Some ballads told of infidelity

Published 1:48 pm Wednesday, March 23, 2011

While ballads of personal tragedy were among the best loved and sung throughout the mountains and hills of Dark Corner, next in popularity would be tales of unrequited love or infidelity.

From Barbara Allen’s chiding of Sweet William for slighting her in his toast to the tavern ladies, to more serious “she done him” or “he done her wrong” stories, human frailties in personal relationships was sure to catch the ear of ballad listeners.

My first hearing of “May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?” was a bit confusing to my young, 6-year-old mind.

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I had not yet heard of someone leaving a family behind for any reason. And, I certainly had no inkling of the meaning of infidelity.

Regardless, the title and tune stuck with me at that early age, and it remains a favorite even today.

Seventy years later, the lyrics are still fresh in my mind.

May I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister?

One night it was dark and ‘twas raining,

When along came a tramp in the rain;

He was making his way to the station

To catch a long-distance train.

“May I sleep in your barn tonight, mister;

It is cold lying out on the ground;

And the cold North wind, it is blowing,

And I have no place to lie down.

“Now I have no tobacco nor matches,

And I’m sure I will do you no harm;

I will tell you my story, kind mister,

For it runs through my heart like a thorn.

“It was three years ago last summer;

I shall never forget that sad day;

When a stranger came out from the city,

For his health, said he wanted to stay.

“One day as I came from my workshop

I was whistling and singing with joy;

I expected a kind-hearted welcome

From my sweet, loving wife and my boy.

“But what should I find but a letter,

It was placed in the room on a stand;

And the moment my eyes fell upon it,

I picked it right up in my hand.

“And this note said my wife and the stranger,

They had left and had taken my son;

Oh, I wonder if God up in heaven

Only knows what this stranger has done.

“May I sleep in your barn tonight, mister;

For it’s cold lying out on the ground;

And the cold North wind is a’whistling

And I have no place to lie down.”