Yes, there really is a poem called ‘The Ballad of Chevy Chase’! Too good to be true eh? And, it also clears up some previously inexplicable literary references: when Cathy says to Hareton Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, “”I wish you would repeat Chevy Chase as you did yesterday; it was extremely funny!”, it was not an especially early and extraordinarily prescient accolade for Saturday Night Live. When the serious and sober-minded Anne Finch (whom we met for Nick Clegg) wrote the following it wasn’t because she’d just watched Fletch Lives:
Erato cried, Since Grizel's days, Since Troy Town pleased, and Chevy Chase, No such design was known; (From 'To Mr F., now Earl of Winchilsea')
(The lines don’t really convey much taken out of the poem, where she is talking about how unfashionable it is to admit to actually being in love with your husband!)
‘The Ballad of Chevy Chase’ is one of what is known as the Border Ballads telling of the border conflict between the English and the Scots. It tells the story of a large hunting party upon a parcel of hunting land (or chase) in the Cheviot Hills, hence “Chevy Chase”. The Scottish Earl of Douglas had forbidden this hunt, which was to be led by Percy, the English Earl of Northumberland, and interpreted it as an invasion of Scotland. In response he attacked, causing a battle from which only 110 people survived.
As mentioned in last week’s post on Andrew Marr/Timothy Winters, ballad is a form which has specific characteristics and rules. It often belonged to an oral tradition and was passed down vocally between generations. There is also a second branch of literary ballads, written down by an individual poet. However they share these characteristics, as identified by J.A. Cuddon: a) the beginning is often abrupt; b) the language is simple; c) the story is told through dialogue and action; d) the theme is often tragic (though there are a number of comic ballads); e) there is often a refrain. Also, they usually have a regular rhythm (meter) consisting of a four line stanza (quatrain) containing alternating four-stress and three-stress lines.
Now, see, in my head whenever I think of Chevy Chase (granted not very often) he kinda Scooby Doo wiggly-scene-change morphs into Will Ferrell. Don’t you imagine them both flashing a seventies-suited anchorman ch-ching cheese grin? They look really similar! It’s as though there’s a lab somewhere in the US where there are growing comic actors from the same genetic mould, an alternative GI Joe bunker…the GI Moe…from The Simpsons..er bunker. But it actually turns out that Chevy Chase is the older by about 15 years! Rhyming Couplets would like to say, “I’m sorry Will Ferrell for mistaking you for Chevy Chase, you young buck”.
So in honour of both Chevy Chase and the ballad form Rhyming Couplets has been inspired to write (a very small) ballad adopting the her newly found balladeer persona as “Foxy Turnpike” (no idea where that came from, it just seemed like the female “Chevy Chase”):
THE BALLAD OF FOXY TURNPIKE Beware Foxy Turnpike the swift fall from grace For not knowing your comics by sight, That's no naff comb-over, that's no Chevy Chase, That's Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights.
Hhmmmmm maybe I’ll leave it to the masters of the form!
Warning: This is a long ‘un:
The Ballad of Chevy Chase God prosper long our noble king, Our lives and safeties all! A woeful hunting once there did In Chevy Chase befall. To drive the deer with hound and horn Earl Percy took his way; The child may rue that is unborn The hunting of that day! The stout Earl of Northumberland A vow to God did make, His pleasure in the Scottish woods Three summer's days to take. The chiefest harts in Chevy Chase To kill and bear away. These tidings to Earl Douglas came, In Scotland where he lay: Who sent Earl Percy present word He would prevent his sport. The English Earl, not fearing that, Did to the woods resort, With fifteen hundred bowmen bold, All chosen men of might, Who knew full well in time of need To aim their shafts aright. The gallant greyhounds swiftly ran To chase the fallow deer: On Monday they began to hunt Ere daylight did appear; And long before high noon they had An hundred fat bucks slain: Then having dined, the drivers went To rouse the deer again. Lord Percy to the quarry went To view the slaughter'd deer; Quoth he, Earl Douglas promised This day to meet me here; But if I thought he would not come No longer would I stay With that a brave young gentleman Thus to the Earl did say: Lo, yonder doth Earl Douglas come His men in armour bright - Full twenty hundred Scottish spears All marching in our sight. Show me, said he, whose men you be That hunt so boldly here That, without my consent do chase And kill my fallow deer? The first man that did answer make Was noble Percy, he Who said, We list not to declare Nor show whose men we be. Yet we will spend our dearest blood Thy chiefest harts to slay. Then Douglas swore a solemn oath And thus in rage did say: Ere thus I will out-braved be One of us two shall die! I know thee well, An earl thou art Lord Percy! so am I. Our English archers bent their bows, Their hearts were good and true; At the first flight of arrows sent Full fourscore Scots they slew. At last these two stout Earls did meet Like captains of great might; Like lions wud they laid on load And made a cruel fight. They fought, until they both did sweat, With swords of tempered steel, Until the blood, like drops of rain, They trickling down did feel. O yield thee, Percy! Douglas said, In faith, I will thee bring Where thou shalt high advanced be By James our Scottish king; Thy ransom I will freely give, And this report of thee, Thou art the most courageous knight That ever I did see. No, Douglas; quoth Earl Percy then, Thy proffer I do scorn; I will not yield to any Scot That ever yet was born! With that there came an arrow keen Out of an English bow, Which struck Earl Douglas to the heart, A deep and deadly blow; Who never spake more words than these Fight on, my merry men all! For why? my life is at an end, Lord Percy sees my fall. Then leaving life, Earl Percy took The dead man by the hand; And said, Earl Douglas! For thy life Would I had lost my land! O Christ! my very heart doth bleed With sorrow for thy sake; For sure a more redoubted knight Mischance could never take. A knight among the Scots there was Who saw Earl Douglas die; Who straight in wrath did vow revenge Upon the Lord Percy: Sir Hugh Montgomery was he called, Who, with a spear full bright, Well mounted on a gallant steed, Ran fiercely through the fight; And past the English archers all, Without all dread or fear, And through Earl Percy's body then He thrust his hateful spear. This fight did last from break of day Till setting of the sun; For when they rung the evening bell The battle scarce was done. And the Lord Maxwell in like case Did with Earl Douglas die; Of twenty hundred Scottish spears Scarce fifty-five did fly; Of fifteen hundred Englishmen Went home but fifty-three; The rest were slain in Chevy Chase Under the greenwood tree. Next day did many widows come Their husbands to bewail; They washed their wounds in brinish tears, But all would not prevail. Their bodies bathed in purple gore They bore with tbem away; They kissed their dead a thousand times When they were clad in clay. God save our king, and bless this land With plenty, joy and peace, And grant henceforth that foule debate 'Twixt noblemen may cease!