The Riddle Song (yesterday's blog item), it seems, was not the only old English folk riddle ballad. Under the rubric "Riddles Wisely Expounded" were many others (English and Scottish), all with a number of variations. Wikisource has a compilation by Francis James Child:
From the riddle numbered Child's Ballad/1, I like this version below best:
There was a lady in the West,
Refrain:Lay the bank with the bonny broom
She had three daughters of the best.
Refrain:Fa lang the dillo
Fa lang the dillo dillo dee
There came a stranger to the gate,
And he three days and nights did wait.
The eldest daughter did ope the door,
The second set him on the floor.
The third daughter she brought a chair,
And placed it that he might sit there.
"Now answer me these questions three,
Or you shall surely go with me.
"Now answer me these questions six,
Or you shall surely be Old Nick's.
"Now answer me these questions nine,
Or youe shall surely all be mine.
"What is greener than the grass?
What is smoother than crystal glass?
"What is louder than a horn?
What is sharper than a thorn?
"What is brighter than the light?
What is darker than the night?
"What is keener than an axe?
What is softer than melting wax?
"What is rounder than a ring?"
"To you we thus our answers bring.
"Envy is greener than the grass,
Flattery smoother than crystal glass.
"Rumour is louder than a horn,
Hunger is sharper than a thorn.
"Truth is brighter than the light,
Falsehood is darker than the night.
"Revenge is keener than an axe,
Love is softer than melting wax.
"The world is rounder than a ring,
To you we thus our answers bring.
"Thus you have our answers nine,
And we never shall be thine."
From Child's Ballad/2, I like this one (from Scottish lore: an elf threatens to abduct a maiden to be his lover unless she can perform an impossible task):
"CAN you make me a cambrick shirt,
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam or needle work?
And you shall be a true lover of mine
"Can you wash it in yonder well,
Where never sprung water nor rain ever fell?
"Can you dry it on yonder thorn,
Which never bore blossom since Adam was born?
"Now you have askd me questions three,
I hope you'll answer as many for me.
"Can you find me an acre of land
Between the salt water and the sea sand?
"Can you plow it with a ram's horn,
And sow it all over with one pepper corn?
"Can you reap it with a sickle of leather,
And bind it up with a peacock's feather?
"When you have done, and finishd your work,
Then come to me for your cambrick shirt."
Ah so... that was how Simon and Garfunkel got their inspiration for their song "Scarborough Fair/Canticle"! Here it is...
Finally, listen to the mind-blowing version by Hayley Westenra (Celtic Woman concert):