Annan Water

  1. Tradition

Love & Loss

This ballad was included in the Minstrelsy from the outset, appearing in volume 2 of the 1802 edition. Scott states that the words had never been published before, and notes that “the ballad is given from tradition”. He includes an anecdote in the prefatory notes, which recalls that a bridge was built over the river as a result of the “melancholy catastrophe” which is recounted in the ballad. Another anecdote recounts the drowning of a man in the Solway.Scott presented a slightly different version of the ballad in the 1803 edition, adding the character of a boatman, who refuses to convey the hero over the river, explaining that he had been made to swear the previous evening not to take him over the river. This changes the dynamic of the tale from out and out tragedy to a sense of malice aforethought on behalf of other, unnamed characters.



Annan Water geograph-413240-by-Graham-MaxwellThis ballad is a variant of another ballad, called “Clyde’s Waters”. In versions of that ballad, a mother curses her son, warning him not to travel to his true love. He defies her and is drowned on returning from her bower, where he has been rejected by his true love’s mother, who pretends to be her daughter. In “Clyde’s Waters”, the hero is often dragged off his horse by the force of the water. In “Annan Water”, he takes to the water and attempts to swim, but is drowned.

In “Annan Water”, however, there are no malevolent mothers. The danger lies within the depths of a river in spate. There is a hint of a supernatural intervention in verse 6, when the “water kelpy” is mentioned, but nothing more is made of it. In many versions of “Clyde’s Waters”, however,  the hero makes a pact with the river on his journey to his true-loves, promising that the river can wreck him on his return, as long as he gets a safe passage on his way to the lady’s bower. This suggests that a belief in water deities is presented in some versions of “Clyde’s Waters”. Such pacts do not exist in “Annan Water”.

The inclusion of the boatman and his admission that he has been made to swear not to take the hero across the river, is somewhat reminiscent of the opposing parents in “Clyde’s Waters”, but the identity of the characters who issued the order to the boatman remains unknown.

“Annan Water” functions very much as a traditional ballad. Formulaic language and processes are employed, which are discussed more fully in the interpretative notes for this ballad version.

The text we have presented is from the 1802 edition.


Images attribution:

  © Copyright Graham Maxwell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence




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