The Twa Sisters

The Twa Sisters

"The Twa Sisters" is a murder ballad that recounts the tale of a girl drowned by her sister. It is first known to have appeared on a broadside in 1656 as "The Miller and the King's Daughter." At least 21 English variants exist under several names, including "Minnorie" or "Binnorie", "The Cruel Sister", "The Wind and Rain", "Dreadful Wind and Rain", "Two Sisters", and the "Bonnie Bows of London". The ballad was collected by Francis J. Child (Child 10) and is also listed in the Roud Folk Song Index.[1]



Two sisters go down by a body of water, sometimes a river and sometimes the sea. The older one pushes the younger in and refuses to pull her out again; generally the lyrics explicitly state her intent to drown her younger sister. Her motive, when included in the lyrics, is sexual jealousy — in some variants, the sisters are being two-timed by a suitor; in others, the elder sister's affections are not encouraged by the young man. In a few versions, a third sister is mentioned, but plays no significant role in events. In most versions, the older sister is described as dark, while the younger sister is fair.

When the murdered girl's body floats ashore, someone makes a musical instrument out of it, generally a harp or a fiddle, with a frame of bone and the girl's "long yellow hair" (or "golden hair") for strings. The instrument then plays itself and sings about the murder. In some versions, this occurs after the musician has taken it to the family's household, so that the elder sister is publicly revealed (sometimes at her wedding to the murdered girl's suitor) as the murderess.

It should be noted that the variant titled The Two Sisters typically omits the haunted instrument entirely, ending instead with an unrelated person (often a miller) executed for robbing the murdered girl's corpse and the elder sister presumably going unpunished.

Parallels in other languages

The theme of this ballad was common in many northern European languages.[2] There are 125 different variants known in Swedish alone. Its general Scandinavian classification is TSB A 38; and it is (among others) known as Den talende strængelek or De to søstre (DgF 95) in Danish, Hørpu ríma (CCF 136) in Faroese, Hörpu kvæði (IFkv 13) in Icelandic, Dei tvo systar in Norwegian, and De två systrarna (SMB 13) in Swedish. It has also spread further south; for example, as Gosli iz človeškega telesa izdajo umor (A Fiddle Made from a Human Body Reveals a Murder) in Slovenian.

In the Norse variants, the older sister is depicted as dark and the younger as fair, often with great contrast, comparing the one to soot or the other to the sun or milk. This can inspire taunts from the younger about the older's looks.[3]

In most of the Norwegian and some of the Swedish variants, the story ends by the instrument being broken and the younger sister coming alive again.[4] In a few, she was not actually drowned, but saved and nursed back to health; she tells the story herself.[5]

This tale is also found in prose form, in fairy tales such as The Singing Bone, where the siblings are brothers instead of sisters.[6] This is widespread throughout Europe; often the motive is not jealousy because of a lover, but the younger child's success in winning the object that will cure the king, or that will win the father's inheritance.[5]

In Polish literature from the romanticism period, a similar theme is found in Balladyna (1838) by Juliusz Słowacki. Two sisters engage in a raspberry-gathering contest to decide which of them gets to marry Prince Kirkor. When the younger Alina wins, the older Balladyna kills her. Finally, she is killed by a bolt of lightning in an act of divine retribution.

A Hungarian version exists, where a king has three daughters. Both of the eldest are bad and ugly, and envy the younger child sister due to her beauty. One day, they murder her in the forest, and place her corpse inside a fiddle. The fiddle plays music on its own and eventually is given to the royal family. The fiddle does not play for the evil sisters, but the princess is restored to life once her father tries to play it. The sisters are imprisoned, but the good princess fully pardons them once she becomes queen.

Versions with a happy ending, in which a bone is transformed into a woman, may have been influenced by the biblical Eve, who was believed to have been made from a bone.[citation needed]

Connections to other ballads

As is frequently found with traditional folksongs, versions of The Twa Sisters are associated with tunes that are used in common with several other ballads. For example, at least one variant of this ballad ("Cruel Sister") uses the tune and refrain from "Lay the bent to the bonny broom", a widely-used song (whose original lyrics are lost) which is also used, for example, by some versions of "Riddles Wisely Expounded" (Child 1).

Canadian singer and harpist Loreena McKennitt's song "The Bonny Swans" is a pastiche of several traditional variants of the ballad. The first stanza mentions the third sister, but she subsequently disappears from the narrative. The song recounts a tale in which a young woman is drowned by her jealous older sister in an effort to gain the younger sister's beloved. The girl's body washes up near a mill, where the miller's daughter mistakes her corpse for that of a swan. Later, after she is pulled from the water, a passing harper fashions a harp from the bones and hair of the dead girl; the harp plays alone, powered by the girl's soul. The harp is brought to her father's hall and plays before the entire court, telling of her sister's crime. The song also mentions her brother named Hugh, and her beloved William, and gives a name to the older sister, Anne.

