Honest Labourer (ballad)

Honest Labourer (ballad)

"The Honest Labourer", "The Jolly Thresher", "Poor Man, Poor Man" or "The Nobleman and the Thresher" is a traditional English Folk ballad (Roud #19), which tells the story of a meeting between a poor labourer and a wealthy noble.


A rich man meets a poor labourer and asks him how he manages to feed his wife and his large family. The labourer explains that he and his wife work very hard, waste nothing and never fight. But, despite this, they still find time to play with their children and show them the love they need. The wealthy man is very impressed and gives the poor man a significant amount of land to make his life easier. Overjoyed, the labourer declares that he hopes that such generosity is rewarded heaven.


Robert Burns came across this song, titled The Poor Thresher, and, with James Johnson, had it printed in Scots Musical Museum in 1792. The original manuscript with 16 verses written in Burn's own hand is in the British Museum together with a note to his editor describing it as 'very pretty, and never that I know of was printed before'. Other versions have subsequently been published in a number of collections although the tunes vary considerably. The different versions of the song that have been collected from all over Britain, Ireland and North America.


The Copper Family recorded the song as The Honest Labourer, which is available on Come Write Me Down


The Nobleman and the Thresher
(as collected in 1906 in From Wanton Seed, Purslow)

A nobleman met with a thresherman one day
"Come now, good honest fellow, come tell to me I pray
You have a large family, I know it to be true
How d'you manage to maintain them so well as you do?"

"Why, sometimes I do reap and sometimes I do sow
Sometimes to hedging and to ditching I do go
There's nothing comes amiss with me, from the harrow to the plough
That's how I gets my living from the sweat of my brow.

My wife she is willing to join in the yoke
We live like two turtle doves and never do provoke;
Although the times are hard and we are very poor,
Yet we always keep the wolves and the ravens from the door.

When I go home at night as tired as can be
I takes the youngest child and dandles it on my knee
The others gather round with their pretty prattling tows
And that is all the comfort that a poor man enjoys."

"Well done, my honest fellow, you speak well of your wife
Now I will make you happy all the days of your life
Here's fifty acres of good land I'll give it unto thee
For to maintain thy wife and thy sweet family."

"So God bless thee, rich man,that considers a poor man.
I hope that in Heaven you'll get the upper hand;
And those that's left behind we're in hopes for to mend
That we might follow after as quick as we can."


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