your poor brother went, I tell you girl, beware!
Never wander by the river, my dear darling child!”
Yet she wandered ever onward, deep into the wild.

Source material: Scottish folk tale, as recalled by Judith Reid.

The Selkie

The kelp and wrack strewn on the sand;
The rockpools at low tide
Held brittle-stars; crabs crawled the strand,
While seagulls wheeled and cried.

A fisherman walked on the shore
Collecting urchins spiny,
And creatures washed up from the floor
Of the ocean briny.

Claw of lobster, head of eel,
Yet onward did he roam;
The empty skin of a seal:
He carried it back home.

Salty, salty is the brine;
All’s not as it appears.
The selkie will no more be thine,
But swim amid her tears.

“I’ll hide the skin away from sight,
I’th’ chimney, for safe-keeping.”
And then, amid the windy night,
He heard the seals a-weeping.

He went to where the waves were washing
Cold ‘neath moonlit skies;
He saw a naked woman standing,
Forlorn the dismal cries.

She looked at him with wide, grey eyes;
He took her by the hand.
It seemed the sea was filled with sighs
That echoed o’er the sand.


He led her to his lodgings poor
But naught the woman said,
The water dripped upon the floor;
He took her to his bed.

And when she was softly sleeping
He kissed her pallid cheek,
Then to the chimney went a-creeping
The seal-skin for to seek.

By night he nursed the empty pelt,
By day he put to sea.
That evening, at her side he knelt,
And said, “Make love with me.”


She bore a boy, she bore a girl,
Silent in travail.
The girl had skin as white as pearl;
Her eyes were grey and pale.

The little girl stayed behind
While man and boy went boating,
And child and mother with one mind
Went where the wrack was floating.

Her mother knelt upon the sand
And cried into the sea;
The daughter held her clammy hand
And sat upon her knee.


Six grey seals upon the water,
Six grey seals calling,
Mother hand-in-hand with daughter,
Silent tears a-falling.

That night she saw her father take
The skin from out of hiding.
He knew not she was awake
And in the dark abiding.

When they went fishing in the morn,
Her mother’s tears unending
Fell down from her cheeks forlorn,
O’er the sea a-bending.


And so her daughter rushed outside,
The skin draped o’er her shoulder,
Came to the place where mother cried
And laid it on a boulder.

Her mother touched her pallid face,
She gave her kisses three,
And then she plunged without a trace
Deep into the sea.

Seven seals in the water,
Seven seals a-calling,
And on the shore his grey-eyed daughter,
Silent tears a-falling.

Final chorus:

Salty, salty is the brine;
All’s not as it appears.
Thy daughter will no more be thine,
But swim amid her tears.

Source material: Caledonian folk tale, as told by Judith Reid.

The Undine

‘Twas in the morn that first he saw her,
Slumped amid the reed and sedge;
Her flickering eyelids stopped him short,
Dismounting at the water’s edge.

Her silk gown clung to her swan-like form
Her hair lay damp across her face;
He touched her with his trembling hand,
A woman fair, of matchless grace.

“Water,” breathed her parted lips;
He helped her to the mossy bank.
He put a wineskin to her mouth
And thirstily the woman drank.

One moment then he turned away;
He heard a gentle splash and swirl,
He turned to see the water rippling,
And at his feet there lay a pearl.

Oh I must have you back again
However great the cost may be,
Oh Lady of the waters come
And let me pledge my love to thee!
Oh I would give my very life
For nothing more than this:
To put my arms about your waist
And taste your tender kiss.

And in the evening he returned,
The pearl held in his palm.
A solitary evening star
Reflected in the waters calm.

“Oh, I have brought your pearl,” he said,
Beneath the waning moon.
The woman came up from the water,
Saying, “Nay, it is thy boon.”

“But I desire another thing
More fine than jewels or gold.”
She stepped beside him and her hair
Dripped with beads of water cold.

“Oh what is it that you desire?”
Her languid eyes a limpid blue.
He felt the quavering of his heart
Which overflowed with love anew:


She snatched away her hand from his
And turned away her face,
“Thou wouldst do well to ride away
And leave me in this place.”

“Am I unsuited to thy tastes?
I meant not to offend thee,
But I am yearning for your love,
And nothing less will mend me.”

Slowly then she shook her head
Their lips met in a kiss,
He said, “I’d give my very life
For wine as sweet as this.”

He felt her sweetness in his arms,
The star glowed far above.
Amid the eddies she was gone,
A-whispering, “My love.”


And in the evening he returned,
He sent his horse back home,
He watched it cantering away,
And by the waters did he roam.

“Oh Lady, without you I die!
He stepped into the pond.
And the reflection of the moon
Wavered in the pool beyond.

And naked then but for her pearls,
Once more the sprite drew nigh
She led him through the forest green
The wind was cool and dry.

She took him to a clearing wide,
And mirrored in her eyes
He saw the image of his love
Beneath the gleaming skies.


He felt her soft mouth at his throat,
His hands entwined in hair,
His armour fell about his feet,
He banished fear and care.

Cold her hands upon his shoulders,
But her kiss was rich and warm,
He put his hands upon her waist
And in the moonlight watched her form.

They lay among the soft, thick grass,
Her body smooth and cool,
And about him dripped the waters
Of the Undine’s reedy pool.

As breath and life went out of him,
She held him with a sigh
And the crimson light of dawn
Glowed warmly in the sky.

Oh I must have you back again
However great the cost may be,
Oh let warm winds of summer come
And I shall leave this world for thee!
For I will give my very life
For nothing more than this:
To put my arms about your waist
And taste your tender kiss.

Source material: Short story by Judith Reid, based on a Polish legend.

Assipattle and the Mester Stoorworm

A King there was, a sovereign lord,
Who, all his enemies overawed,
Dispensed justice in the land,
Fair and firm his ruling hand.
He had a daughter, sweet Princess
Gemdelovely. He loved each tress
Of her fair and silken hair,
And on this child he lavished care.

A little lad, Assipattle,
Lived on a farm, and tending cattle,
His brothers laboured all the day.
The boy frittered time away,
Sitting in a heap of ash,
And dreamed of armies, swords that clash,
Trolls and elves and goblins grim:
His parents had despaired of him.

But in the deep, there dwelt a Worm
Who made the ocean froth and churn:
Like glowing furnaces his eyes,
Like howling winds his groans and sighs.
The Mester Stoorworm, so they said,
Liked lovely maidens, live or dead:
He rarely chewed them into pulp;
He liked to gobble ‘em with one gulp.

Among the scribes there was debate:
How long the Worm would be, stretched straight?
With tail in Iceland, would the leech
To Scotland or to Norway reach?
How wide exactly was its girth?
And what price would its skin be worth?
These questions, somewhat hypothetical,
With retrospect were quite prophetical.

For one day, when our noble King
Had ordered for his bards to sing
And celebrate his birthday feast,
This vermiform and vile beast
Put its head up on dry land,
And to be fed made loud demand.
Drool dripped from its toothy grin;
It was impatient to begin.

This noble King’s second wife
Delighted oft in causing strife,
And when the Worm showed its head,
She went before the King and said,
“You cannot bargain, come to terms
With this awful, loathly Worm!
But I know a sorcerer whose advice
Might be helpful, at a price.”

And so the sorcerer, justly feared,
Gaunt and grim with grizzled beard,
Came before the anxious King.
He said, “Alas, there’s but one thing
To make the serpent go away:
Feed it maidens every day
For a month or two, and see if it
Can be persuaded thus to quit!”

Then the King made lamentation,
And made it known throughout the nation
That seven maidens once a day
Would make the serpent go away.
And all the people came along
In a wailing mournful throng
To see the maidens, tied up tightly,
And never was a Worm so sprightly.