It also bears a resemblance to an early Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, "The Sisters", which follows a sister scorned in love who murders the lover of her sister, and possibly the sister too, out of jealousy.



  • ""Binnorie" in Joseph Jacobs' English Fairy Tales (1890)[7]
  • Czech folk band Asonance recorded a version of the song called "Harfa" (Harp) with Czech lyrics. Czech folk-punk band Původní Bureš did a cover of this version.
  • Anita Best recorded it as "The Two Sisters" on her album "The Color of Amber"
  • Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick recorded a version titled "The Bows of London".
  • Aoife Clancy recorded a version titled "Two Sisters" on her album Soldiers and Dreams.
  • Clandestine (The Haunting), Ceoltoiri, Ekova (Space Lullabies and Other Fantasmagore) and Old Blind Dogs (Close to the Bone) have all released versions under the title "Cruel Sister".
  • The Irish group Clannad has a version titled "Two Sisters" on their album Dúlamán. In this version the two sisters love the same man but he prefers the younger. To her he gives gifts while ignoring the elder of the two. In anger the elder sister pushed her sister into the river,mocking her drowning sister's offer to relinquish the young man if the elder saves her, by saying she will have him anyway. The girl's corpse floats to a mill where the miller takes her gold ring and pushes the body back into the river. It ends with the punishment of the two evildoers: the miller is hanged "on a mountain head" while the eldest sister is "boiled in lead". Niamh Parsons recorded this version with her sister Anne on 'In My Prime' (2000).
  • Amps for Christ released a noisy version called "The Cruel Sister" on the album Circuits (album).
  • Canadian folk trio Crowfoot recorded a version of this ballad called "Bonny Bows" in their album "As The Crow Flies".
  • Bob Dylan performed "Two Sisters" in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and a recording of an impromptu version in the apartment of his friend Karen Wallace from May 1960 appears on The Genuine Bootleg Series, Take 2.[8][9] He also based "Percy's Song" on the variant "The Wind and the Rain".
  • Andrew Bird recorded a version of this song titled "Two Sisters" as the fifth track on the album Music of Hair.
  • The Swedish group Folk & Rackare recorded a Swedish version, "De två systrarna", on their 1976 album Folk och rackare.
  • Norwegian folk-rock band Folque recorded a version of this song called "Harpa" (Norwegian for "The Harp"), on their debut-album Folque from 1974.
  • Julie Fowlis recorded "Wind and Rain" on her album Uam (2009) as a duet with Eddi Reader.
  • Jerry Garcia and David Grisman recorded "Dreadful Wind and Rain" on the Shady Grove album.
  • Tom Gilfellon recorded it on his album, "In The Middle Of The Tune", as The Two Sisters.
  • Finnish folk music group Gjallarhorn has a Swedish version titled "Systrarna" ("The Sisters") on their most recent album, Rimfaxe.
  • The Canadian Celtic band The Glengarry Bhoys recorded a version of the song on their album Juice entitled "Bonnie Broom".
  • Folk metal band In Extremo recorded an Old Norwegian version of the song ("Two søstra") for the last track of their debut album Weckt Die Toten!.
  • Phil Lee included a version titled "Miller's Mill Pond" on his 2009 release, So Long, It's Been Good To Know You
  • Ewan MacColl recorded a version in Scottish called "Minorie" which can be found on several of his recordings.
  • Jim Moray included a rendition of this song on his album Sweet England under the title "Two Sisters".
  • Okkervil River released the song under the title "The Dreadful Wind and Rain".
  • Alasdair Roberts released "The Two Sisters" on his album ""Too Long In This Condition".
  • The Celtic group Rù-Rà, consisting of Gaelic singer Maggie Carchrie and keyboardist/percussionist Thomas Leigh, recorded a version of the song on their album Rù-Rà entitled "Two Sisters"
  • Folk singer Peggy Seeger recorded a version entitled "O The Wind and Rain" on her album Bring Me Home.
  • The Danish band Sorten Muld's song "2 Søstre" ("Two Sisters" in English), the English translation of which recounts this folktale.
  • Pentangle released their album Cruel Sister in 1970, the title track being a rendition of this ballad.
  • The Armstrong Family, Altan, June Tabor, Crooked Still and Gillian Welch with David Rawlings and David Steele have all recorded versions of the song under the title "The Wind and Rain".
  • The movie Songcatcher includes a rendition of this song as "The Wind and Rain" sung by Gillian Welch.
  • Méav Ní Mhaolchatha recorded the song entitled "The Wicked Sister" for her album Silver Sea based on the ballad.
  • Regina Spektor and Levon Vincent recorded a song called "Film Score Project" and often retitled "Two Sisters" for a college project during their studies at SUNY Purchase. The song features a pair of sisters who both drown: it appears to be only loosely inspired by Twa Sisters.[citation needed]
  • Nico Muhly, in collaboration with singer and banjo player Sam Amidon, created a version called "The Only Tune".
  • Julie Murphy recorded "Two Sisters" on her album Black Mountains Revisited (1999)
  • Scottish folk group The Clutha recorded a version of the song called "Binnourie", which is sung by Erlend Voy. It was released in 1977 on their album The Bonnie Mill Dams. The name of the album comes from the song lyrics of "Binnourie".
  • Tom Waits includes his own version of "Two Sisters" on the Bastards disc of his Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers & Bastards trilogy.
  • Chris Wood, Roger Wilson and Martin Carthy recorded "Two Sisters" on Wood - Wilson - Carthy
  • Scottish folk group Old Blind Dogs recorded "Cruel Sister" for their album Close to the Bone; in the liner notes, they mention learning their version of the song from the Pentangle recording.
  • Dutch folk duo Ygdrassil recorded an a-capella harmony singing version on their album Easy Sunrise and on the DVD Ygdrassil live at the Folkwoods Festival. Group members Linde Nijland and Annemarieke Coenders sing a shortened version, ending where the younger sister drowns, leaving the man out of the story.
  • Norwegian folk metal band Myrkgrav recorded a version of the song entitled "De to spellemenn" on the album Trollskau, Skrømt og Kølabrenning.
  • Jody Stecher recorded "Wind and Rain" on Going Up On The Mountain (1977) and on Oh The Wind And Rain: Eleven Ballads (1999).
  • Folk rock group Stormsterk recorded "De Wrede Zuster" on their debut album "Wild En Bijster Land" (2010).
  • Celtic rock group Tempest recorded "Two Sisters" on their album "Balance" (2001).
  • Lucy Ward sings her arrangement of "The Two Sisters" on her 2011 album Adelphi Has to Fly.
  • Patricia C. Wrede retold it as "Cruel Sisters" in her Book of Enchantments (1996), telling it from the point of view of the third sister, and giving it a revisionist twist.
  • The Swedish trio Triakel included a version called "Kallt väder" in their 2011 album Ulrikas minne — Visor från Frostviken

