Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Poetry: "The Murder of Maria Marten"

by Pa Rock
Poetry Appreciator

Most of my morning today was spent clearing out the loft of my old red barn.   One, two, and the trash flew!  That led me to thinking about barns as I searched for a suitable poem for today's post.  There must be thousands of great poems about barns, I thought, as I tore through the works of Robert Frost, James Whitcomb Riley, and a pile of cowboy poetry.  But, alas, most of the poems about old barns seemed fairly pedestrian.  I kept searching, looking for something memorable - or at least interesting.

Finally I came up with today's selection, an old English ballad about a young woman who was murdered in 1828 at a place called The Red Barn.  The ballad was put to paper by a fellow named James Catnach in 1908, and has undergone some modifications since its original publication.

Maria Marten, the daughter of a local mole catcher, was a young woman of twenty-six living in the British countryside of Sussex.   Her virtue had been besmirched.  Maria had a son out of wedlock a couple of years prior to her murder, then she left the baby with her father and step-mother as she went out into the big world.  Away from home and on her own, Maria encountered William Corder, the shiftless son of well-to-do parents - and she again wound up pregnant.    William, not surprisingly, grew tired of his easy conquest and left Maria so that he could marry someone more of his own social standing.

At that point, Maria disappeared.  Her step-mother, who may have also been one of William Corder's several mistresses, told her husband that she had a dream that Maria had been murdered and was buried in the Red Barn.  The husband didn't put much stock in his wife's tale, but eventually took his shovel to the Red Barn and began digging.  There he found the skeleton of a woman.

William Corder was brought back from his new home in London, charged with the murder of Maria Marten, convicted, and hung.

The following is James Catnach's ballad describing the murder of Maria Marten and the hanging of William Corder.   When you have finished this fine tale and are perchance looking for me, I will be out working in my old red barn!

Now, where did I put that shovel?

The Murder of Maria Marten
by James Catnach

Come all you thoughtless young men
A warning take by me
To think upon my unhappy fate
To be hanged upon a tree

My name is William Corder
To you I do declare
I courted Maria Marten
Both beautiful and fair

I promised I would marry her
Upon a certain day
Instead of that I was resolved
To take her life away

I went unto her father's house
The eighteenth day of May
And said my dear Maria
We will fix a wedding day

If you'll meet me at the Red Barn
As sure as I have life
I will take you to Ipswich Town
And there make you my wife

This lad went home and fetched his gun,
His pickaxe and his spade.
He went unto the Red Barn
And there he dug her grave.

With her heart so light she thought no harm
To meet me she did go
I murdered her all in the barn
And laid her body down

After the horrid deed was done
She laid there in her gore
Her bleeding mangled body lay
Beneath the Red Barn floor

Now all things being silent
Her spirit could not rest
She appeared unto her mother
Consult her at her breast

Her mother's mind being sore disturbed
She dreamed a dream and saw
Her daughter she lay murdered
Beneath the Red Barn floor

She sent the father to the Barn
Where he the ground did thrust
And there he found his daughter
Lay mingling with the dust

My trial was hard, I could not stand
Most horrorful was the sight
When her dear bones was brought to prove
Which pierced my heart wide

Her aged father standing by
Likewise his loving wife
And in her grief her hair she tore
She scarcely could be tied

Adieu adieu, my loving friends
My glass is almost run
On Monday next will be my last
When I am to be hung

So all young men who do pass by
With pity look on me
For murdering of that young girl
I was hung upon a tree

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