But Assipattle, at this sight,
Which made the ladies faint with fright,
Raised his voice above the throng,
And cried, “This is a heinous wrong,
A cowardly, pathetic sin!
Will no-one do the creature in?”
But no one did what he suggested,
And soon the maidens were digested.

And so it went, from week to week:
This horrid, ghastly, gallsome freak
Ate the maidens one by one
And pretty soon they all were gone.
And now the sorcerer looked grave,
“There’s but one thing, your land to save,
Gemdelovely, the Kings’ own daughter
Must be offered in the water!”

Then the King tore out his hair;
He could do naught but groan and stare,
But when the news reached Assipattle,
He girded up his loins for battle,
Mounted on his father’s steed
And blew upon a little reed,
Which made the stallion rear and fly
Until at last the Worm was nigh.

The boy crept into a house,
In dead of night, when not a mouse
Was stirring, and he quickly stole
From off the grate a glowing coal.
And then he hopped into a boat
And quietly he let it float
To where the Worm did gasp and snore.
He steered the boat into its maw.

He clambered o’er its rasping tongue,
Looked down the windpipe to the lung,
Wandered down into its gut,
And behind, the mouth slammed shut.
He felt the pulsing of its veins;
His hands were black with biley stains.
Then holding back a fearful shiver
He thrust the coal into its liver.

The Mester Stoorworm’s grimy guts
Were oilier than a halibut’s,
And soon the liver was on fire.
The Stoorworm’s howling, grim and dire,
Was quite enough to wake the dead.
It groaned a lot and thrashed its head;
The townsfolk gave a happy shout
When it puked brave Assipattle out.

It reared up and glowed beneath,
And one by one fell out its teeth;
They flew along for miles and miles
And landed in the Shetland Isles.
Its tongue cleaved Norway from Denmark
And for a while the moon went dark.
The King said, “Thou hast earned no less
Than Gemdelovely, fair Princess!”

But while the people celebrated
The Queen and sorcerer, ill-fated,
Were hard at it, so they say, in bed,
When the chambermaid poked in her head.
The woman rushed to tell the King
Who hurled away his wedding ring
And said, “That sorcerer’s for the chop!
Fetch my steed and riding crop!”

Then up jumped little Assipattle
And said, “Good King, oh don’t talk prattle!
That horse will never catch the man –
Look here – I have a better plan.”
He took the King’s most fearsome sword
And put on armour like a lord.
He jumped upon his father’s steed
And blew upon a little reed.

And then the stallion reared and flew
While a wild wind raged and blew.
“You little squirt!” the sorcerer cried
But Assipattle merely sighed,
And chopped his head off with one blow;
The blood dripped on the melting snow,
And in the end – now can you guess?
He got to shag the fair princess.

Source material: Scottish fairy-tale. Source unknown, from Scottish Fairy Tales, Senate, 1994, pp. 195-215.

Jenny Greenteeth

Green her limbs and green her hair,
Green her breasts and buttocks bare,
Green the teeth that draw your blood
And spill your entrails in the mud.
Green the waters that bring death
And fill your lungs with your last breath,
For Jenny Greenteeth’s lurking still:
Of humankind she eats her fill.

A fisherman goes out one day
To while the lonely hours away,
And o’er the river casts his line,
Relaxing in the warm sunshine,
And in the water, strands of green
Are floating, plainly to be seen.
And no-one hears his dying groans
As Jenny Greenteeth chews his bones.

A boy comes down with fishing net
To hunt for tadpoles in the wet
Down where the silt and sludge doth breed
Fingers of green water-weed,
When round his ankle something’s clenched,
And pretty soon his clothes are drenched,
And red is mottled with the green:
Old Jenny Greenteeth chews his spleen.

