Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
"O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall my son!
O I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!"
- Hearing that the poor pups died in this terrible way after dinner, Lord Randall's mother figures out the trouble—her son has also been poisoned.
- Must have been those dodgy eels…
- Needless to say, we're betting mama's gone from nagging to frantic by now. This revelation brings a whole new meaning to what her son's been saying all along.
"O yes, I am poisoned mother, make my bed soon,
For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down.
- Lord Randall confirms that he has been poisoned. Tradition has it that it was his so-called "true love" who committed the crime, for reasons we'll never know.
- Here, Lord Randall's refrain changes to reflect the fact that we know his fate now. Instead of simply saying that he's tired and needs to lie down, he asks his mother to make his bed (we now realize that he means his death bed), because he's "sick at heart."
- "Sick" here both refers to his poisoned state, and to his brokenhearted misery. It's never stated directly in this version of the ballad, but we take this to be a definite sign that he was poisoned by his unfaithful girlfriend.
- Some alternate, even more morbid versions have other stanzas describing how he wants the authorities to arrest his girlfriend and have her hanged (if you're interested, see the link in "Best of the Web"), but we think this version's plenty gruesome, thank you very much.
- We also finally realize that Lord Randall's many references to being tired and going to bed are actually talking about a very different kind of bed, as in a coffin.
- This euphemism, which draws a link between going to sleep and the Big Sleep, was pretty common in Medieval and Renaissance literature. For Shakespeare fans, think of the moment in Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy when he muses, "To die, to sleep…"