The Maiden in Bird's Plumage

(Nilus Erlandson)

Words Traditional Denmark/ music © Gordon Bok, BMI


From A Book of Danish Ballades (Princeton University Press, 1939), translated by E.M. smith-Dampier.  A friend loaned me this book.  In the introduction, it says that by the 15th century these ballads were often combined with dances.  Quite often they had a burden which the dancers would sing with every verse (like "So the knight hath won his lady"). These ballads wandered back and forth between countries, so they might well have existed in many languages at once.



Gordon – Spanish guitar


It was Nilus Erlandson

Rode forth the deer to take

And there he saw the lily-white hind

That ran through bush and brake

(So the knight hath won his lady)


He chased her, Nilus Erlandson

That longed for her so sore

But swift was she, and still did flee

For three days' space, and more


Now snares he set in every path

Where'er a beast might go

But all so wise was the lily-white hind

That he could not take her so


Sir Nilus all through the greenwood

Rode on, and rode in vain

His hounds loosed he by two, by three

To run her down amain


Now can she spy no way to fly

So hot the hounds pursue

Her shape she changed to a falcon fierce

And aloft in the air she flew


Her shape she changed to a falcon fleet

And perched on a linden green

All under the boughs Sir Nilus stood

And sighed for toil and tene


Sir Nilus hath ta'en his ase in hand

To fell the linden-tree

When forth there sprang a forester

That smote the shaft in three


"And wilt though fell my father's wood

And all to do me wrong

I promise thee, Nilus Erlandson

That thou shalt rue it long!"


"Now let me fell this single tree

This tree alone of thine

For but I can take the falcon fell

I die of dule and pine!"


"Now hark and heed, thou fair young knight

The counsel that I bring

Ne'er shalt thou take her til she taste

The flesh of a tamed thing!"


A gobbet he cut from his bleeding breast

Right bitter pain he knew

She flapped her wings and down she dropped

And on the bait she flew


She flapped her wings and down she flew

And on the bait she fell

And she changed her shape to the fairest maid

That ever a tongue might tell


She stood in a sark of silk so red

Where the linden-tree did blow

And all in the arms of Sir Nilus

She told her tale of woe


"Oh I sat and broidered lily and rose

My father's board beside

When in she came, my false stepdame

Whose wrath was ill to bide


"She shaped me all to a lily-white hind

To run in wild greenwood

And seven maidens to seven grey wolves

And bade them drink my blood"


The damsel stood 'neath the linden-tree

And loosened her golden hair

And thither came they that erst were wolves

But now were maidens fair


"Now thanks to thee, Nilus Erlandson!

Hast saved me from hurt and harm

Never shalt thou seek slumber

But on my lily-white arm


"Now thanks to thee, Nilus Erlandson

Hast set my sorrow to rest!

Never shalt thou seek slumber

But on my lily-white breast"



The Maiden in Bird's Plumage is recorded on the album Apples in the Basket