A comely, gentle maiden fair
Walks on the banks, to take the air,
With white parasol, lacy frock:
About her wrist, green fingers lock
And drag her down into the rushes
Where each skull green Jenny crushes.
Into the waters, dark blood drains
While Jenny Greenteeth sucks her brains.

Two lovers, walking side by side,
He whispers, “Wilt thou be my bride?”
They look out o’er the waters still;
About their bodies creeps a chill.
Behind, two green eyes blink and gloat;
Green fingers wrap about each throat.
She drags them both into the river:
There Jenny feasts on human liver.

Source material: Faerie legend from Yorkshire. Brian Froud and Alan Lee, Faeries, London, 1995, cites her, alongside Peg Powler of the River Tees, as an example of a faerie legend developed by parents anxious to keep their children from playing too close to the river.

The Storm

The doors are bolted, shutters locked;
Outside the storm is hurling
Broken branches, salt and spray;
The wind is moaning, whirling.
Pray for the souls of those outside
While the sea churns at high tide,
Engulfed by raging waters wide
And downpours wildly squalling.

And when at dawn the storm dies down
The sails and flags hang tattered,
The driftwood strewn upon the sand
With kelp and sea-skein scattered.
And where the seagulls wheel in flocks,
Beyond the sea-torn, creaking docks,
They find a body on the rocks,
By wind and rain a-battered.

The lips are blue, the tongue is pale,
The fingers clutch the air,
Bruised the skin and splayed the limbs,
And tangled is the hair.
The villagers all gather round,
They bury him on hallowed ground,
They heap the soil in a mound,
Of evil unaware.

And when night falls the storm resumes,
The people lie awake;
Some devilry is in the air;
With terror grown men quake.
A raging wind the canvas whips,
Around the cliffs the water rips
And seizes all the tossing ships,
Their anchor chains to break.

Dawn brings nought but ruin and fear,
Though windless is the day,
But with the dusk the sea breaks in,
Their livestock washed away.
Brine washes underneath their doors,
It cascades over stairs and floors;
The people grovel on all fours:
Unto the gods they pray.

And with the morn they take their shovels,
Trudging in the gloom.
They march past kelp-strewn monument,
Gravestone and ancient tomb,
And one by one, without a sound,
Throw fresh earth from the burial mound,
The soil tossed out o’er the ground,
The body to exhume.

A crowbar ‘neath the casket lid,
A splintering of pine,
The body spilled upon the turf,
Amid the mud and brine,
Lithe and scaly, there it lies,
And horrified their stricken cries:
Luminous and wide the eyes,
Like lanterns in a mine.

Its bony fist held to its mouth,
The finger sucked within:
Two knuckles for two nights interred,
The lips set in a grin.
The teeth gleam in the mouth so wide;
The tongue is glistening inside;
The holy ground unsanctified,
By wages of dark sin.

They drag the body to the shore,
Far from their ruined town,
And bury it in yellow sand,
Away from sacred ground.
That night a silent watch they keep,
But soft the wind and calm the deep;
The merman’s body lies in sleep
Where the breakers pound.

Source material: Folk tale set in Cornwall, adapted by Marianne McGachey.

The Bells of Aberdovey

Gwyddno ruled in Ceredigion,
And there was no more fruitful soil
Than in the flatlands, Cantre’r Gwaelod,
Fertile, and rewarding toil.
It had been thus for generations;
The land was fecund, fine and free
Since men built dykes in Cantre’r Gwaelod
To save it from the raging sea.
But as they mortared stone to stone
They heard a bell’s deep, mournful tone:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw!

A warrior named Prince Seithennin
Owned one watchtower by the sea;
He had his stewards watch the dyke,
But none was lazier than he.
He passed the hours drinking mead,
His stewards at his side,
And cracks grew wider in the dyke
With every flowing tide.
And Gwyddno lay in bed, and heard
A bell toll out these dismal words:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.

