Cambric Shirt (Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme)

I suspect most people these days know of this traditional rhyme through the Simon & Garfunkel version, where it is blended with Simon's "Canticle," but it dates back at least to 1784. Here is the main version of it recorded in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. I like it a lot more that the S&G which removes the dialog element completely and sets it in the third person. In this version, you'll notice that the first three stanzas are spoken by a man to a woman, and the remainder is the woman's response. Though the images are quite lovely, the tone is humorous flirtation.


Can you make me a cambric shirt, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Without any seam or needle work? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you wash it in yonder well, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Where never sprung water, nor rain ever fell? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you dry it on yonder thorn, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Which never bore blossom since Adam was born? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Now you have asked me questions three, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; I hope you'll answer as many for me, And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you find me an acre of land, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Between the salt water and the sea sand? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you plough it with a ram's horn, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; And sow it all over with one pepper corn? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you reap it with a sickle of leather, Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme; And bind it up with a peacock's feather? And you shall be a true lover of mine.


When you have done, and finished your work, Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme; Then come to me for your cambric shirt, And you shall be a true lover of mine.

© 2019 Robert Schechter 

website by Susannah Greenberg Public Relations