The Unquiet Grave

"The Unquiet Grave" is an English folk song in which a young man mourns his dead love too hard and prevents her from obtaining peace. It is thought to date from 1400 and was collected in 1868 by Francis James Child, as Child Ballad number 78.[1] One of the more common tunes used for the ballad is the same as that used for the English ballad "Dives and Lazarus" and the Irish pub favorite "Star of the County Down".


A man mourns his true love for "a twelve month and a day". At the end of that time, the dead woman complains that his weeping is keeping away her from peaceful rest. He begs a kiss. She tells him it would kill him. When he persists, wanting to join her in death, she explains that once they were both dead their hearts would simply decay, and that he should enjoy life while he has it.


The version noted by Cecil Sharp[2] ends with "When will we meet again? / When the autumn leaves that fall from the trees / Are green and spring up again."

Many verses in this ballad have parallels in other ballads: Bonny Bee Hom, Sweet William's Ghost and some variants of The Twa Brothers.[3]

The motif that excessive grief can disturb the dead is found also in German and Scandinavian ballads, as well as Greek and Roman traditions.[4]

Ween plays a version featuring a woman weeping for a dead man, on their 1997 album The Mollusk entitled "Cold Blows the Wind". The liner notes of the album misattributes the song as a traditional Chinese spiritual.


  • The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams wrote several arrangements for "How Cold the Wind doth Blow (or The Unquiet Grave)". The best known, from 1912, is for piano, violin and voice. It was recorded in 1976 by Sir Philip Ledger, Hugh Bean and Robert Tear. [1] It also appears on the 1989 recording Songs of Britten and Vaughan Williams by Canadian baritone Kevin McMillan. [2]
  • Kate Rusby, Rebsie Fairholm, Carol Noonan, Joan Baez, The Dubliners, Solas, Barbara Dickson, Shirley Collins, Circulus, David Pajo, Fire + Ice and Sarah Calderwood have recorded versions of this song.
  • A single-movement viola concerto by Australian composer Andrew Ford used the melody of the ballad as its foundation. Written in 1997, the concerto is pieced together from melodic fragments of the ballad and it is only in the final few minutes that the full theme emerges.
  • The Pennsylvania-based alternative rock band, Ween, recorded a version of the song (retitled "Cold Blows the Wind") on their 1997 album, The Mollusk.
  • The gothic/darkwave band Faith and the Muse recorded a version on their debut Elyria in 1994.
  • It was recorded and released as a duet between Ian Read (musician) and Ysanne Spevack in 2000, distributed by Tesco in Germany, and pressed up on blue vinyl with a letterpress gatefold cover under the band name Fire + Ice. [5]
  • The folk-rock group Steeleye Span recorded a version on their 2009 album Cogs, Wheels and Lovers.
  • Electro noir artist Alien Skin, formerly with Real Life (of '80s "Send Me An Angel" fame), recorded his version on the 2010 album The Unquiet Grave.
  • Orcadian singer Kris Drever recorded a version of this song to music of his own on Lau's album Lightweights and Gentlemen in 2009.
  • The eleven-piece folk band Bellowhead recorded a cover of Ween's version ("Cold Blows the Wind") for their album, Hedonism in 2010.
  • Electronic arrangement by Vladislav Korolev, sung by Lori Joachim Fredrics and premiered on April 13, 2013
  • The German electronica/darkwave band Helium Vola included a rendition on their 2013 album, Wohin?.
  • British folk singer/songwriter Elliott Morris included an arrangement of "Unquiet Grave" on his 2013 EP, Shadows and Whispers.
  • British medieval folk-rock band Gryphon recorded their interpretation of the ballad using the Dives and Lazarus melody on their 1973 debut album Gryphon
  • English progressive rock musician Steven Wilson recorded an arrangement of the song. It was the B-Side to "Cover version IV", one of a series of six singles, each consisting of a cover of a song written by another artist as the A-side, with the B-sides consisting of original songs (with the exception of "The Unquiet Grave"). The six cover versions and corresponding B-sides were released together on a compilation album, Cover Version, in 2014.
  • Part of the song was performed by Helen McCrory in the Penny Dreadful episode "Fresh Hell", and again by Sarah Greene in "And They Were Enemies".
  • The Ghosts Of Johnson City recorded a version of the song for their 2015 album Am I Born To Die?
  • Daoirí Farrell recorded a version of the song on his 2016 album "True Born Irishman"
  • Joan Baez sings it on 3 albums


  1. ^ Francis James Child, Scottish and English Popular Ballads, "The Unquiet Grave"
  2. ^ Cecil J. Sharp (Ed) (1975) One Hundred English Folksongs (For Medium Voice), Dover, ISBN 0-486-23192-5
  3. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 234, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  4. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 2, p 234-6, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  5. ^

External links

Cover Version

Cover Version is a compilation album released in 2014 by British musician and record producer Steven Wilson. The album compiles the 12 songs originally released as six "2 song" singles. Every release was made up of one original song and one cover song that involved new interpretations of other artist's songs in ways much different from their original versions. The only exception to this format is in "The Unquiet Grave" which is actually an old English folk song, and not an original song written by Wilson.

