“The Dowie Dens o Yarrow”


Many men feel that a woman (their sister?) should be separated from her lover/husband. They set out in a band to kill the lover. He manages to kill or wound most of them, but one of them kills him from behind. In many texts the lady dies of sorrow


Several scholars, among them Norman Cazden, have claimed that this song is the same as Child 215, "Rare Willie Drowned in 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. - RBW

Cross references

  • cf. "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow" [Child 215]


  • NLScotland, RB.m.143(120), "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow," unknown, c. 1890 [scan largely illegible but probably this piece]


  • Liam Clancy, "Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on IRLClancy01)
  • Ewan MacColl, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on Lomax43, LomaxCD1743) {Bronson's #33}
  • John MacDonald, "The Dewie Dens of Yarrow" (on Voice03)
  • Willie Scott, "The Dowie Dens O' Yarrow" (on Voice17)
  • Davie [Davy] Stewart, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (on FSB5, FSBBAL2) {Bronson's #24}


  1. Child 214, "The Braes o Yarrow" (18 texts)
  2. Bronson 214, "The Braes o Yarrow" (42 versions+2 in addenda)
  3. Dixon XIII, pp. 68-70, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (1 text)
  4. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 291-293, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 short text plus a fragment, 1 tune; the "A" text is a composite lost love song with single stanzas from "The Braes o Yarrow," "The Curragh of Kildare," and others beyond identification; as a whole it cannot be considered a version of Child #214) {Bronson's #37}
  5. Flanders/Olney, pp. 235-237, "The Dewy Dens of Darrow" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #42}
  6. Flanders-Ancient3, pp. 255-259, "The Braes of Yarrow" (2 texts, 2 tunes) {A=Bronson's #42}
  7. Leach, pp. 568-571, "The Braes o Yarrow" (1 text, with a Scandinavian text for comparison)
  8. Friedman, p. 99, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (1 text which incorporates most verses of "Rare Willie Drowned in Yarrow")
  9. OBB 150, "The Dowie Houms of Yarrow" (1 text)
  10. FSCatskills 45, "The Dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. JHCox 24, "The Braes o Yarrow" (1 text, which Cox lists here though it is so worn down that it might as well be considered a lyric piece; the plot is entirely gone, compare the Hamilton text in Percy)
  12. Ord, pp. 426-429, "The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
  13. MacSeegTrav 17, "The Braes o' Yarrow" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
  14. Karpeles-Newfoundland 19, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. Fowke/MacMillan 77, "The Dewy Dells of Yarrow" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. TBB 10, "The Braes O' Yarrow" (1 text)
  17. Niles 54, "The Braes o Yarrow" (3 texts, 3 tunes)
  18. Darling-NAS, pp. 54-55, "The Dewy Dens of Yarrow" (1 text)
  19. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 115-116, "The Dowie Houms o Yarrow" (1 text)
  20. Silber-FSWB, p. 179, "The Dowie Dens of Yarrow" (1 text)
  21. cf. Percy/Wheatley II, pp. 362-367, "The Braes of Yarrow" (1 text, said to be William Hamilton's adaption of this song)
  22. DT 214, YARROW1*
  23. Roud #13
  24. BI, C214


Alternate titles: “The Lady and the Shepherd”; “The Dreary Dream”; “In the Lonely Glens of Yarrow”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1768 (Percy collection)
Found in: Britain(Scotland(Aber,Bord,High)) US(MA,NE,SE) Canada(Newf)