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The Mistletoe Bough

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mistletoe bough Hulton Archive/Getty Images

"The Mistletoe Bough," lyrics by Thomas Haynes Bayly, music by Sir Henry Bishop, is a ballad composed around 1830 based on a traditional tale about a newlywed bride who accidentally locks herself in an old oak trunk while playing hide-and-seek with members of the wedding party and isn't found until long after she's dead.

Though the legend had undoubtedly been circulating for quite some time before the lyrics were written, it's thought that the direct inspiration for Bayly's rendition was "Ginevra" from Samuel Rogers' Italy, a Poem, published in 1822. Also known by the titles "The Missing Bride," "The Lost Bride," and "Bride-and-Seek," versions of the age-old story are still told today.


THE MISTLETOE BOUGH

The mistletoe hung in the castle hall,
The holly branch shone on the old oak wall;
And the baron's retainers were blithe and gay,
And keeping their Christmas holiday.
The baron beheld with a father's pride
His beautiful child, young Lovell's bride;
While she with her bright eyes seemed to be
The star of the goodly company.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

"I'm weary of dancing now," she cried;
"Here, tarry a moment — I'll hide, I'll hide!
And, Lovell, be sure thou'rt first to trace
The clew to my secret lurking-place."
Away she ran — and her friends began
Each tower to search, and each nook to scan;
And young Lovell cried, "O, where dost thou hide?
I'm lonesome without thee, my own dear bride."
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

They sought her that night, and they sought her next day,
And they sought her in vain while a week passed away;
In the highest, the lowest, the loneliest spot,
Young Lovell sought wildly — but found her not.
And years flew by, and their grief at last
Was told as a sorrowful tale long past;
And when Lovell appeared the children cried,
"See! the old man weeps for his fairy bride."
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

At length an oak chest, that had long lain hid,
Was found in the castle — they raised the lid,
And a skeleton form lay mouldering there
In the bridal wreath of that lady fair!
O, sad was her fate! — in sportive jest
She hid from her lord in the old oak chest.
It closed with a spring! — and, dreadful doom,
The bride lay clasped in her living tomb!
Oh, the mistletoe bough.
Oh, the mistletoe bough.

More About the Poem
'The Mistletoe Bough' - Words & Music
Thomas Haynes Bayly - A Biographical Sketch
Sir Henry Bishop - A Biographical Sketch
'The Missing Bride' - Modern Versions of the Story

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