June 1, 2015
“Tiranti, My Love,” a version of Child’s “Lord Randall,” has very old origins throughout Europe, with the oldest known variant being “L’avvelenato” (“The Poisoned Man”), which dates back to 1629 in Verona, Italy.
In the song, a son tells his mother that he has been poisoned by his lover. In most variants, it is through eating a reptile.
There are many references to it in pop culture. Bob Dylan used it as inspiration in “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” incorporating the lyrics into the opening lines of each verse. Lines from the ballad have worked their way into Sallinger and Steinbeck and Sayers. It is sometimes performed in a humorous tone (Pete Seeger’s “Henry, My Son” is a great example and the recording below is a marvelous testament to Seeger’s delivery of song and story), perhaps because the novelty of eating ‘eels’ is too foreign a concept to find particularly threatening. Indeed, Niles mentioned that Mrs. Molly Ratliff, from whom he heard “Tiranti,” “made the entire performance a little bit funny” (Ballad Book, 62). Niles, however, in his recording of the variant “Jimmy Randall” elects for a straightforward and somber performance.
Tiranti, My Love (Niles No. 9) – Collected May 15, 1934 from Mrs. Molly Ratliff in Madison County, KY
“Oh, where have you been, Tiranti, my love,
And why are you home so soon?”
“It’s I’ve been a-courting, oh Mother dear,
And I’m dying to lie down.”
“What did you eat, Tiranti, my love,
What did you eat, my son?”
“Some pizened eels, oh Mother dear,
But I ate only one.”
“One eel is enough, my little son,
Yes, one will surely do.
But two would be too many eels
For one bonny boy like you.”
“Oh what will you give the great lady
Who was to you untrue?”
“A strong piece of rope for hanging, for hanging,
And that will hardly do.”