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)

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Old Time American Music

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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”