Prince Teithrin owned a second tower
Overlooking surf and shore;
He saw the cracks grow in the dyke
And pounded on Seithennin’s door,
But the Prince was roaring drunk
And sent his friend away –
And yet Seithennin would not live
To sore lament the day.
And as Teithrin spurred his steed,
He heard a bell, as he made speed:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.

Prince Elphin, son of King Gwyddno,
Lay sleeping ‘neath a spreading ash;
He trembled as he dreamt a dream,
And quaked to hear the thunder clash.
The thunder faded; Teithrin’s horse
Came galloping, and Elphin cried,
“I dreamt the mermaid Gwenhudiw
Brought down the dyke, and thousands died!
I heard the thunder, like a bell,
Summoning them all to hell:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.”

“Then we must ride and tell our father,”
Teithrin cried, and on they ran
To Gwyddno’s palace, shouting out,
“Defend the dykes now, every man!”
And Gwyddno’s face was gaunt and grave,
“Seithennin must obey,
Else his watchtower, dyke and land
Will all be washed away.
I heard the bell toll, as you said,
Tolling for the drownéd dead:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.

They rode again to find Seithennin
In his castle gaunt and grey,
He said, “My brothers, come inside!
We’ll drink this dismal night away!”
He held a bottle in his hand,
The mighty ocean gave a roar;
The waves came rushing o’er the dyke,
And washed across the castle floor.
His brothers cried, “Canst thou not hear?
The bell is tolling, loud and clear,
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw?”

Seithennin took a long, deep swig,
His castle strewn with kelp and wrack,
He drew his mighty, burnished sword,
Crying, “Knights! Awake! Attack!”
He charged towards the heaving sea
And leapt upon the castle wall;
He cried out, “Cowards! Face the foe!”
And vanished in a whirling squall.
“His sword is useless ‘gainst this foe,
The bell tolls, and the waters flow,
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw!”

Teithrin, Elphin and Gwyddno
Led all they could to higher ground;
They thrust their swords into the earth
To hold them as the wind whirled round,
And beheld, beneath the mournful moon
The sea break through the wall,
And man and beast and field and plough,
The sea devoured them all.
And as the dyke was washed away
They heard the dismal bell tones say:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.

Under the sea, under the sea,
Lies Cantre’r Gwaelod, farm and tree,
Seithennin’s corpse was never found,
His castle sunk, his servants drowned.
Barnacles grow on the floors,
And drifts of seaweed clog the doors.
And where the farmers once drove sheep
Sea urchins crawl and lobsters creep.
Above the sea-swell wheel the gulls,
And fishes hide in human skulls.

Under the sea, under the sea,
Lies Cantre’r Gwaelod, farm and tree
Now Aberdovey’s on the shore;
Plains stretch beyond the town no more,
And of their passing nought is heard
For there’s no man will speak a word
Of that dread day when all was lost
One thing alone bespeaks the cost:
Sometimes a child, collecting shells
May hear the sound of distant bells:
Beware the oppression,
Beware the oppression
Of Gwenhudiw.

Source material: Eirwen Jones, Folk Tales of Wales, London, 1947, pp. 77-86.

The Physicians of Myddfai

Physicians of Myddfai, how came you to learn
Which herbs to gather and which herbs to spurn,
And who taught you all the prescriptions you make?
We learned from our mother who lives in the lake:
Not far from Myddfai, there lies Llyn Y Van;
You might wander miles there, and not see a man,
Rhiwallon lived there with his widowed old mother;
They lived with their sheep, and their lambs, and no other…

His herd grazes softly, high on the hill;
He walks by the water, whittling wood,
All of the scene, it is silent and still,
And the water laps by his left side.

A herd of white oxen heave up from the lake;
Ghostly and gaunt, all the cattle go by;
A beautiful maiden – she makes his heart quake
Walks out from the waters so wide.

He steps out to meet her, she stops and she smiles,
She passes him bread on the palm of her hand,
But the lass disappears, and he searches for miles
Murmuring, “Maiden, I’ll make you my bride!”

