“Scarborough Fair/Canticle” by Simon & Garfunkel

As the title suggests, this is actually two songs crosscut as one. The first is “Scarborough Fair”, derived from an old English folk song about the titular event. The second is “Canticle”, which is actually based on a song Paul Simon wrote criticizing the Vietnam War in 1965. The song in question is entitled “The Side of a Hill”.

“Scarborough Fair” itself is based on a man giving an ex-girlfriend tasks which are impossible to complete in order to regain his affection. Meanwhile “Canticle” is centered on a child who has died due to being in the crossfire of a war. 

It has been theorized that the intended connection between these two songs is founded on the common theme of the impossibility of regaining the person which has been lost. The first one is that of a woman concerning a man who doesn’t want her back and the other once again a deceased child. 

It may also allude to the idea that war between nations, just like strife between lovers, is an ever-existent part of the human experience.

Lyrics of "Scarborough Fair/Canticle"

Scarborough Fair

Traditional versions of “Scarborough Fair” can be traced back to the 17th century. However, they are believed to have possibly been around since the Scarborough Fair was inaugurated by King Henry III in 1253.

The version that Simon & Garfunkel used is from the 19th century. This version contains the lyrics “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”, which is also the title of their 1966 album that “Scarborough Fair / Canticle” is featured on.

Release Date

This song was originally released by Columbia Records as a part of the above mentioned album on 10 October 1966.

However, in February of 1968, it was re-released as a single due to the popularity it received as a result of being featured on the soundtrack of the 1967 romantic film The Graduate.

FYI, Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” was released as a single from The Graduate soundtrack album.

Simon & Garfunkel’s beef with Martin Carthy

Simon & Garfunkel had a riff with Martin Carthy – the folk singer who introduced them to “Scarborough Fair” – for decades. And what was the cause of this rift? This feud started because they failed to officially credit him (or its original sources) on the track. But in 2000, the beef was finally squashed. Carthy even later performed the song alongside Paul Simon.

Who wrote “Scarborough Fair/Canticle”?

Paul Simon shares writing credits for “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” along with a number of traditional sources (which cannot be cited).

The track was produced by Bob Johnston.

The Medieval Fair Held in Scarborough England

The seacoast town of North Yorkshire, Scarborough in England was a highly recommended center of trade between the 5th and the 15th century. Scarborough was the base for the Roman signal station. It hosted a fair annually that was attended by several merchants and tradesmen from the likes of Norway, Denmark, and the Baltic republics.

Scarborough was given the privilege and grant of rights to hold this fair by King Henry III of England on January 22, 1253. It lasted for a period of a month and 15 days (six weeks). The fair was so huge and famous that it was considered one of the longest-lasting fairs at the time. The magnitude of the fair attracted many entertainers and performers.

The fair was halted in 1788 after the entrance of massive allied competitors caused an increase in the state’s taxes, resulting in economical restrictions.

After several centuries, the town still follows its tradition, organizing smaller fairs and events.

In 2008, Scarborough won an award for its long-lasting reputation of being the most enterprising town in Britain. The reputation of the town has been restored with trade margins picking up successfully.

1 Response

  1. mplo says:

    this is such a beautiful song! Simon & Garfunkel were fantastic!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may also like...