There lived a lady by the North Sea shore
(Lay the bent to the bonnie broom)
Two daughters were the babes she bore
A lady lived by the sea with 2 daughters
As one grew bright as is the sun,
So coal black grew the elder one.
One grew up nice and sweet and the other sister grew up mean
A knight came riding to the lady's door,
He'd travelled far to be their wooer.
One day the nice sisters lover came to their door
He courted one with gloves and rings,
But he loved the other above all things.
He showered one with jewelry and clothes but loved the other sister the most
Oh sister will you go with me
To watch the ships sail on the sea?
The cruel sister asked the nice sister to go down and watch the ships sail
She took her sister by the hand
And led her down to the North Sea strand.
She led her nice sister down by the sea
And as they stood on the windy shore
The dark girl threw her sister o'er.
The cruel sister then threw her in to the sea
Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam,
Crying, "Sister, reach to me your hand!
Sometimes the nice sister swam and sometimes she drowned begging for help
"Oh Sister, Sister, let me live,
And all that's mine I'll surely give."
Begging her that if she helps her she can anything she wants of hers
"(It's) your own true love that I'll have and more,
But thou shalt never come ashore."
The cruel sister then says she wants her lover but will not save her
And there she floated like a swan,
The salt sea bore her body on.
So the sea took her body away
Two minstrels walked along the strand
And saw the maiden float to land.
Two woman walked by and saw the body on the land
They made a harp of her breastbone,
Whose sound would melt a heart of stone.
They made a harp out of her breatbone
They took three locks of her yellow hair,
And with them strung the harp so rare.
Then used 3 locks of hair as the strings for the harp
They went into her father's hall
To play the harp before them all,
They went home to play the harp in front of the older sister.
But when they laid it on a stone
The harp began to play alone.
Though when put down it played by itself
The first string sang a doleful sound:
"The bride her younger sister drowned."
Her 1st string says how the younger sister was drowned by the bride
The second string as that they tried,
In terror sits the black-haired bride.
Her 2nd string says how the bride is now scared because of what she has done
The third string sang beneath their bow,
"And surely now her tears will flow
And the 3rd string says now she will cry for what she has done to her sister
This is a murder ballad that tells a tale of how one sister drowned her other sister because a man that was destined to marry the older sister had fallen for the younger sister so her solution was then to drown the other sister, the authors intent is to explain how some people do bad things and yet some times it goes unpunished and this is also an example of medieval love. Basically the poem is saying if you do bad things they will always come back to haunt you.