“Clerk Saunders” (1802) Summary


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Clerk Saunders (1802)


Clerk Saunders and May Margaret are walking sadly in the garden.  When he suggests that they should go to bed together, she demurs and says they should wait until they are married, since she fears that, if they do go to bed, they will be discovered by her seven brothers. She adopts a stratagem so that, if she is questioned by her brothers, she can answer truly that she has not let Clerk Saunders in or even seen him – she employs her love’s sword to lift the latch and wears a blindfold. When the two are lying asleep, her seven brothers come in and look at them. The first brother is prepared to kill Clerk Saunders but the next five brothers speak in his favour. The seventh says nothing but strikes Clerk Saunders with his sword and kills him. May Margaret sleeps on and only discovers her love is dead when she tries to waken him at dawn. May Margaret’s father makes preparations for the burial and tries to comfort his daughter, who says she will never be comforted. The funeral takes place and the dead man appears at May Margaret’s window before dawn and asks her to give him his troth back. She begs him to kiss her but he refuses, saying she will die if he does.  She then demands to know the fate in the afterlife of women who die in childbirth and he tells her they rest in flowers near the Lord.  He says it is urgent that he should leave since the cocks are crowing and she gives him her troth by stroking it on a wand which she passes out to him through the window. He thanks her and departs and she follows behind him until she loses sight of him after reaching a forest. She asks if she can join him in his bed but he says that there is no room for her in his cold, damp grave.