The Dilly Song
This poem is known for some reason as The Dilly Song, and there is an air to it which many people will know and perhaps even sing. Since one of its principal charms has always been its apparent mystery, I was dismayed to learn that it isn't, or wasn't, mysterious at all. According to Geoffrey Grigson who quotes learned authorities in support, it is "a late medieval mnemonic to the realms of God and Man", learned by heart by schoolchildren. Thus, it is the one God who is "all alone and ever more shall be so." The lily-white boys are the New and Old Testaments in the persons of Christ and John the Baptist. The three rivals are the Trinity. Perhaps it is so. But I prefer to think of the line "One is one and all alone", for example, as a statement of the human condition.
I'll sing you twelve O.
Green grow the rushes O.
What is your twelve O?
Twelve for the twelve apostles,
Eleven for the eleven who went to heaven,
Ten for the ten commandments,
Nine for the nine bright shiners,
Eight for the eight bold rangers,
Seven for the seven stars in the sky,
Six for the six proud walkers,
Five for the symbol at your door,
Four for the Gospel makers,
Three, three, the rivals,
Two, two, the lily-white boys,
Clothed all in green O,
One is one and all alone
And ever more shall be so.