From the earworm deconstruction department

by , under earworm deconstruction, thinking

Schoon Elselijn

Hard on the heels of the previous one, because deconstructing an earworm tends to make it go away.

This is a Dutchified version of a German song from about 1550. I found only this (incomplete) version of the German one, possibly copied from someone’s thesis (which I also found, stating that this was only part of the song). I’m convinced that the full German version has all the other verses too.

My source: Perelaar again, through my own folk process. Folkcorn also sang it with a bit less localisation.

Een Zeeuw die had een dochtertje, ze wou niet langer dienen.
Rok en mantel wilde zij aan, twee schoenen met smalle riemen.
(refr.) Ja, schoon is er mijn Elselijn, ja, schoon is er mijn Elselijn.

A Zealand man had a (young) daughter, she didn’t want to serve any more. She wanted to wear a skirt and cloak, two shoes with narrow straps. Yes, fair is my Elsie, yes, fair is my Elsie.

I’m translating rok as ‘skirt’, as opposed to a farm-girl’s smock, but it can just as easily mean ‘frock’.

Zeg wil jij rok en mantel aan, twee schoenen met smalle riemen?
Ga dan naar Oostburg in de stad, de hoge heren dienen.

Say, do you want to wear a skirt and cloak, two shoes with narrow straps? Then go to Oostburg, into town, to serve the great lords.

It’s remarkable that the Zealand girl goes to Oostburg in Zealand (a tiny town now, but quite an important town in the late Middle Ages) but the original Swabian girl goes to Frankfurt (in Hesse) when Swabia has a perfectly serviceable Augsburg, which even scans. The Folkcorn version has Tausborg ‘at Augsburg’. Also, she didn’t want to serve any more, why does she get the advice to serve someone else?

Toen zij te Oostburg binnenkwam, al door de nauwe straten,
Zij vroeg er naar de beste kroeg waar ook soldaten zaten.

When she arrived at Oostburg, through the narrow streets, she asked for the best inn where there were also soldiers.

It’s not clear whether all the streets in Oostburg were narrow, or she walked through a part with particularly narrow streets (foreshadowing what comes later). Also, it’s not clear whether she asked “where’s the best inn?” and there happened to be soldiers there, or she asked “where’s the best inn where there are soldiers?” In the Folkcorn version it’s definitely the latter.

Toen zij die kroeg daar binnenkwam, men bracht haar iets te drinken
Al uit een zilver bekertje, bruin oogskens liet zij blinken.

When she entered the inn they brought her a drink in a silver cup, she let her brown eyes glisten.

She really seems to be up to something…

Nu breng eens hier een triktrakbord al met twee dobbelstenen,
wie daar de meeste oogjes werpt mag met mooi Elsje spelen.

Well, bring a tric-trac board here with a pair of dice, whoever rolls highest gets to play with fair Elsie.

Triktrak could be backgammon or tric-trac, both with admirably ancient papers, but it doesn’t matter much because both involve dice (default d6).

Toen wierp de eerste van de drie, hij wierp de oogjes vijve
Ach Elsje, zei hij, zoetelief, je moet hier nog wat blijven.

Then the first of the three rolled, he rolled five pips. Oh Elsie, he said, sweet love, you have to stay here for a while.

Hey, wait! We didn’t know there were three of anything! Probably soldiers, or ne’er-do-wells pretending to be soldiers.

Toen wierp de tweede van de drie, hij wierp de oogjes achte
Ach Elsje, zei hij, zoetelief, je moet hier nog wat wachten.

Then the second of the three rolled, he rolled eight pips. Oh Elsie, he said, sweet love, you have to wait here for a while.

Toen wierp de jongste van de drie, hij wierp de oogjes alle
Ach Elsje, zei hij, zoetelief, je bent mij ten deel gevallen.

Then the youngest of the three rolled, he rolled all the pips. Oh Elsie, he said, sweet love, you have been assigned to me.

When I sing this I can never resist a flourish on “alle”.

Hij zette Elsje op de bank, toen begon zij daar te wenen:
Ik heb nog drie gebroeders stout, een vader in den vreemde.

He made Elsie sit on the bench, then she started to weep: I have three brothers bold, a father abroad.

That would make sense in the Folkcorn version where Elsie goes from Swabia to Hesse, but that version doesn’t have this verse. Perhaps the father is abroad anyway (for business) and her three brothers should have kept her in check, but instead gave her the unfortunate advice to go to Oostburg. Stout ‘bold’ means ‘naughty’ these days, which makes for great hilarity when schoolchildren learn about Karel de Stoute.

Heb jij nog drie gebroeders stout, een vader in den vreemde?
Jij zult dit jaar een hoertje zijn, dan slaap je niet allene.

Do you have three brothers bold, a father abroad? You shall be a whore this year, so you won’t sleep alone.

… and this is what I tend to think “narrow streets” was foreshadowing. (Tsk tsk, I thought you were a nice young soldier and you only wanted Elsie for yourself tonight!)

Maar toen haar broer in Oostburg kwam, al door de nauwe straten,
De eerste vrouw die hij daar zag dat was zijn liefste zuster.

But when her brother came to Oostburg, through the narrow streets, the first woman he saw there was his dearest sister.

It does look as if her brother was coming to Oostburg for the express purpose to visit disreputable women! (This doesn’t rhyme, probably meaning that it’s been condensed from something longer at some time before it was noted down.)

Wel zuster, zei hij, zuster mijn, hoe is de reis vergangen?
Jouw rok van voren korter is, van achter veel te lange.

Well, sister, he said, sister mine, how did the journey go? Your skirt is shorter in front, much too long in the back.

Er, I used to have a skirt like that, just before I really started to need maternity wear.

Wel broeder, zei zij, broeder mijn, door jouw raad verloor ik mijn ere.
Had mij een ander dat aangedaan, ik zou hem de rug toekeren.

Well, brother, she said, brother mine, because of your counsel I lost my honour. If someone else had done that to me I’d turn my back on him.

This isn’t really fair: he sent her to Oostburg to serve the high lords, not to work as a streetwalker, and it’s clear that she set out to live the daring life. The Folkcorn version doesn’t have this verse and stops at “van achter veel te lange”, and I think I prefer that. But then I often prefer to skip the moralising closing verse.

 

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