Dives and Lazarus (ballad)

Dives and Lazarus is Child ballad 56, and a Christmas carol. Francis James Child collected two variants, in The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. It is based on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (also called "Dives and Lazarus" and found in Luke 16:19-16:31), but the story contains some miraculous elements, and has its emphasis slightly changed from the more traditionally Jewish to a more popularly Western Christian view of the afterlife.

As in other popular renderings of the parable, Dives (Latin for rich or splendid) was considered as a proper name, and the name even was changed to Diverus in variant B.

Elyria (album)

Elyria is the debut studio album by rock band Faith and the Muse.

Ghosts in English-speaking cultures

There is widespread belief in ghosts in English-speaking cultures, where ghosts are manifestations of the spirits of the dead. The beliefs may date back to animism or ancestor worship before Christianization. The concept is a perennial theme in the literature and arts of English-speaking countries.

Glasgow Peggie

Glasgow Peggie or Glasgow Peggy is Child ballad 228, existing in several variants.

Hobie Noble

Hobie Noble is Child ballad 189 and a border ballad.

Jellon Grame

Jellon Grame is Child ballad number 90 and a murder ballad.

Journal of a Sad Hermaphrodite

Journal of a Sad Hermaphrodite is a book written - and, some would say, compiled - by the English writer Michael de Larrabeiti and published in the United Kingdom by Aidan Ellis in 1992 (ISBN 0-85628-200-6). It is currently out of print, but is due to be republished in quarter 4 2006/quarter 1 2007 by Tallis House.

Supposedly reproduced from a manuscript constructed by Cooper, a teacher of English Literature in a secondary school in a small Oxfordshire town, the Journal includes clippings from Cooper's commonplace book, clippings from the diary of one of Cooper's students (who is not named) and excerpts of poetry and other well-known texts. The Journal is perhaps influenced by Cyril Connolly's The Unquiet Grave in this respect, although it modifies Connolly's use of the "commonplace book" technique - itself perhaps borrowed by Connolly from George Gissing's The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft - to produce a more traditional narrative.

This Journal narrates the final school year of the student whose diary is included in the text, and reflects on various themes, many of which are to do with individual morality: how, and why, one makes the choices one does and lives the life one lives. The overarching theme of the text, which connects the narratives of Cooper and his student - who together make up the "Hermaphrodite" of the title, is perhaps that of writing: how to write, why to write, and what to write. This theme could be seen to be a further influence from Cyril Connolly, who considers his own failure to produce a major work of literature in Enemies of Promise.

Lady Alice

Lady Alice is Child ballad 85. It may be a fragment of a longer ballad that has not been preserved.

Now (The Dubliners album)

Now is a studio album by The Dubliners released in 1975. Following the departure of both Ciarán Bourke and Ronnie Drew in 1974, singer/guitarist Jim McCann joined Barney McKenna, Luke Kelly and John Sheahan as a member of The Dubliners to record this album, which Sheahan himself produced. The slight shift in personnel produced a more mellow sound. Arguably, McCann's greatest contribution to the album is the ballad "Carrickfergus", which became one of his most popular and requested songs. It also features a wonderful rendition of the English ballad, "The Unquiet Grave", performed by Luke Kelly.

Proud Lady Margaret

"Proud Lady Margaret" is Child ballad 47, existing in several variants.


A quatrain is a type of stanza, or a complete poem, consisting of four lines.

Existing in a variety of forms, the quatrain appears in poems from the poetic traditions of various ancient civilizations including Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and China, and continues into the 21st century, where it is seen in works published in many languages. During Europe's Dark Ages, in the Middle East and especially Iran, polymath poets such as Omar Khayyam continued to popularize this form of poetry, also known as Ruba'i, well beyond their borders and time. Michel de Nostredame (Nostradamus) used the quatrain form to deliver his famous prophecies in the 16th century.

There are fifteen possible rhyme schemes, but the most traditional and common are: AAAA, ABAB, and ABBA.

Sweet William's Ghost

Sweet William's Ghost (Child 77, Roud 50) is an English Ballad and folk song which exists in many lyrical variations and musical arrangements. Early known printings of the song include Allan Ramsay's The Tea-Table Miscellany in 1740 and Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry in 1765. Percy believed that the last two stanzas of the version he published were later additions, but that the details of the story they recounted (specifically the death of Margaret upon William's grave) were original.

The song is Aarne-Thompson type 365.

The False Lover Won Back

The False Lover Won Back is Child ballad 218.

The Power of the True Love Knot

The Power of the True Love Knot is an album by Shirley Collins.

