“Wicked Polly”


Polly lives a frolicsome life, saying, "I'll turn to God when I grow old." Suddenly taken ill, she realizes "'Alas, alas! my days are spent; It is too late for to repent.'" She dies in agony and is presumably sent to hell; young people are advised to heed


The girl's name in this version [Cohen/Seeger/Wood] is not Polly but Mary. -PJS

In Songs the Whalemen Sang, pp. 306-308, Huntington prints a piece called "Terrible Polly." Neither he nor I can decide if it's an adaption of this song or not, so I decided to list it here in these notes.

Barry wrote a study of this piece and "Death is a Melancholy Call," treating them as variants (male and female, presumably) of the same piece. The moral is of course the same, and they use the same metrical form -- but I can't see any actual dependence in the lyrics. - RBW

Cross references


  • New Lost City Ramblers, "I'll Tell You What I Saw Last Night" (on NLCR05)


  1. Laws H6, "Wicked Polly"
  2. Belden, pp. 460-464, "The Wicked Girl" (3 texts plus a fragment possibly of this ballad)
  3. Randolph 596, "Wicked Polly" (5 texts, 2 tunes)
  4. Randolph/Cohen, pp. 416-417, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune -- Randolph's 596A)
  5. Eddy 140, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  6. Flanders/Olney, pp. 21-23, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  7. JHCox 136, "Wicked Polly" (1 text)
  8. BrownIII 62, "The Wicked Girl" (3 texts plus mention of 1 more)
  9. Chappell-FSRA 115, "Sold In Hell" (1 text)
  10. Shellans, p. 95, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. Brewster 66, "Wicked Polly" (1 text)
  12. Lomax-ABFS, pp. 569-570, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  13. Lomax-FSNA 35, "Wicked Polly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  14. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, p. 86, "I'll Tell You What I Saw Last Night" (1 text, 1 tune)
  15. LPound-ABS, 47, pp. 111-112, "Wicked Polly"; pp. 113-114, "Wicked Polly" (2 texts)
  17. ADDITIONAL: Fred W. Allsopp, Folklore of Romantic Arkansas, Volume II (1931), p. 160 (1 fragment, no title)
  18. Roud #505
  19. BI, LH06


Alternate titles: “The Unfortunate Girl”; “Awful, Oh, How Awful”; “Young People Hark”; “A Sad Parting”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1925 (Brown)
Found in: US(Ap,MW,SE,So)