March 31, 2015
The shortest ballad we’ve recorded to date, “The Sinful Maiden” is a variant of Child Ballad No. 9, “The Fair Flower of Northumberland.” In the Child ballad, an imprisoned knight convinces a young maiden in Northumberland to help him escape to his home in Scotland. She helps to free him and follows him home, however once they reach his native land he reveals that he is already married with children, and demands that she return home to Northumberland. The maiden pleads, begs to be kept even as a servant, but ultimately returns, pleading with her parents for forgiveness.
Here, the story is almost entirely lost. We have a young girl, still in her “nonage” (a minor), release a prisoner. She then begs for her parents’ forgiveness. Niles notes that in some versions, there is a prodigal son aspect to this portion of the ballad, with the parents welcoming their daughter home joyfully. We are not given that scene here.
The Sinful Maiden (Niles No. 6) – Collected July 5, 1932 from Solomon Holcom in Whitesburg, KY
As she walked by the jailhouse,
She heard a fellow say,
“It’s getting awful lonesome here,
I’d like to get away.”
Then as she was a silly one,
And in her nonage too,
She stole a key and let him out,
A thing she’d often rue.
“Oh Mother, and oh father,
He said I’d be his wife,
He said he’d love and cherish me
As long as I had life.
“But now I’m coming home to you,
And I hope you’ll let me in,
And soon forget the day that I
Committed all this sin.”