The theme of this collection of songs is "the idea of true love as a power outside society's control", as Shirley writes on the liner notes. If the first track sounds slightly like "Eleanor Rigby", this is because Bram Taylor plays cello on both of them. Two other guests are Mike Heron and Robin Williamson from The Incredible String Band. The relationship bore fruit on Shirley's next album. Anthems in Eden (1969) contains "God Dog", a song written by Robin Williamson.

The title of this album comes from the song "Lady Margaret and Sweet William". On this song, Shirley accompanies herself on 5-string dulcimer, adapted to have a banjo neck, an instrument she only ever used on this album. Three of the songs on this collection had previously been recorded on False True Lovers (1960) - "Just as the Tide Was Flowing", "Richie Story" and "The Unquiet Grave". Dolly Collins puts her stamp on "Richie Story" in her pipe organ accompaniment, a stately march as the couple in the song progress through the street to church to marry.

In 1964, Shirley had recorded Folk Roots, New Routes, which introduced eastern rhythms to English folk song. On this album, there is a vaguely Indian flavour to "Seven Yellow Gipsies" with Robin Williamson's complicated clapping, and his chanter playing on the song "The Maydens Came".

The Twa Brothers

"The Twa Brothers" is Child ballad 49, Roud 38. existing in many variants.

The Unquiet Grave (anthology)

The Unquiet Grave is an anthology of fantasy and horror stories edited by American writer August Derleth. It was first published by Four Square Books in 1964. The anthology contains 15 stories from Derleth's earlier anthology The Sleeping and the Dead. Many of the stories had originally appeared in the magazines Weird Tales, Esquire and Black Mask.

The Unquiet Grave (book)

The Unquiet Grave is a literary work by Cyril Connolly written in 1944 under the pseudonym Palinurus. It comprises a collection of aphorisms, quotes, nostalgic musings and mental explorations.

Palinurus was the pilot of Aeneas's ship in the Aeneid who fell overboard as an act of atonement to the angry gods, and whose spirit wandered in the underworld. Connolly uses the theme to explore his feelings and review his situation as he approaches the age of forty presenting a very pessimistic and self-deprecating account. Into this he brings quotes from some of his favourite authors: Pascal, De Quincey, Chamfort and Flaubert as well as snatches from the Buddha, Chinese philosophy and Freud.

The book's title is taken from an English folk song of the same name:

The twelvemonth and a day being up,

The dead began to speak:

'Oh who sits weeping on my grave,

And will not let me sleep?'The book is in four parts entitled Ecce Gubernator ("Here is the pilot"), Te Palinure Petens ("Looking for you, Palinurus") and La Clé des Chants ("The key of songs") and Who was Palinurus. The first two contain similar sets of musing, while the third contains more recollections with veiled references to Connolly's life in France. The last gives an account of Palinurus's history.

The Wife of Usher's Well

"The Wife of Usher's Well" is a traditional ballad, catalogued as Child Ballad 79; it is originally from Britain but is also popular in North America. No complete original version has survived, but the song has been 'remade' in America in a cohesive form.

The ballad concerns a woman from Usher's Well, who sends her three sons away, to school in some versions, and a few weeks after learns that they had died. The woman grieves bitterly for the loss of her children, cursing the winds and sea.

"I wish the wind may never cease,

Nor fashes in the flood,

Till my three sons come home to me,

In earthly flesh and blood."The song implicitly draws on an old belief that one should mourn a death for a year and a day, for any longer may cause the dead to return; it has this in common with the ballad "The Unquiet Grave". When, around Martinmas, the children return to their mother they do so as revenants, not, as she hoped, "in earthly flesh and blood", and it is a bleak affair. They wear hats made of birch, which is said to protect the dead from the influences of the living, from a tree that grows at the gates of Paradise. The mother expects a joyous reunion, in some versions preparing a celebratory feast for them, which, as subjects of Death, they are unable to eat. They consistently remind her that they are no longer living; they are unable to sleep as well and must depart at the break of day.

"The cock doth craw, the day doth daw,

The channerin worm doth chide;

Gin we be mist out o our place,

A sair pain we maun bide."The most popular versions in America have a different tone and an overtly religious nature. They return at Christmas rather than Martinmas, and happily return to their Savior at the end. Indeed, Jesus may speak to the Wife at the end, telling her she had nine days to repent; she dies at that time and is taken to heaven.

The ballad has much in common with some variants of "The Clerk's Twa Sons O Owsenford". The Christmas appearance has been cited to explain why, in that ballad, the two sons are executed, but their father tells their mother they will return at Christmas; the father may mean they will return as ghosts.

A version of the ballad by folk-rock pioneers Steeleye Span can be heard on their 1975 album All Around My Hat.

Andreas Scholl performs the song on the album Wayfaring Stranger: Folksongs (2001), and Karine Polwart on her album Fairest Floo'er (2007). Versions appear on the Bellowhead album Broadside and on the Runa album Current Affairs.

The Child Ballads

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