Three Skips on the Floor

(c) Glasgow Museums; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sketch of a Doorway with a Water Barrel by William Dyce

As a child, I pored over A Golden Treasury of Poetry: Selected and with a commentary by Louis Untermeyer and illustrated by Joan Walsh Anglund. It is still one of my favourite poetry anthologies and sits on my bedside table. For Valentine’s day, here’s one I learnt by heart from it: a not-so-serious ballad (originally Scottish I believe) about a long standing marriage and the tussles between one goodman and his wife. I always rejoiced in and empathised with the goodwife’s three skips- obviously a stubborn little thing myself even then!

Get up and Bar the Door

It fell about the Martinmas time,
	 And a gay time it was then,
	 When our goodwife got puddings to make,
	 And she’s boiled them in the pan.
The wind so cold blew south and north,
	 And blew into the floor;
	 Quoth our goodman to our goodwife,
	 "Get up and bar the door."
"My hand is in my household work,
	 Goodman, as ye may see;
	 And it will not be barred for a hundred years,
	 If it’s to be barred by me."
They made a pact between them both,
	 They made it firm and sure,
	 That whosoe'er should speak the first,
	 Should rise and bar the door.
Then by there came two gentlemen,
	 At twelve o'clock at night,
	 And they could see neither house nor hall,
	 Nor coal nor candlelight.
"Now whether is this a rich man’s house,
	 Or whether is it a poor?"
	 But never a word would one of them speak,
	 For barring of the door.
And first they ate the white puddings,
	 And then they ate the black;
	 Tho' much the goodwife thought to herself,
	 Yet never a word she spake.
Then said one stranger to the other,
	 "Here, man, tak ye my knife;
	 Do ye take off the old man’s beard,
	 And I’ll kiss the goodwife."
"There’s no hot water to scrape it off,
	 And what shall we do then?"
	 "Then why not use the pudding broth,
	 That boils into the pan?"
O up then started our goodman,
	 An angry man was he;
	 "Will ye kiss my wife before my eyes!
	 And with pudding-broth scold me?"
Then up and started our goodwife,
	 Gave three skips on the floor:
	 "Goodman, you’ve spoken the very first word,
	 Get up and bar the door.
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