From the earworm deconstruction department

by , under earworm deconstruction, thinking

De gewonde ruiter

As usual, the song as I sing it. The lyrics are Perelaar‘s, filtered through my memory and leaving out the folky repetitions. Here is a version that may be one of Perelaar’s sources, which has her in her father’s orchard with no mention of dew.

Daar was er een meisje heel vroeg opgestaan
En barrevoets door de dauw gegaan.

A maiden had got up very early, and gone through the dew barefoot.

En barrevoets door de diepe dauw
Daar zag zij haar liefste vol wondekens staan.

And barefoot through the deep dew; there she saw her lover standing, sorely wounded.

“Full of little wounds” literally, which makes me think he was beaten up (perhaps by the girl’s three burly brothers) rather than having been in an accident or a clean fight. The story I get from the song is apparently not what it “really” means, because all (well, both) (argh! can’t find them any more) more-or-less scholarly commentaries thought it was a much less interesting story.

Hij zeide: lief meisje, ach schrik toch niet
Al ben ik vol wonden, ik sterf nog niet.

He said: dear maiden, don’t take a fright: though I’m full of wounds, I’m not dying yet.

Not yet seems to be the point here, though. And it does give her a fright.

Al is er mijn jonge hart doorwond,
Wilt gij mij verbinden, ik waar’ al gezond.

Even though my young heart is pierced, if you’d bandage me I’d be healthy.

When the phrasing “mijn jonge hart [is] doorwond” turns up in songs, it’s usually metaphorical (that’s why I translate “pierced”, the door- part means “through”). But it’s clear that in this case the wounds are far from metaphorical.

Nee, uwe verbinder wil ik er niet zijn,
Ik draag er verborgen een kindje zo klein.

No, I don’t want to be your bandager, I’m secretly carrying a babe so small.

Why does being pregnant preclude bandaging her lover, what is she afraid of? Cooties? That her three burly brothers who beat up the poor man in the first place will turn on her for helping him? That the sight of blood –at least more blood than she’s already seeing– will make her faint or, God forbid, miscarry?

(“Ik draag er verborgen een kindje zo klein” was the title of the paper I was writing when circumstances made me stop studying musicology: a survey of pregnancy and childbirth in folk music. If I ever take it up again I’ll write it in English and call it “I think you go with child“.)

Draagt gij er verborgen een kindje zo klein?
Daar zal ik, schoon liefje, de vader van zijn.

Are you secretly carrying a babe so small? Fair love, I shall be its father.

He didn’t know she was pregnant; perhaps it wasn’t by him but he doesn’t seem to mind. It does make me wonder, again, who beat him up: perhaps the maiden’s fiancee who did father the child? Another reading is that it is his child, “oh, you’re expecting? that’ll be mine then”.

And now the maiden is willing:

Het meisje dat nam er haar zakdoek zo wit
En daar bond zij de ruiter zijn wonden mee dicht.

The girl took her handkerchief so white, and she bound up the rider’s wounds with it.

Quite a feat, to bind up all those wounds with a single handkerchief. Note that the man is now called “de ruiter”, which could mean a mounted man-at-arms in the employ of a lord or, almost as likely in the context of folk songs, a highwayman.

Maar onder dat binden werd deze doek rood
En daar lag er de ruiter in haar armen dood.

But during the binding this kerchief got red, and there the rider lay in her arms dead. (ooh! it rhymes in English too!)

Right, he wasn’t dying just yet, they had one last moment together. But she might have made a bit more haste– though I don’t think it would have made much difference.

Nu heeft er dat kindje geen vader meer
En dat is er voor de moeder zo’n droevig hartzeer.

Now the babe doesn’t have a father any more, and that is such a sad heartache for the mother.

Which makes me think that the rider was the baby’s father after all.

Begraaf hem al onder de egelantier
Dat grafken zal dragen rozekens fier.

Bury him under the sweet briar; the grave will bear proud roses.

Roses on one’s grave, especially the grave of a lover, are a stock image in (at least Dutch) folk songs. When I first heard the song I understood it as rozekens vier, “four roses” and thought “only four? can’t they manage more?”


  1. Maria Simson

    Do you know De Ruiter sung by Oudenweide & Fred Piek? I’m afraid I don’t really have the Dutch to translate and my German is leading me more towards The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, than De gewonde ruiter. Have been searching for a translation off and on for some time…It’s a lovely song, though. Es ist wirklich ein Ohrwurm.

    En waar leidde, zeide zij
    Een schoon dochtertje van mij?
    En waar zal jij zo haastiglijk henen?

    Waar ik er ja zo haastiglijk henen, henen zal?
    En dat zal ik mijn moeder wel gaan zeggen

    Ik draag er van de ruiter een klein kindje zwaar
    Nu hebben zij gezeid, dat ik moet sterven

    Een klein kindje dragen, dat doen der ja wel meer
    En daar hoef jij niet langer om de zuchten

    Ik wachtte ja niet lang meer, of ik schreef er hem een brief
    Dat de ruiter moest overkomen

    Toen de ruiter al over de gevallen brugge ging
    En dat maantje scheen er zo helder

    Hij sloeg er daar zijn ogen door de vensterglazen heen
    En daar stond een kist op stelten

    En daar achter die kist, daar stond er ja een stoel
    En daar ging de ruiter op zitten

    Hij plukte er zijn gele krulharen uit zijn hoofd
    En wrong er zijn handen in stukken

    En toen ging hij ja al in een duister, duister gat
    En daar heeft hij sich selve opgehangen

    • Irina

      Oh wow, thanks! No, I didn’t know it, and it makes me wish I was still working on the paper. Nice to see that this old post gets attention, too 🙂

  2. Irina

    Afterthought about “rozekens fier/vier”: it doesn’t help that the people singing it are from North Holland (like me) so it’s in a dialect I perceive as unmarked. In that dialect there’s hardly any difference between /f/ and /v/; if anything /v/ is very slightly more lax.