Songs are sometimes immortal travellers, and if you follow their tracks, you end up in all kinds of places. Regular readers will know I have a weak spot for folk ballads, and their history and various interpretations are fascinating to track. Bushes and Briars came onto my path from different directions, but I’ll get to that later.
The oldest mentions of the ballad that I could find are from nineteenth century broadsides such as this one.
It’s a classic love ballad, in the sense that it explores some of the troubles and uncertainties of love and relationships. The woman in the song doesn’t trust men, and the last line suggests she’s driven to suicide because of it. Within the context of British ballads as a whole, that is understandable, as many of them are about men preying on (and murdering) women.
In 1904, the song was collected and rearranged by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, and from there on it entered into the repertoire of many choir and solo singers.