The Devil and the Farmer’s Wife

Posted by | October 30, 2018's%20Wife-1932-2.jpg

This tale of the shrewish wife who terrifies even the demons is ancient and widespread. The Hindus have it in a sixth century fable collection, the Panchatantra. It seems to have travelled westward by Persia, and to have spread to almost every European country. In early versions, the farmer makes a pact with the Devil and hands over his wife in return for a pair of plough oxen.

The Irish gave the song the title cited here; in England the song was also known as ‘The Farmer’s Curst Wife'(Child ballad 278) and ‘The Devil and the Ploughman.’ The tune is reckoned to have been William of Orange’s marching tune as he came up from Cornwall. Here’s a 1941 version performed by Texas Gladden of Saltville, VA. Alan Lomax recorded her on behalf of the Library of Congress and released a 14 song album of the material.

“I know an old couple that lived near Hell
If they’re not dead, they’re living there still
The Devil, he came to the man at the plough
I’ve come for one of your family now

“Whack full day ful lickety fall the dall day

“Which of my family do you like best
Your scolding old wife, it’s she I like best
Take her away with all of my heart
I hope the two of you never need part

“The Devil, he hoisted her up on his back
No peddler was ever so proud of his pack
He’s carried along till he came to Hell’s wall
She’s out with her boot and she’s flattened it all

“Some Devils came down to put her in a sack
She’s out with her boot and she’s broken their backs
The Devils cried out from up on the wall
Take her home daddy, she’ll murder us all

“He carried her home in a tenth of the time
Take her back farmer, I’m changing my mind
What will you give me for taking her in
I offer no more than the wages of sin

“If you want to be rid of this scolding old hen
You’ll never bedevil my family again
The Devil did cry, the Devil did howl
But he never returned to the man at the plough”

sources: “Sang Branch Settlers: Folksongs and Tales of a Kentucky Mountain Family,” Leonard W. Roberts, Pikeville College Press of the Appalachian Studies Center, 1980

One Response

  • Linda Henders says:

    My grandma used to sing this to us when I was a little girl. We grew up singing a lot of old, old songs. Not sure where they all came from but we really enjoyed them. We were not from the Appalachians we were from the Ozarks. Being born in a log cabin out in the middle of nowhere, I feel an affinity with the Appalachian culture.

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