Physicians of Myddfai, continue your tale
Of your father Rhiwallon, and the maiden so pale…

He walks by the Llyn and he looks at the moon,
Reflected in waters that ripple and glow;
The maiden arises, his mind’s in a swoon
From her corsetry, cold waters flow.

She holds out more bread, and he eats from her hand,
He says, “I adore thee, and married I’d be!”
The maiden, she smiles, puts her mouth to his ear;
Her lips mouth words languid and slow:

“Marry me well, boy, if marry you will,
For I am immortal, and you but a man,
Two times I’ll warn you, but all will work ill
The third time you strike me a blow.”

Physicians of Myddfai, continue to tell
How your father Rhiwallon came under her spell…

Married they are, the maiden wears white,
And years follow happily, ‘til he forgets,
He pats her bare shoulder, one balmy night;
She recoils in rage and in pain.

They go to a wedding, and how his wife wails,
For the bride and groom’s future is bleak –
He pats her bare arm, and the poor woman rails,
“You must swear not to strike me again!”

They go to a funeral, the faery laughs loud,
For she sees dead souls resting in peace.
He pats her bare hand. Disappearing in cloud,
She is gone, and he seeks her in vain.
Physicians of Myddfai, but how were you born?
You cannot stop thus, with your father forlorn!

Our mother bears babies, three bright young boys,
She leaves us all lying by old Llyn Y Van.
Our father, he finds us, with our faerie toys,
And he wails, “Wife, where art thou now?”

And as we grow older, our mother we seek,
We look for her down by the lake;
“My children! My children!” Her voice like a charm,
Lips perfect, and pallid her brow.

Our mother, she took us to mountainsides steep,
And showed us where all good things grow;
Our mother, she carried us down to the deep:
All cures we work: she showed us how.

Physicians of Myddfai, your wisdom pray tell,
The charms that your mother has taught you so well.

Catch a live frog, then, and pull out its tongue;
Lay it on a man’s heart when snoring is deep
The man must confess when he has done wrong:
He will spell it all out in his sleep.

To look at the wind, take the gall of a cat,
And plaster it over your eyes
After you’ve mixed it with cold chicken fat,
And you see what the rest must surmise.

To pull out a tooth, you must set some live newts
To cook on a fire that burns,
And you’ll pull, without pain, a tooth out by the roots,
With a poultice of beetles from ferns.

Physicians of Myddfai, how came you to learn
Which herbs to gather and which herbs to spurn,
And who taught you all the prescriptions you make?
We learned from our mother who lives in the lake:
Not far from Myddfai, there lies Llyn Y Van;
You might wander miles there, and not see a man,
We live there, these days, with our kind faerie mother;
We live with her oxen, our sheep, and no other…

Source material: Eirwen Jones, Folk Tales of Wales, London, 1947, pp. 114-122. The song combines the tale entitled “The Physicians of Myddfai” with Eirwen Jones’s collection of “Prescriptions of the Physicians of Myddfai”.

The Nuckelavee

Make a dash for running water
Brash young Jack McCall,
The Nuckelavee with have your liver
If you trip and fall.
Make a dash and don’t look back,
The very sight would kill you,
Your only hope, to reach the stream:
Won’t you, Jack, or will you?

Jack McCall had nary a care,
He walked the shoreline unaware,
For no one told him to beware
The dreadful Nuckelavee.

Pretty Maggie, fisherman’s daughter,
He went down to the beach to court her;
The scene was set for a grisly slaughter
By the dreadful Nuckelavee.


Poor Jack McCall, he waited long,
Not suspecting owt was wrong,
And no one heard his lilting song
But the dreadful Nuckelavee.

The waters churned, the monster rose,
Writhing in its wrathful throes,
It snorted brine from out its nose,
The dreadful Nuckelavee.

