The Well of St Keyne

Robert Southey

A well there is in the west country,
      And a clearer one never was seen;
    There is not a wife in the west-country
      But has heard of the Well of St. Keyne.

    An oak and an elm tree stand beside,
      And behind does an ash tree grow,
    And a willow from the bank above
      Droops to the water below.

    A traveller came to the Well of St. Keyne:
      Pleasant it was to his eye,
    For from cock-crow he had been travelling
      And there was not a cloud in the sky.

    He drank of the water so cool and clear,
      For thirsty and hot was he,
    And he sat down upon the bank,
      Under the willow tree.

    There came a man from the neighbouring town
      At the well to fill his pail;
    On the well-side he rested it,
      And bade the stranger hail.

   "Now, art thou a bachelor, stranger?" quoth he,
     "For an if thou hast a wife,
    The happiest draught thou hast drunk this day
      That ever thou didst in thy life.

   "Or has your good woman, if one you have,
      In Cornwall ever been?
    For an if she have, I'll venture my life
      She has drunk of the Well of St. Keyne."

   "I have left a good woman who never was here,"
      The stranger he made reply;
   "But that my draught should be better for that,
      I pray you answer me why,"

   "St. Keyne," quoth the countryman, "many a time
      Drank of this crystal well,
    And before the angel summoned her
      She laid on the water a spell.

   "If the husband of this gifted well
      Shall drink before his wife,
    A happy man thenceforth is he,
      For he shall be master for life.

   "But if the wife should drink of it first,
      God help the husband then!"
    The stranger stoop'd to the Well of St. Keyne,
      And drank of the waters again.

   "You drank of the well, I warrant, betimes?"
      He to the countryman said;
    But the countryman smiled as the stranger spake,
      And sheepishly shook his head.

   "I hastened as soon as the wedding was done,
      And left my wife in the porch,
    But i' faith she had been wiser than me,
      For she took a bottle to church,"

St Keyne is a small village in Cornwall with an ancient holy well associated with St Keyne. The church is dedicated to the saint.

The story of St Keyne is that she was one of the daughters of the legendary King Brychan of Wales. She did good deeds in the West of England. Around the well named after her, she planted four trees - an oak, an elm, a willow and an ash. The waters are said to hold a strange power: If a married couple drinks from the well, the one who drinks first will be the master in their marriage.