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Francis James Child
Francis James Child, a-ponderin'


Child Book

Lessons learned while reading the ballad collection of Francis James Child.

by David Kessler

     Dear Francis,

     I had a summer romance last year.  My girlfriend and I were pretty serious about each other - you know how young love can be.  We even made a lover's death-pact to marry each other or else to die trying.  It all seemed so right back then, but I went to sea and discovered that the world is a really big place, and that there are - to use an old phrase - many other fish in the ocean.
     Well, we pulled into the home port yesterday and I noticed my old flame's servants waiting for me and just wringing their hands.  They told me that she had killed herself rather than wed another and that now they would lead me to her so that I could kill myself and die in her arms.
     I told them they were nuts and that my death couldn't bring her back (and hey, her parents never liked me anyway), but they reminded me of "The Pact" we made and practically carried me to the house!
     Do I really have to go through with this?

     Been so long from the land

     Dear Been so long from the land,

     Young people seem to be constantly making pacts with each other and, despite having no training beyond conviction of heart, these pacts are usually binding.  It seems to be a natural talent of youth to make them so.
     That said, fulfilling such a serious pact when your heart isn't in it can only lead to troubles of a different sort - in your case reuniting for all eternity with a woman you're less than serious about.  I suggest you reboard your ship and sail away until the tortures of not having lived up to your end of a very serious bargain have thoroughly ravaged your soul and left you an empty and pitiable husk of a man.  When the image of your lost love haunts your every waking thought, keeps you from all rest, and makes life a hollow thing, then you will be ready to return and carry out this pact.
      If you remain untroubled then the pact was not binding.
     One warning: Make sure you know where your love is buried before you set out; your journey may take any number of verses to complete and her servants may all be gone by the time you next return.  Knowing where she is buried may save you a great deal of trouble.

     Francis J. Child

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