I was nineteen when I came to town
They called in the Summer of Love
They were burningbabies, burning flags
The Hawks against the Doves

I took a job in the STeamie
Down on Cauldrum Street
I fell in love with a laundry girl
Was working next to me

She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child
She was running wild, she said
As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay
And you wouldn't want me any other way

Brown hair zig-zag round her face
And a look of half-surprise
Like a fox caught in the headlights
There was an animal in her eyes

She said, young man, O can't you see
I'm not the factory kind
If you don't take me out of here
I'll surely lose my miind

She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child
She was running wild, she said
As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay
And you wouldn't want me any other way

We busked around the market towns
And picked fruit down in Kent
And we could tinker lamps and pots
And knives wherever we went

And I said that we might settle down
Get a few acres dug
Fire burning in the hearth
And babies on the rug

She said O man, you foolish man
It surely sounds like hell
You might be lord of half the world
You'll not own me as well

She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
So fine a breath of wind might blow her away
She was a lost child
She was running wild, she said
As long as there's no price on love, I'll stay
And you wouldn't want me any other way

We was camping down the Gower one time
The work was pretty good
She thought we shouldn't wait for frost
And I thought maybe we should

We were drinking more in those days
And tempers reached a pitch
Like a fool I let her run
With the rambling itch

Last I hear she's sleeping out
Back on Derby beat
White Horse in her hip pocket
And a wolfhound at her feet

And they say she even marriend once
A man named Romany Brown
But even a Gypsy caravan
Was too much settliing down

And they say her flower is faded now
Hard weather and hard booze
But maybe that's just hte price you pay
For the chains you refuse

She was a rare thing
Fine as a beeswing
And I missher more than ever words could say
If I could just taste
All of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today
Then I wouldn't want her any other way


Lyrics submitted by beandolan

Beeswing Lyrics as written by Richard John Thompson

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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Beeswing song meanings
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13 Comments

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  • +5
    General CommentI'm sad to see nobody has posted on this yet. This is a beautiful, heartbreaking song.
    Penny2mynameon September 20, 2010   Link
  • +4
    General CommentIt is too bad this song has so few comments. Let's remedy that. To folks like me not native to Britain, some of the words were not familiar, so here are my annotations and comments:

    The Summer of Love was 1967, the summer when most of the world became aware of hippies and the counter-culture. Extensive press coverage of the Human Be-In and the mass influx to the Haight-Ashbury district inspired young people to adopt the hippie style and philosophy. '67 also marked a big increase in war protesting (burning flags), awareness of war atrocities (burning babies), and political polarization over the war (hawks against the doves.)

    Our narrator was 19 in 1967, making him approximately the age of Richard Thompson. He came to town, so we may deduce he grew up on a farm or in a rural community.

    He got a job in a steamie, or large steam laundry. It was on, as mentioned by another poster, Cauldrum St. which is in Dundee, Scotland.

    The unnamed girl--if not a hippie proper--has the same free spirit attitude of one. She isn't made for a conventional job or lifestyle. Most hippies eventually dropped back in to society, though this is the story of the consequences of holding on to the life too long.

    Busking means street performing. It can refer to the old organ-grinders, or street mimes, or musicians or jugglers or clowns. Basically any kind of performing in a public place for money. It is one step above panhandling, so buskers are sometimes welcome and sometimes not.

    “..and we could tinker..” Tinkering refers to tinsmithing. A tinker is someone who repairs things of light metal, especially tin. It is also a synonym for a gypsy or traveler, as itinerant workers often did this kind of work to support themselves.

    “working down the Gower” The Gower is a peninsula on the coast of Wales known for its natural beauty. “The work,” the two lovers do there is probably itinerant farm work, since later the narrator speaks of waiting for the frost.

    “sleeping rough back on the Derby beat..” Derby is a city in the English midlands that was an early industrial center and major railway point. One might assume this means she is probably working as a prostitute there, or perhaps is simply a vagrant sleeping where she can.

    “White Horse in her hip pocket..” White Horse has been a popular Scotch Whiskey for over a century. Read as: She has become an alcoholic.

    “..and a wolfhound at her feet.” The narrator says she had animal in her eyes. It is left to an animal now to be her only faithful companion.

    “Romany Brown..” Romany, or Romani, is an ethnic group whose origins are traced back to India, but now exist almost all over the world. The word “gypsy” was misapplied to them in the belief that they originated in Egypt.

