[DWJ] Nettle shirts

Paul Andinach pandinac at ucc.gu.uwa.edu.au
Wed Aug 23 21:53:31 EDT 2006

On Wed, 23 Aug 2006, Minnow wrote:

> I got this story mixed up later with the ?folk-song? about the
> impossible tasks: the man demanding that his girl show her devotion
> by finding land between low and high tidemarks on which to grow a
> very small crop of some improbable weed, then use the weed to make
> him a seamless shirt, with impractical-sounding tools for the
> cultivation and the preparation of the cloth.  The jerk! thought I.
> Why didn't she just dump him?  But if it were to get him out of evil
> enchantment, as in the swans story, then maybe he had a point and
> she wasn't just being idiotic if she went along with the whole
> business.
> (The lyric offers no explanation so I had to come up with one or
> else hate the song, which would have been a pity because it has a
> good tune.)

In the version I know, she's explicitly his ex, so it always made
sense to me as an elaborate version of "We might get together again
some day - let me know if you see Satan buying ice skates..."

(On the other hand, I remember being told in English class in high
school that it was inspired by a game in which the players challenged
each other to do impossible tasks: "Sure, I'll do that, but first...",
and the first person to run out of inspiration lost. It was presumed
that at some point there were also verses detailing the girl's
replies. But the order is wrong for that, it seems to me: the game is
"but first... but first..." and the song is "and then... and then...")

> The only trouble was that folk-songs don't generally have actual
> magic in them, or so it seemed to me, and I couldn't understand how,
> apart from magic, a random weed could be turned into fine fabric.
> Now you've given it a more practical explanation.  Thank you!  I
> suppose one might be able to make a sickle out of leather, and use a
> very stiff feather for carding: it would take a long time, but it
> might just be *possible*...

In the version I'm familiar with, the crop is specified as heather (to
rhyme with leather) - is heather any good for making fabric from? -
but the seamless shirt is a separate challenge, and is to be made from

"Hold fast to the one noble thing."

More information about the Dwj mailing list