Scarborough Fair (Simon & Garfunkel / Traditional)

Long had I known Scarborough Fair, as popularized by Simon & Garfunkel, and even sung my own amateurish version, before a friend helped me see the lyrics from a spiritual perspective for the first time. The traditional tune is believed to be several centuries old; the currently best-known version by Simon & Garfunkel was released in 1966 on the album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

The following was recorded in 1968 and features Andy Williams.:

A tragic love affair?

The song had appealed to me because I thought it described a tragic love affair and I used to enjoy sad songs. No human being can meet the conditions – so, this desired love will never come true.

Have her make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

The Soul Garment

From a spiritual perspective, the unrealizable conditions hint, verse by verse, to a different realm. For those who value the bible, this may relate to Jesus’ words: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

How can clothes be made without seam or needlework? Such imagery often relates to subtle energies which are usually invisible to human eyes. He who has purified his soul and cleaned it from all earthly desires, becomes worthy of wearing a truly noble robe again. The bible makes several references to white or gleaming garments (e. g. Luke 9:29, Mark 9:3, Revelation 3:5).

Have her wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
where water ne’er sprung nor drop of rain fell
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

Where on earth could you wash clothes in a fountain “where water never sprung nor drop of rain fell”? This makes sense as a reference to the “living water” that nourishes and purifies the soul rather than the physical body. See, for example, the scene when Jesus speaks with the Samaritan woman (John 4:10, topic of Peter, Paul and Mary‘s Jesus Met the Woman).

Different versions of the song include different verses. The common theme remains: conditions impossible to meet from a material perspective. However, the wording is positive, which may imply it is possible to reach the goal – even if not by our usual earthly means. Only the newly-born soul will fulfill what has to be done, and finally meet her groom, the spirit.

Dear, when thou has finished thy task
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Come to me, my hand for to ask
For thou then art a true love of mine

Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

The herbs mentioned repeatedly in the chorus may also be interpreted in a spiritual sense:

  • Parsley, known to aid digestion, may help removing bitterness – an integral aspect of purifying the soul; it was used by Paracelsus, who aimed at holistic healing.
  • Sage was a symbol of strength, sometimes also wisdom, in Celtic tradition.
  • Rosemary is associated with love and fidelity; in a spiritual context it may refer to loyalty to one’s innermost core, the immortal spark
  • Thyme can symbolize courage. In our context, the courage to entrust oneself to the inner journey, even if the consequences are not always pleasant for one’s personal life.

The Hymn of the Pearl (Acts of Thomas)

The Hymn of the Pearl, also known as the Hymn of the Robe of Glory, is an old gnostic text that describes in detail how the soul left its original home to experience the material world, and how it found its way back home. As he returns to his father’s kingdom, the narrator is sent his majestic garment. The text makes it clear that this is a state of being that cannot be enforced untimely:

And in its kingly movements
it poured itself entirely over me …

Other examples of love songs that can be read on a spiritual level include:

6 Replies to “Scarborough Fair (Simon & Garfunkel / Traditional)”

What's your view?