Common tales in Italian, Swedish and British Ballads: a comparison


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1. The concealed death     2. The return of the dying son     3. Edward/Sven I Rosengard     4. How an old Viking saga  

5. Brun the Robber/L'inglesina/Lady Isabel and the Elf-Knight     6. De Två Systrarna / The Cruel Sister     7.  Interactive Exercises


3.    Edward / Sven i Rosengård

The lyrics of this ballad are to be found in Percy’s Reliques (1765), the first important collection of ballads ever printed. It is originally Scandinavian. Again it is a conversation between a mother and her son who makes his will before leaving.



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(Giordano Dall'Armellina, Silvia Bozzeda, Maurizio Dehò, Giampietro Marazza) 


Why does your sword so drip with blood, Edward, Edward?”

Why does your sword so deep with blood, and why so sad are ye, O?”


Oh I have killed my hawk so good, mother, mother.

Oh, I have killed my hawk so good, and I had no more but he, O.”


Your hawk’s blood was never so red, etc. my dear son, I’ll tell thee, O.”

Oh, I have killed my red - roan steed, etc. that was so fair and free, O.”


Your steed was old and your stables filled, now say what may it be, O.”

It was my father that I killed, alas, and woe is me, O.”


What penance will you do for that? My dear son now tell me, O.”

I’ll set my feet in yonder boat, and I’ll fare over the sea, O.”


What will you do with your towers and hall, that are so fair to see, O?”

I’ll let them stand till down they fall, for here nevermore may I be, O”


What will ye leave to your babes and your wife, when ye go over the sea, O?”

The world’s room; let them beg through life, for them nevermore will I see, O.”


And what will ye leave to your mother dear? My dear son now tell me, O.”

Oh the curse of hell from me shall ye bear, such counsel ye gave to me, O.”

(Music by Giordano Dall’Armellina)


There are two interpretations about Edward’s departure by boat. The first suggests the idea that Edward has decided to die. His choice to sail by boat may symbolise his last voyage to the Other World. It was a widespread belief all over Europe that after death a soul had to cross a river or a sea to reach the world of the dead. This belief came originally from the religion of ancient Egypt but we also find evidence of it in the 11th book of the Odyssey when Ulysses crosses the ocean to arrive at the gates of hell to meet his mother' soul and the dead heroes of the war of Troy. This episode inspired the 6th book of Aeneid by Virgil in which Aeneas also descents to hell after crossing the river Acheron[1]. Finally Dante described the same river in “Inferno”: “The ones who die in the wrath of God here come from every country and are ready to cross the river” (canto III 121-124). The hypothesis that Edward may get ready to sail to the Other World is fostered by the fact that there is a testament at the end of the ballad.

The second interpretation is that Edward submitted himself to exposure in an open boat with neither  rudder nor oars, a medieval punishment for fratricide. Actually in almost all versions of the ballad it was not the father who was killed but the brother or brother in law as in this Swedish variant certainly older than the British one[2].

Sven i Rosengård


Var haver du varit så länge?               Where have you been so long

Sven i Rosendegård-                           Sven from Rosengård?”

Jag haver varit i stallet, -                     I have been to the stable

Kära moder vår.                                 Dear mother.

I vänten mig så                                   Do not wait for me    

sent eller aldrig.                                  Till late or ever.


Vad haver du gjort i stallet?               What did you do in the stable?

Jo, jag har skådat blacken.                  I looked after the horse.


Hur är din fot så blodig?                    Why are your feet so bloody?

Blacken haver trampat mig.               Blacken (the horse) stumped on me.


Varför är ditt svärd så blodigt?          Why is your sword so bloody?

Jag har slagit min broder ihjäl.           I have killed my brother.


Vad skall du nu ha för det?                What is going to happen to you now?        

Jo, jag skall rymma av landet.            I am going to run away from the country.


När kommer du tillbaka?                   When are you coming back?

När korpen han vitnar.                      When the raven is going to whiten.


När vitnar korpen?                            When is the raven going to whiten?

När svanen han svartnar.                  When the swan gets black.


När svartnar svanen?                         When is the swan going to get black?

När fjädem han sjunker.                    When the feather sinks to the bottom.


Å, när sjunker fjädern?                     When is the feather going to sink to the bottom?

När gråsten flyter.                            When the stone will float.


A, när flyter gråsten? -                      When is the stone going to float?

Sven i Rosendegård                          Sven from Rosengård?

Stenen flyter aldrig,                          A stone never floats

Kära moder vår.                               Dearest mother

I vänten mig,                                    You wait for me,

men jag kommer aldrig.                    But I am never to come back.


[1]    Acheron in Greek means “The river of grief”.

[2]    On YouTube many  versions of  Sven i Rosengård in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish.