The Return of the Long-lost Husband

A Greek folk song, translated by Joshua Barley 

The east was turning rosy red, and in the west was dawning 

with lines of mountains softly drawn, the morning star retreating,

the birds were winging to the plains, the girls to the fountain.

And I was out on my black horse and with my pack of hounds.

I met a girl washing clothes down at the marble trough.

I greeted her, she didn’t reply; I spoke, she didn’t answer.


‘Won’t you give us some water, girl, and may your fate be happy;

so I can drink, my black horse too, and my pack of hounds.’


She drew out forty bucketfuls, I hadn’t seen her eyes,

but on the forty second one, I saw that she was weeping.


‘Why are you weeping, lovely one, why is your heart so heavy? 

Are you hungry, are you thirsty, do you have a wicked mother?


‘I am not hungry, nor am I thirsty, nor have I a wicked mother.

If I am weeping, stranger, and if my heart is heavy,

it’s for my husband who’s abroad, who’s been away ten years,            

I’ll wait for him another two, and on the third he’ll come,

but if he doesn’t appear then, I’ll take a nun’s black habit,

I’ll go to the barren mountainsides, I’ll found a monastery,

I’ll bolt myself inside a cell, I’ll paint it black inside,

he’ll waste away from being abroad, and I from my black habit.’


‘My girl, your husband’s died abroad, my girl, your husband’s gone.

I held him with these very hands, with these hands he was buried. 

I shared the bread, the candles with him,* he said you would repay me, 

and when I gave a final kiss, he said you would return it.’


‘If you shared the bread and candles, I’ll pay you back twice over,

but of that final kiss you gave, go back and get it from him.’

‘But I am your good man, my girl; it’s me that is your husband.’


‘Stranger, if you are my good man, and if you are my husband,

tell me the sure signs of my garden and then I will believe you.’

‘You have an apple tree at your door, a vine grows in your garden,

which produces rose-red grapes and sweet Muscat wine,

and those who drink it are refreshed and long for it again.’


‘Those are the sure signs of the garden, and everybody knows them,

if you were a passerby, you could have seen and told me.

Tell me the sure signs of the house and then I will believe you.’

‘Inside your bedroom shines a light, a golden gleaming lamp,

it shines on you when you undress and when you braid your hair,

it shines on you on those sweet dawns when you put on your finest.’


‘Some wicked neighbour must have told you, for you to know all this.

Tell me the sure signs of my body, the telltale signs of love.’

‘You have an olive on your chest, an olive beneath your arm,

and there’s a mark between your breasts, your husband’s amulet.’


‘Stranger, it’s you are my good man, it’s you who are my husband.’

* Bread and candles would be used at different stages of the funeral and memorial services.


Joshua Barley’s translations of Michalis Ganas (with David Connolly) were published by Yale University Press in 2019. An anthology of Greek folk songs in translation is forthcoming from Aiora Press in 2021. He lives in Athens. 


John Craxton

Greek Water Jug 


oil on canvas

54 x 36 cm. (21.3 x 14.2 in.)