Lord Randall: Summary, Interpretation & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Background
  • 0:45 Plot Summary
  • 1:49 Interpretation
  • 2:50 Analysis
  • 4:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Diedra Taylor

Diedra has taught college English and worked as a university writing center consultant. She has a master's degree in English.

'Lord Randall' isn't a person, but an old Scottish folk ballad that has been written down for preservation. Find out why the story of Lord Randall resonates with modern readers and what techniques made it easy to remember in this lesson.

Background of 'Lord Randall'

'Lord Randall' is a Scottish folk ballad. It was known and sung by many in the Scottish countryside. Though it was later written down, 'Lord Randall' was originally memorized and sang. It is very much a part of the oral literary tradition rather than the written.

Although no one knows who originally composed the lyrics to this ballad, it is called one of the Child Ballads. These are a group of folk songs collected in five volumes and published between 1882 and 1898 by Francis J. Child. Child did not originate any of these, he just wrote them down so that people wouldn't forget them. After all, singers didn't have recording equipment in the 1600s and 1800s when this folk song was popular. The ballad was also published earlier by Sir Walter Scott in 1803.

Plot Summary

You may be able to relate to the story of Lord Randall, who is also called Ronald, Rendal, or Randal depending on the version you read (you probably won't hear many people singing it these days). He was a teenager whose love story ends with sadness. Familiar, right? But, Lord Randall's story takes an odd turn. Not only does his true love shun him, she poisons him and his dogs! Talk about a bad breakup! The ballad begins when Lord Randall returns home, and his mother asks where he's been. He tells her he's been hunting, but now needs to lie down.

In each stanza, the young man's mother asks for more of the story, and he provides a little more information, along with a refrain (the part of a song that repeats between verses), indicating he feels sick and needs to lie down. Finally, his mother asks him what he will leave to his family upon his likely death. The ballad ends with his mother asking what he will leave his lover. Depending on the version you read, his response is 'hell and fire' or 'a rope to hang her.'


Of course, the pain Lord Randall feels is not only the pangs of poison. The sickness he feels is also the pain of heartbreak. The first four verses end with the refrain 'For I'm weary wi' hunting, and fain wald lie down.' But, the fifth refrain varies the wording to 'For I'm sick at the heart, and I fain wald lie down.'

It becomes quite clear early in the poem that something is wrong with Lord Randall, and we find out that he is, in fact, poisoned. However, when he states his sickness at heart we begin to suspect that it was his lover who poisoned him. Finally, when his mother asks what he will leave his lover, and he answers with pain and suffering for her, we're convinced that it was she who brought about his end.

Although it's logical that a young man may be tired after hunting all day, people do not usually write popular songs about just being tired. Where's the story here? When we hear Lord Randall ask his mother to make his bed, readers are tipped off that 'making his bed' is actually an allusion to wrapping up his affairs and preparing him for death.


When Child and others wrote 'Lord Randall' down, they wrote it the way it was sung, with a rural, Scottish dialect. It was never meant to be written down in the first place, so it does not use the same kind of poetic language as written pieces. Of course, that is also why you will find different versions of the text. You know from playing the game Telephone that words change as people pass them on.

The piece is written in a dialogue form, which means it is a conversation. The two speakers in this dialogue are Lord Randall and his mother. Because the ballad was passed from person to person through singing, the conversation follows a repetitive format that makes it easy to remember the verses.

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