A human torso, a fiery eye,
Towering against the sky,
And Jack let out a fearful cry:
“It’s the dreadful Nuckelavee!”

A horse’s body, flippered feet;
Poor Jack turned whiter than a sheet,
He ran and shouted, I repeat:
“It’s the dreadful Nuckelavee!”


The monster gave a fetid grin,
Its slimy body had no skin,
The veins pulsated, black as sin
On the dreadful Nuckelavee.

And as Jack ran, it lumbered out
And on the shingle flailed about,
Jack cried, “It’s certain! There’s no doubt!
It’s the dreadful Nuckelavee!”


He ran o’er heath, he ran o’er hill,
He heard the monster coming still,
And slowly closing for the kill,
The dreadful Nuckelavee.

“Running water,” his Granny’d said,
“Will kill the monster stony dead
When it is clamourin’ to be fed,
The dreadful Nuckelavee.”


So quickly Jack made for the brook,
He dare not turn, he dare not look,
It seemed the very granite shook
‘Neath the dreadful Nuckelavee.

At last the water loomed in sight,
Glistening in the moonlit night,
But jaws were gaping, wide the bite
Of the dreadful Nuckelavee.


On and on the lad did dash,
He hit the water with a splash,
But it spilled his entrails with one lash,
Did the dreadful Nuckelavee.

It crunched his bones up on the spot,
Cranium, sternum, ate the lot,
The ground bestrewn with cruor and clot
By the dreadful Nuckelavee.


It spat his feet out on the ground,
(Nought else of Jack was ever found)
And it made an awful belching sound,
Did the dreadful Nuckelavee.

So if you want to court a maid,
Or, mayhap, to just get laid,
Just make sure you’re not waylaid
By the dreadful Nuckelavee.

Source material: Story by Marianne McGachey. The Nuckelavee is described in in Brian Froud and Alan Lee, Faeries, London, 1995.

Owen’s Stone

Is the kingfisher’s pinion still to be seen,
Fleeting, azure, like a jewel in the green?
Does the woodcock still call, does the nightingale sing,
Does the heron stand fishing, the lark take the wing?
Do damselflies hover o’er tremulous reeds,
Does the meadowsweet scatter abroad all her seeds?
Do the slow worm and adder, the green garter snake,
Slide down to the water, to drink from the lake?
Do the faeries still guard it and ride the white swan?
Whither, oh whither are all of them gone?

I rode upon Starlight, my strong silver steed,
To the well of the faeries, fringed with green reeds;
I knelt and I drank, saw reflected the moon;
Exhausted, lay down, slipped into a swoon,
Replaced not the stone which covered the well:
Brothers and sisters, now heed what befell.

The water flowed out as I slept to one side,
The water grew deep and the water grew wide;
The water lapped higher, it crept up the mound,
Watched by the faeries with never a sound,
And when I awoke and I called for Starlight,
I heard her a-whinnying deep in the night.

The water all overflowed, empty the well,
And in the air ringing, a soft elven bell.
“Alas! ‘Tis my fault! I replaced not the stone,
Now all the sweet faeries’ blessings are gone!”
I swam o’er the lake, ‘til I came to the bank;
The phosphorus glowed where my horse stood and drank.

And as I looked out o’er the moonlit expanse,
I stood as one bound in a long, blissful trance,
For tall grew the rushes, and lilies did bloom,
The soft faerie laughter dispelling the gloom,
The swans’ forms reflected, the surface so still;
I knelt in my armour, surrendered my will.

Grown old, I return to Llyn Lech Owain;
My limbs are all weary, my heart seared with pain,
For I am Sir Owen, of King Arthur’s court,
And my dreams of the Grail have all come to nought;
Could I but find my lake, as I saw it before
I should die then content, on her soft, mossy shore.

Source material: Derived from a story in Eirwen Jones, Folk Tales of Wales, London, 1947, pp. 86-88.

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