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 119, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  3. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 120, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  4. ^ Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 121, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  5. ^ a b Francis James Child, The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, v 1, p 123, Dover Publications, New York 1965
  6. ^ Stith Thompson, The Folktale, p 136, University of California Press, Berkeley Los Angeles London, 1977
  7. ^ Joseph Jacobs, English Fairy Tales, transcript
  8. ^ The Genuine Bootleg Series: Volume 2 with "The Two Sisters" (Disc 1, Track 1), performed at Karen Wallace's Apartment, May 1960
  9. ^ The Genuine Bootleg Series, Take 2 at, with "The Two Sisters" (Disc 1, Track 1), performed in St. Paul, May 1960

External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Игры ⚽ Нужно решить контрольную?

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Singing Bone — is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, tale number 28. [Jacob and Wilheim Grimm, Household Tales , [ SurLaLune Fairy Tale site The Singing Bone ] ] It is Aarne… …   Wikipedia

  • The Chesterfield Supper Club — Perry Como and Jo Stafford broadcasting from a TWA Constellation (April 5, 1946). Genre Musical variety Running time 15 minutes …   Wikipedia

  • List of the Child Ballads — This list of the Child Ballads contains all the 305 ballad types in Francis James Child s collection Popular English and Scottish Ballads , collected in the 19th century, colloquially known as the Child Ballads; see this for further general… …   Wikipedia

  • The Headbangers — Mosh y Thrasher con dos fans. Nombres artísticos The Headbangers Flying Nuns The Sisters of Love The Spiders Miembros …   Wikipedia Español

  • The Headbangers — Infobox Wrestling team article name= The Headbangers type=T caption= members=Mosh Thrasher names=The Headbangers Flying Nuns The Sisters of Love The Spiders former members= heights= Mosh: height|ft=6|in=0 Thrasher: height|ft=6|in=2 weights=… …   Wikipedia

  • Popular culture about the September 11 attacks — The September 11 attacks have been the subject of numerous films and other works of art and literature, including:FilmInitial reactionHollywood s first reaction to the September 11 attacks was to alter, delay or even cancel films that… …   Wikipedia

  • Hark! The Village Wait — Infobox Album | Name = Hark! The Village Wait Type = Album Artist = Steeleye Span Released = 1970 Recorded = Genre = Electric folk Length = 38:55 Label = Chrysalis Producer = Reviews = * Allmusic 3/5 [… …   Wikipedia

  • Roud Folk Song Index — The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of 300,000 references to over 21,600 songs that have been collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world. It is a combination of the Broadside Index (printed sources before… …   Wikipedia

  • Murder ballad — This article is about a genre of songs. For the Nick Cave album, see Murder Ballads. Murder ballads are a sub genre of the traditional ballad form, the lyrics of which form a narrative describing the events of a murder, often including the lead… …   Wikipedia

  • Индекс народных песен Роуда — (англ. Roud Folk Song Index)  база данных из 300 000 ссылок на более чем 21 600 песен, которые были собраны в устной традиции на английском языке на всех континентах, где язык имеет распространение. Труд по систематизации был проделан… …   Википедия

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”