The melody was printed in Bruce and Stokoe’s Northumbrian Minstrelsy in 1882, which also mentioned its publication in 1821 and noted that the contributor of the song was Thomas Doubleday (1790–1870), who put it to a melody (“My Love is Newly Listed”) learned from a Newcastle street singer. Thomas Doubleday was a radical agitator who often contributed to Blackwood’s.
The singer Anne Briggs first popularized the song in the 1960s and recorded it in 1971. It was later learned by Archie Fisher who passed it on to Dick Gaughan. Gaughan recorded it on his Handful of Earth album, the success of which further popularized the song.
The song was used in the 2008 BBC adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’
The original lyrics as printed in Blackwood’s Magazine, 1821, are:
O, the snow it melts the soonest when the winds begin to sing;
And the corn it ripens fastest when the frosts are setting in;
And when a woman tells me that my face she’ll soon forget,
Before we part, I wad a crown, she’s fain to follow’t yet.
The snow it melts the soonest when the wind begins to sing;
And the swallow skims without a thought as long as it is spring;
But when spring goes, and winter blows, my lass, an ye’ll be fain,
For all your pride, to follow me, were’t cross the stormy main.
O, the snow it melts the soonest when the wind begins to sing;
The bee that flew when summer shined, in winter cannot sting;
I’ve seen a woman’s anger melt between the night and morn,
And it’s surely not a harder thing to tame a woman’s scorn.
O, never say me farewell here -no farewell I’ll receive,
For you shall set me to the stile, and kiss and take your leave;
But I’ll stay here till the woodcock comes, and the martlet takes his wing,
Since the snow aye melts the soonest, lass, when the wind begins to sing.