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Fly and the Grasshopper, The

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Place Collected: Cerney Wick uk
Date collected: Between 1913 and 1916
Collector: Williams, Alfred
Roud Number: 1326

This song can be found in ‘Pills to Purge Melancholy’ (1719) as ‘The Grasshopper and the Fly” and our  song is clearly a survival of that.  However, there is more in the song than meets the eye.  It is very perilous to label short songs as allegories and many songs have fallen foul of the “said to be …” syndrome.  However, in this case it may be true.  In ‘Pills to Purge Melancholy’ the song is described as ‘An Allegory, set to Musick by Mr Henry Purcell, with these words:

A grasshopper and a fly,
In summer hot and dry

In eager argument were met,
About about priority.

Says the fly under the grasshopper
From might race I spring
Bright Phoebus was my dad, ’tis known
And I eat and I drink with a king.

Says the grasshopper to the fly
Such rogues are still’ still preferred
Your father might be of high degree
But your mother was but a turd, a turd, a turd.

This song is followed in ‘Pills’ by another song concerning ‘Rebel Johnny Scott’ whose father might be ‘Lord knows what’ but whose mother was ‘a whore, a whore, a whore, a whore.’  Now this allegedly refers to Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685), contender for the crown, whose mother was Lucy Walter, mistress of Charles II.

All this allegory was clearly lost on Mr Messenger and the song has become a simple piece of nonsense.  It is not know whether Mr Messenger sang the ‘turd’ words to Williams, or even if he did, that Williams censored the words for publication.


Notes by Gwilym Davies 18 March 2016