    The song ends with an expression of longing for the girl as she was, but that necessarily means the narrator would have to be as he was. It is not just a need to hold her again, but to return to a time when he could be carefree, without responsibility, and his whole life was ahead of him. It was a relationship that was doomed from the beginning, yet he wouldn’t want her to be anything but the wild, free, innocent first love of his youth. You lose all those qualities with the passage of time, and we all ache with the need to hang on to them.
    Atmanon May 24, 2011   Link
  • +3
    General CommentBack in the 1970s Bob Pegg wrote a narrative ballad enititled 'The Gypsy' - its the title track of his band Mr Fox's second and final album. The last verse:

    The last time I heard a word about my Mary Lee
    She was married to a tinker and was living in Dundee
    They say she has a baby now to bounce upon her knee
    And I wonder in the long nights does she ever think of me?

    Cauldrum Street is in Dundee. Did Richard Thompson ever hear The Gypsy? Did he intend Beeswing to be a sequel and the girl in the song to be Mary Lee's daughter? Probably not - but it is an odd coincidence. Two long narrative ballads about lost love, one starting where the other leaves off.

    Oh, and both songs are BRILLIANT.
    BoultersCanaryon May 20, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General CommentOne interesting point to me is the song’s title itself. Given the context, the narrator is almost certainly referring to a “bee’s wing” in the chorus. And yet the title is “Beeswing”. Beeswing is a crude that is purified to make cream of tartar. Taken in too large of a quantity, cream of tartar can have a sour taste (and adverse health effects). The narrator nearly confirms the intentional misuse of the term beeswing when referring to the sense of taste in the final verse. Sour and painful or not, he misses the girl and would go there again without hesitation.
    cirwin76on February 06, 2018   Link
  • +2
    General Commenten.wikipedia.org/wiki/…

    I live just along the road from a little village town called Beeswing
    percy11835on March 06, 2021   Link
  • +1
    General CommentSupposedly, this was written with the beautiful and talented folksinger Anne Briggs in mind, whom Thompson met during her wild period. Nothing biographical per se, but a poetic imagining, and truly a hauntingly wondrous one.
    CompressedAireon January 11, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI must have listened to this song 100 times before I could hear it without bawling.
    PHRon February 05, 2014   Link
  • +1
    General CommentGood comments so far.

    All I have to add is that sleeping rough is slang for sleeping outside with the connotation of homelessness.

    The juxtaposition of images of her as a young woman and her as an older woman (middle aged, perhaps) interweave.

    As a young woman:

    "Brown hair zig-zag round her face
    And a look of half-surprise
    Like a fox caught in the headlights
    There was an animal in her eyes"

    She was working in a steam laundry and high humidity really makes naturally curly hair go wild. The narrator compares her to a fox, which contrasts with:

    "Last I hear she's sleeping out
    Back on Derby beat
    White Horse in her hip pocket
    And a wolfhound at her feet"

    White Horse is a whisky but there's lots of choices of whisky--I think the intention was also to refer to the popular image of a knight/saviour on a shining white steed riding to save the one he loves. She's keeping that image in her hip pocket which underlines that she both has a means of something that 'saves' her and that the only aid she'll use is one that only she controls.

    Someone else implied it means she is an alcoholic and that may well be. I think it could also be a reference to continuing the hard drinking habits of her youth. And if I had to sleep rough, I'd need some sort of chemical aid to get me through the day--so it may be that for her, the alcohol isn't the cause of her homelessness but a result of it.

    The wolfhound is an interesting image to me as a dog fancier. There are Borzoi (also called Russian wolfhounds) and Irish wolfhounds, two very different breeds. I suspect she's got an Irish wolfhound, a breed with a shaggy, wiry coat. That contrasts with the fox of her youth, which brings to mind a sleekness and elegance or refinement of line. Irish wolfhounds are more of a blocky, craggy sort of build.

    Someone above wrote that the wolfhound might be a reference to a pimp but I just can't see this woman owned by a pimp. She couldn't tolerate life with two different men she loved, so why would she accept being dominated by a pimp? She really is the sort that would chew her own foot off (kill herself) if that was the only way she could be free.

    I think the narrator, with more life experience, can see that she was honest to the core and some part of him regrets that he did not realise it at the time. She said she would only stay without ties (ownership) and her life demonstrates that she really meant it. Freedom was more important to her than security (staying until the frost because the work is good in the area) or comfort.

    If she has turned to prostitution, she's still living by her core value: when there is a price on love (prostitution), she doesn't stay.
    MsEithneon October 06, 2019   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI really love this song even though the lyric's are so sad. It is so heart breaking to love someone who doesn't feel the same way and they carry that sadness around with them for the rest of their lives.
    traceyjaneon April 16, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI have loved this song from the first time I heard it. i wonder could “burning babies” be referring to the legalisation of abortion in Britain in 1967 (The Summer of Love). “White Horse In Her Hip Pocket” . I always assumed that this was referring to a bottle of Vodka or some other alcoholic drink. The Wolfhound to me was simply her dog. She was probably begging and sleeping rough.
    seamusbon July 02, 2019   Link

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