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1001 Stories Collection

Scarborough Fair

1001 scarboroughfair tomaszolszewski
Added on 28th August 2020

Oral tradition Folk song from England

A haunting song about unrequited love.


Scarborough Fair is a ballad about a man trying to find his true love. He sets her a number of impossible tasks to complete before he will take her back. She replies by setting him equally impossible tasks.

Why we chose it

A well-known traditional folk song that has been recorded many times.

Where it came from

Scarborough Fair is a medieval English folk song. A market fair was held in Scarborough from the 14th to the 17th century.

It is one of a number of folk songs about unrequited love where impossible tasks are set.

Parsley, sage rosemary and thyme are mentioned in the chorus: they are herbs which had meanings – parsley for comfort but also for sorcery, sage for strength and long life, thyme for courage and rosemary for love or for remembrance. The combination of herbs is associated with both medieval love potions and with death

The song would have been sung by travelling medieval bards. There are a number of different versions - the older versions have more verses than the song that is widely known today.

Where it went next

The song was recorded by a number of contemporary artists in the 1960s including Ewan MacColl, Marianne Faithful and Martin Carthy. Carthy introduced Paul Simon to the traditional English song and Simon and Garfunkel went on to re-write it, adding some anti- war lyrics. Their version of the song features on the soundtrack for the film The Graduate and became a best selling single.

Associated stories

The Elfin Knight is a Scottish song with a similar tune, again about setting a lover impossible tasks.

Added on 28th August 2020

Oral tradition Folk song from England