“Black Phyllis”


"And then came black Phyllis, his charger astride, And took away Annie, his unwilling bride..." The singer sits in the storm and wishes his love Annie would be returned to him. Someone eventually kills Phyllis, but Annie is dead by then

Supplemental text

Black Phyllis
  Complete text(s)

          *** A ***

From J. H. Cox, Folk-Songs of the South, #43, p. 215

Supplied by Florence Crane; collected by 1916. Reportedly
sung by Miss Crane's mother, who learned it circa 1875
is Sisterville, Tyrone County.

1 And then came black Phyllis, his charger astride,
  And took away Annie, his unwilling bride.
  It rained, it hailed, and I sat and cried,
  And wished that my Annie that day had then died.

2 I sat all alone, sad and forlorn,
  And waited the coming of that Sunday morn.
  It rained, it hailed, and I in the storm,
  Ten thousand around me had never been born.

3 And then came her true-love from over the oor,
  And left them a-cursing his cross on the door.
  It rained, it hailed, I waited no more;
  I knew that my Annie he soon would restore.

  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

4 He fell on Black Phyllis with wild lion's roar;
  They fought and they struggled for hour after hour.
  It rained, it hailed, though wounded and sore,
  He left Phyllis a-dead on the moor.

5 Then swift as a bird to his true-love he fled,
  Found the cabin in ashes, the ground all a-red.
  It rained, it hailed, though swift he had sped,
  He found he was too late; his Annie was dead.


Cox's text is only a fragment, unfortunately, of what looks to have once been an excellent ballad, probably of British origin. Indeed, it almost looks like a narrative poem; the lyrical devices are complex.

I wonders, though, if "Phyllis" is not in fact "Syphilis." This would fit in with the mysterious feeling of the song -- and would also explain the connections with "Nottamun Town," which also seems to be the result of plague and hallucination.

Seeking for relatives has been an unrewarding process. The closest I've found is in Kinloch's _Ballad Book_ (item #XXII, no title, a fragment of two stanzas) has a piece in the same meter, with equally mysterious lines ("First there cam whipmen, and that not a few, And there cam bonnetmen following the pleugh"), but I don't have any reason except the metre and mystery to link them. - RBW

Cross references


  1. JHCox 43, "Black Phyllis" (1 text)
  2. ST JHCox043 (Full)
  3. Roud #3628
  4. BI, JHCox043


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1916
Found in: US(Ap)