"Scarborough Fair" is a traditional English folk song from the Middle Ages, referring to an old fair in Scarborough, Yorkshire. It is a market fair, comprising of traders, merchants and other vendors that started sometime in the 14th century until the 18th century.

Dive Deeper Into the Story of This English Song:

The music of the folk song is characterized by extensive harmonies and rising melodic lines. The purpose here was to develop a sensitive setting, akin to the story behind it. The song opens with acute melancholy, then turns into a wonderful association of smooth harmonies and counter-melodies.

The lyrics of Scarborough Fair puts forward the concept of unrequited love. The yearning is felt throughout the song, creating a perfect medieval love story in the process. A young man delegates certain impossible tasks to his lover with the condition that she would have to finish those to be able to come back to him. Consequently, the lady also requests equally impossible things from the man, with the condition that she would complete her tasks when he would complete his.

The popularization of Scarborough Fair today is due to rock & roll greats Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, who were introduced to it by Martin Cathy, a British singer. The song was then re-written with a song of theirs, ‘Canticle’ and its popularity rose due to its anti-war lyrics during the Vietnam war period. Added fame was brought by its presence in the Dustin Hoffman movie “The Graduate” in the year 1967, considered as one of the greatest films of all time. The tune is also audible in Simon & Garfunkel’s other compositions, such as "Mrs. Robinson".

The song was most certainly not composed by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel as it predates them by hundreds of years. Numerous versions of lyrics apart from the Simon and Garfunkel version, exist. One of the versions has the young man asking his lover to sew a cambric seamless shirt, which is simply not feasible because cambric was a light fabric utilized for making lace and needlework. Subsequently, we have the search for a dry well to wash the shirt. The lady’s tasks for her lover include finding an acre of land between sand and sea, to plant peppercorn in it after plowing with a ram’s horn, crafting of a leather sickle with peacock feathers, etc. Absurd as they may sound today, such elements were well-received centuries past.