Silver Dagger

Traditional | Roud 22621, Laws G21, Ballad Index LG21


Don’t sing love songs, you’ll wake my mother
She’s sleeping here, right by my side
In her right hand is a silver dagger
She says that I can’t be your bride

All men are false says my mother
They’ll tell you sweet, sweet loving lies
And the very next evening, they’ll court another
And leave you there to weep and sigh

My daddy is a handsome devil
He’s got a chain five miles long
And on each link, a heart does dangle
Of another maid he’s loved and wronged

So go and court another maiden
And hope that she will be your wife
I’ve been forewarned and I’ve decided
To sleep alone all of my life

Lryics Published in The Gazette of the Union, Golden Rule and Odd-Fellows' Family Companion, Vol. XI (1849)


Young men and maidens, pray lend attention,
To these few lines I am about to write;
It is as true as ever was mentioned,
Concerning a fair beauty bright.

A young man courted her to be his darling;
He loved her as he loved his life,
And oftentimes to her he vowed
That he would make her is lawful wife.

But when his father came to know it,
He strove to part them night and day;
To part him from his own dear jewel–
She is poor, she is poor, he did oft-times say

Then on his bended knees he bowed,
Saying father, father, pity me,
For I to her my love have showed–
What would this world be, without her, to me?

Now when this lady came to hear this,
She quickly resolved what she would do;
She wandered forth and left the city,
No more the pleasant groves to view.

She wandered down by a flowing river,
And there for death she did prepare;
Saying, here I’ll end my youthful morning,
For I am sunk in deep despair.

Then out she pulled her Silver Dagger,
And pierced it through her snow white breast;
At first she reeled, and then she staggered,
Saying, oh! my dear, I m going to rest.

Then he being near her in a thicket,
He thought he heard his true love’s voice;
He ran, he ran, like one distracted,
Saying, oh! my dear, I fear you’re lost.

Then up he picked the bleeding body,
And rolled it over in his arms;
Is there no friend nor gold can save you,
Or must you die with all your charms?

Her coal black eyes like stars she opened,
Saying, oh! my dear, you have come too late,
But prepare to meet me in Mount Zion,
Where all our joys will be complete.

Then up he picked the bloody weapon,
And pierced it through his own dear heart–
Saying, let this be a woful warning
To all that does true lovers part.

Source (Google Books)

Lryics Published in American Ballads and Songs (1922)

Two versions published in Louise Pound’s 1922 collection, American Songs and Ballads.

A. “Silver Dagger”

Come all young men, please lend attention
To these few words I’m going to write
They are as true as ever were written
Concerning a lady fair and bright.

A young man courted a fair young maiden;
He loved her as he loved his life
And always vowed that he would make her
His own true and wedded wife.

But when his parents came to know this
They tried to part them day and night.
Saying, “Son, O son, don’t you be so foolish—
That girl’s too poor for to be your wife.”

This young man fell down on his knees a-pleading,
“O father, mother, pity me
Don’t take from me my dearest darling
For she is all the world to me”

But when the young lady came to know this
She soon resolved what she would do.
She wandered forth and from the city
Never more her charms to view

She wandered down by a bright flowing river,
And sat herself beneath a tree
She sighed and said, “O will I ever
Will I e’er more my true love see?”

Then up she picked her silver dagger
And pressed it through her snowy white breast
She first did reel and then did stagger,
Saying, “My true love, you come too late”

This young man being by the roadside heard her
He thought he knew his true love’s voice
He ran, he ran, like one distracted
Saying, “My true love, I fear you’re lost”

He ran up to this dying body
Rolled it over into his arms
Saying, “Neither gold nor friends can save you
For you are dying in my arms.”

Her two pretty eyes like stars she opened
Saying, “My true love, you come too late
Prepare to meet me on Mount Zion
Where all lover’s joys shall be complete”

Then up he picked this bloody dagger
Pressed it through his aching heart
And now, dear friends, may this be a warning
To all who try to part true love


B. “Silver Dagger”

Come sit you down and give attention
Of these few lines I am going to write.
‘Tis of a comely youth whose name I’ll mention
Who lately courted a beauteous bride

But when her parents came to know it
They strove, they strove, by night and day
To keep her from her own dear William
“He is poor,” they would ofttimes [sic] say

She being young and tender hearted
Not knowing what she must undergo
She wandered far, she left the city
Some shady grove and field to view

She being alone down by the river
All in the shade of a blooming tree
She says, “And shall I, shall I ever
The wife of my Sweet William be?”

She then pulled out a silver dagger
And pierced it through her snowy white breast
Saying these words, just as she staggered,
“Farewell, true love, I’m going to rest.”

He being lone down in the city.
Hearing the moans this young lady made
He run like one almost distracted
Saying, “Alas, I am undone”

She opened her eyes like stars a-drooping
She says, ”True love, you have come too late
Prepare to meet me on Mount Zion
Where all our joys will be complete”

He then picked up the silver dagger
And pierced it through his tender heart
Saying, “Let this be an awful warning
To all that do true lovers part”

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About the Song:

The oral folk tradition shows how music is alive; it grows, adapts, and evolves as time progresses. There are few better examples of this than the American ballad “Silver Dagger”. Early publications of this song in the US date back to 1849. However, its roots trace back to Britain in a ballad called “The Drowsy Sleeper” (Roud 402), published in a London broadside in 1817.

Older recordings of “Silver Dagger” and its variants tell the story of a man courting a woman. The woman’s parents (or just mother) disapprove of the courtship. This, in true folk song fashion, leads one or both parties in the relationship to take their own lives with the titular silver dagger. Most contemporary renditions of the song, including my own, instead detail a woman refusing courtship for their own safety and end with the woman destined to be alone.

Other titles include: “An Awful Warning”, “O Parents, Parents, All Take Warning”

Related songs and variants: “Katy Dear”, “The Green Fields and Meadows”, “(Awake, Awake, Ye) Drowsy Sleeper”, and “O! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother”