[Note: This story is a bit incoherent at its beginning because of lost stanzas; and later the confusion resulting from lack of motivation of Robin Hood’s action in going to seek Little John (when, as far as one can ascertain, he could not know that Little John was in trouble) suggests that we do not have the best version of what was originally an excellent and spirited ballad. A fragment of a drama based on this ballad exists in a manuscript of the 15th century now in the possession of Trinity College, Cambridge.]
1. When shawes (woods) beene sheene, and shradds (groves) full fayre, And leeues both large and longe, Itt is merry, walking in the fayre fforrest, To heare the small birds songe. 2. The woodweele (wood thrush) sang, and wold not cease, Amongst the leaues a lyne: And it is by two wight yeomen, By deare God, that I meane. 3. “Me thought they did mee beate and binde, And tooke my bow mee froe; If I bee Robin a-liue in this lande, I’le be wrocken (avenged) on both them towe.” 4. “Sweauens (dreams) are swift, master,” quoth Iohn, “As the wind that blows ore a hill; Ffor if itt be neuer soe lowde this night, To-morrow it may be still.” 5. “Buske yee, bowne yee, my merry men all, Ffor Iohn shall goe with mee; For I’le goe seeke yond wight yeomen In greenwood where the bee.” 6. The cast on their gowne of greene, A shooting gone are they, Vntill they came to the merry greenwood, Where they had gladdest bee. There were the ware of a wight yeoman, His body leaned to a tree. 7. A sword and a dagger he wore by his side, Had beene many a man’s bane, And he was cladd in his capull-hyde (horsehide), Topp, and tayle, and mayne. 8. “Stand you still, master,” quoth Litle Iohn, “Vnder this trusty tree, And I will goe to yond wight yeoman, To know his meaning trulye.” 9. “A, Iohn, by me thou setts noe store, And that’s a ffarley (new, strange) thinge; How offt send I my men beffore, And tarry my-selfe behinde? 10. “It is noe cunning a knaue to ken, And a man but heare him speake; And itt were not for bursting of my bowe, Iohn, I wold thy head breake.” 11. But often words they breeden bale, That parted Robin and Iohn; Iohn is gone to Barnesdale, The gates he knowes eche one. 12. And when hee came to Barnesdale, Great heauinesse there hee hadd; He ffound two of his fellowes Were slaine both in a slade (ditch, ravine), 13. And Scarlett a ffoote flyinge was, Ouer stockes and stone, For the sheriffe with seuen score men Fast after him is gone. 14. “Yett one shoote I’le shoote,” sayes Litle Iohn, “With Crist his might and mayne; I’le make yond fellow that flyes soe fast To be both glad and ffaine.” 15. Iohn bent vp a good veiwe bow, And ffetteled him to shoote; The bow was made of a tender boughe, And fell downe to his foote. 16. “Woe worth thee, wicked wood,” sayd Litle Iohn, “That ere thou grew on a tree. Ffor this day thou art my bale, My boote when thou shold bee!” 17. This shoote it was but loosely shott, The arrowe flew in vaine, And it mett one of the sheriffes men; Good William a Trent was slaine. 18. It had beene better for William a Trent To hange vpon a gallowe Then for to lye in the greenwoode, There slaine with an arrowe. 19. And it is sayd, when men be mett, Six can doe more then three: And they haue tane Litle Iohn, And bound him ffast to a tree. 20. “Thou shalt be drawen by dale and downe,” quoth the sheriffe, “And hanged hye on a hill.” “But thou may ffayle,” quoth Litle Iohn, “If itt be Christs owne will.” 21. Let vs leaue talking of Litle Iohn, For hee is bound fast to a tree, And talke of Guy and Robin Hood, In the green woode where they bee. 22. How these two yeomen together they mett, Vnder the leaues of lyne, To see what marchandise they made Euen at that same time. 23. “Good morrow, good fellow,” quoth Sir Guy; “Good morrow, good ffellow,” quoth hee; “Methinkes by this bow thou beares in thy hand, A good archer thou seems to bee.” 24. “I am wilfull of my way,” quoth Sir Guye, “And of my morning tyde.” “I’le lead thee through the wood,” quoth Robin, “Good ffellow, I’le be thy guide.” 25. “I seeke an outlaw,” quoth Sir Guye, “Men call him Robin Hood; I had rather meet with him vpon a day Then forty pound of golde.” 26. “If you tow mett, itt wold be seene whether were better Afore yee did part awaye; Let vs some other pastime find, Good ffellow, I thee pray. 27. “Let vs some other masteryes make, And wee will walke in the woods euen; Wee may chance meet with Robin Hoode At some vnsett steven (time).” 28. They cutt them downe the summer shroggs (thin saplings) Which grew both vnder a bryar, And sett them three score rood in twinn, To shoote the prickes (targets) full neare. 29. “Leade on, good ffellow,” sayd Sir Guye, “Leade on, I doe bidd thee.” “Nay, by my faith,” quoth Robin Hood, “The leader thou shalt bee.” 30. The first good shoot that Robin ledd (took) Did not shoote an inch that pricke ffroe; Guy was an archer good enoughe, But he cold neere shoote soe. 31. The second shoote Sir Guy shott, He shott within the garlande; But Robin Hoode shott it better then hee, For he cloue the good pricke-wande. 32. “Gods blessing on thy heart!” sayes Guye, “Goode ffellow, thy shooting is goode; For an thy hart be as good as thy hands, Thou were better then Robin Hood. 33. “Tell me thy name, good ffellow,” quoth Guy, “Vnder the leaues of lyne.” “Nay, by my faith,” quoth good Robin, “Till thou haue told me thine.” 34. “I dwell by dale and downe,” quoth Guye, “And I haue done many a curst turne; And he that calles me by my right name Calles me Guye of good Gysborne.” 35. “My dwelling is in the wood,” sayes Robin; “By thee I set right nought; My name is Robin Hood of Barnesdale, A ffellow thou hast long sought.” 36. He that had neither beene a kithe nor kin Might haue seene a full fayre sight, To see how together these yeomen went, With blades both browne and bright. 37. To haue seene how these yeomen together fought, Two howers of a summers day; Itt was neither Guy nor Robin Hood That ffettled them to flye away. 38. Robin was reacheles (reckless) on a roote, And stumbled at that tyde, And Guy was quicke and nimble with-all, And hitt him ore the left side. 39. “Ah, deere Lady!” sayd Robin Hoode, “Thou art both mother and may. I thinke it was neuer man’s destinye To dye before his day.” 40. Robin thought on Our Lady deere, And soone leapt vp againe, And thus he came with an awkwarde (unexpected, backhanded) stroke; Good Sir Guy hee has slayne. 41. He tooke Sir Guy’s head by the hayre, And sticked itt on his bowes end; “Thou hast beene traytor all thy liffe, Which thing must haue an ende.” 42. Robin pulled forth an Irish kniffe, And nicked Sir Guy in the fface, That hee was neuer on a woman borne Cold tell who Sir Guye was. 43. Saies, “Lye there, lye there, good Sir Guy, And with me be not wrothe; If thou haue had the worse stroakes at my hand, Thou shalt haue the better cloathe.” 44. Robin did off his gowne of greene, Sir Guye hee did it throwe; And hee put on that capull-hyde, That cladd him topp to toe. 45. “The boew, the arrowes, and litle horne, And with me now I’le beare; Ffor now I will goe to Barnesdale, To see how my men doe ffare.” 46. Robin sett Guyes horne to his mouth, A lowd blast in it he did blow; That beheard the sheriffe of Nottingham, As he leaned vnder a lowe (hill). 47. “Hearken! hearken!” sayd the sheriffe, “I heard noe tydings but good; For yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blowe, For he hath slain Robin Hoode. 48. “For yonder I heare Sir Guyes horne blowe, Itt blowes soe well in tyde, For yonder comes that wighty yeoman, Cladd in his capull-hyde. 49. “Come higher, thou good Sir Guy, Aske of mee what thou wilt haue.” “I’le none of thy gold,” sayes Robin Hood, “Nor I’le none of itt haue. 50. “But now I haue slaine the master,” he sayd, “Let me goe strike the knaue; That is all the reward I aske, Nor noe other will I haue.” 51. “Thou art a madman,” said the shiriffe, “Thou sholdest haue had a knight’s ffee; Seeing thy asking beene soe badd, Well granted it shall be.” 52. But Litle Iohn heard his master speake, Well he knew that was his steven (voice); “Now shall I be loset,” quoth Litle Iohn, “With Christs might in heauen.” 53. But Robin hee hyed him towards Litle Iohn, Hee thought hee wold loose him beliue; The sheriffe and all his companye Fast after him didn driue. 54. “Stand abacke! stand abacke!” sayd Robin; Why draw you mee soe neere? Itt was neuer the vse in our contrye One’s shift another shold heere.” 55. But Robin pulled forth an Irysh kniffe, And losed Iohn hand and ffoote, And gaue him Sir Guyes bow in his hand, And bade it be his boote (booty). 56. But Iohn tooke Guyes bow in his hand —His arrowes were rawstye (rusty) by the roote— The sheriffe saw Litle Iohn draw a bow And ffettle him to shoote. 57. Towards his house in Nottingam He ffled full fast away, And soe did all his companye, Not one behind did stay. 58. But he cold neither soe fast goe, Nor away soe fast runn, But Litle Iohn, with an arrow broade Did cleaue his heart in twinn.
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