“Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow, or, The Water o Gamrie”


Willie drowns in the (Yarrow). (Details of how and why vary greatly). His lover dreams a dream of woe. She sets out and finds Willie's body, and uses her hair to pull him from the water. In many accounts she (promises to) die for sorrow


Several scholars, among them Norman Cazden, have claimed that this song is the same as Child 214, "The Dowie Dens o Yarrow/The Braes o Yarrow." Certainly there has been exchange of verses. However, I (following Leach), would maintain that there is a difference: "The Dowie Dens" is about opposition to a marriage; "Willie Drowned" is about the loss of a love.

A brief summary of the whole discussion is found in Coffin's notes in Flanders-Ancient3. It's not clear what he believes, except that the two songs are a mess and quite mixed. Which can hardly be denied.

Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_ includes a piece (item CLXIII) titled "The Braes of Yarrow," credited to J. Logan, which is clearly built upon this theme -- but it looks like a literary rewrite. Palgrave's next item (CLXIV), "Willy Drowned in Yarrow," is the real thing, though probably somewhat touched up by his (unnamed) source.

Child lists "Annan Water" as an appendix to this ballad, though it appears to me that, if it's related to any of the Child ballads, it's #216, "The Mother's Malison, or, Clyde's Water." - RBW

Cross references


  • NLScotland, RB.m.143(003), "Braes of Yarrow," Poet's Box (Glasgow), 1870


  1. Child 215, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow, or, The Water o Gamrie" (9 texts)
  2. Bronson 215, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow, or, The Water o Gamrie" (9 versions)
  3. Dixon XII, pp. 66-67, "The Water o' Gamery" (1 text)
  4. Eddy 22, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune, erroneously listed as Child 214) {Bronson's #4}
  5. Leach, pp. 571-572, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow, or, The Water o Gamrie" (1 text)
  6. Friedman, p. 99, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (1 text which is mostly Child 214 but incorporates parts of Child 215)
  7. Ord, pp. 454-455, "Willie's Drowned at Gamerie" (1 text)
  8. Fowke/MacMillan 78, "Willie Drowned in Ero" (1 text, 1 tune)
  9. OBB 93, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow" (1 text)
  10. PBB 62, "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow" (1 text)
  11. DT 215, YARROW2* YARROW3*
  12. ADDITIONAL: Walter de la Mare, _Come Hither_, revised edition, 1928; notes to #425, "But think na' ye my heart was sair///?" (1 text)
  13. Roud #206
  14. BI, C215


Alternate titles: “Willie's Rare”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1733
Found in: Britain(England,Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(MW) Canada Ireland