Mary of the Wild Moor

Song or Story

Mary of the Wild Moor

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Eddington, ME

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Jennie Gray


Evelyn Huckins












"Mary of the Wild Moor" originated on English broadsides of the early 19th century and has been collected throughout the United States and Canada. It tells the story of a young woman returning home to her family and the tragic results that ensue.


"Mary of the Wild Moor" is a ballad is of English origin, and it first appeared on broadsides in the early 19th century. It achieved widespread popularity and has been collected throughout the United States and Canada. The text has been printed quite frequently in songbooks and broadsides, resulting in only small differences between versions. Generally there are no more than the same eight stanzas, with minor variations between a few lines. Occasionally, a stanza will be dropped or the order of a couple verses will be switched around, but, for the most part, they follow the same pattern.

The tune used in this version is traditional English and related to “Sawyer’s Exit,” which has also been used for the songs “Rose Connelly,” “Rosin the Beau,” and “Acres of Clams.” This particular tune was apparently first united with the text in the mid 19th century, by Joseph W. Turner, although both text and tune are older. The ballad has also turned up with other tunes. Its original tune, which may, in fact, be a relative of Turner’s, was probably one known as “The Robin’s Petition,” about a robin looking for shelter from the winter. The words are thematically related to “Mary of the Wild Moor.”

It has often been inferred that Mary in the ballad is a young woman who has been betrayed and left by her lover or husband. This would be by no means unusual in the broadside tradition, since the theme of the young woman and her child abandoned by the child’s father and refused hospitality by the woman’s family appears in other broadsides, including “The Winter’s Night” and “Wandering Girl.” Turner wrote that Mary had run away from home and married a man of whom her parents disapproved. He became a “dissipated wretch,” and she was driven by poverty to go back to her father’s home. Her father refused her admittance and she died. It is likely however, that this is just a story which Turner made up to go along with the ballad for sale purposes. That the father in “Mary of the Wild Moor” refuses her admittance on purpose is only one interpretation. The ballad simply states that he was “deaf to her cries.” This could mean either that he literally did not hear her or that he simply ignored her request; the latter is interpretation that Turner takes. Additionally, it’s just as likely that the child could be illegitimate and the heroine never married in the first place, although in some versions Mary is referred to as once being “a gay village bride.”

Henry Glassie, in his book The Stars of Ballymenone, writes that although this ballad is a “sentimental” broadside ballad, it is like older, oral ballads in that it raises issues of human loyalty. Could the father not hear his daughter or did he reject her knowingly? Did Mary leave her husband? Had her father rejected her at earlier point? By exploring our responsibilities and loyalties to one another, these ballads could descriptively reinforce a group’s moral and behavioral laws.


1. One night when the wind it blew cold,/ Blew bitter across the wild moor,/ Young Mary, she came with her child,/ Wandering home to her own father’s door.

2. Saying, “Father, do pray let me in./ Take pity on me, I implore./ Or the babe at my bosom will die,/ From the winds that blow across the wild moor.

3. Oh, why did I leave this fair cot,/ Where once I was happy and free,/ Doomed to roam without friends or alone?/ Oh, Father, take pity on me.”

4. But her father was deaf to her cries,/ Not a voice nor a sound reached his ear,/ But the watch dogs did bark and the winds/ Blew bitter across the wild moor.

5. Oh, how must that father have felt,/ When he came to the door in the morn,/ There he found Mary dead, but the child was alive,/ Fondly clasped in its dead mother’s arms.

6. Half frantic, he tore his gray hairs,/ As on Mary he gazed, at the door,/ Saying, “Mary, has perished and died/ From the winds that blew across the wild moor.”

7. The father in grief pined away./ And the child to the grave was soon borne./ And there’s no one lives there to this day./ And the cottage to ruin has gone.

8. But the villagers point our the spot,/ Where the willow drooped over the door,/ Saying, “There Mary perished and died/ From the winds that blew across the wild moor.”


Jennie Gray, Evelyn Huckins, Eddington, Maine, abandoned, Laws P21, sentimental, family, ballad, broadside, English


Belden, Henry Marvin. Ballads and Songs Collected by the Missouri Folk-Lore Society (University of Missouri Studies Vol. XV, No. 1).Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1966; Buchan, David. The Ballad and the Folk. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1972; Glassie, Henry. The Stars of Ballymenone. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006; Johnson, Helen Kendrick. Our Familiar Songs and Those Who Made Them. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1909; Jürgen, Kloss. “The Adventurous Story of “Poor Mary of the Wild Moor.” “The Adventurous Story of “Poor Mary of the Wild Moor,” Sept. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2014; Kidson, Frank. Traditional Tunes. Oxford: Charles Taphouse and Son, 1891; Laws, G Malcolm. American Balladry from British Broadsides. Philadelphia: The American Folklore Society, 1957; Mackenzie, Roy W. Ballads and Sea Songs From Nova Scotia. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1928; “Mary of the Wild Moor. Ballad. – The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection.” Mary of the Wild Moor. Ballad. – The Lester S. Levy Sheet Music Collection. Johns Hopkins University, 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.


Ethnomusicology | Folklore | Oral History

Mary of the Wild Moor


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