“Are you goin’ to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.
Remember me to one who lives there,
she once was a true love of mine.”
In Simon and Garfunkel’s song, Scarborough Fair, they make reference to 4 herbs: parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Have you ever wondered at the meaning of this line in the song, or why it was even included? It was the second line in every stanza; therefore, we have to assume it had some significance. But what was it?
In early times, herbs and flowers were often used as symbols of what someone wanted to say or how they felt about someone or something. Each of these herbs have a meaning. Let’s look at these meanings in reference to the song.
These herbs could symbolize virtues that the singer wishes his true love and he had – past, present and future. If they had had them in the past, they would perhaps still be lovers. They will need them in the present to overcome the obstacles they have each laid out for each other. And they will need them in the future, should they once again find their way back to each other.
In the song, each of the lovers ask impossible tasks of the other as a prerequisite of becoming lovers once more. This seems to indicate a bitterness – asking the impossible to gain merit … as a form of punishment or repentance. The very impossibility of the tasks would torment the soul of the one wishing to complete them.
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Parsley is said to remove bitterness, physically as well as spiritually. It is also used to represent merriment. Once the lovers overcome the bitterness they feel, they then can look forward to their reunion should they find a way to complete the impossible tasks they have laid out for each other.
Sage symbolizes a long life, wisdom, and domestic virtue. This herb therefore represents what they once had as lovers – a domestic virtue; and what they need to accomplish the tasks each have laid out for the other – wisdom and a long life. In some cases, sage has also been used to symbolize strength, another virtue they will need if they are ever to be reunited.
Rosemary symbolizes faithfulness and remembrance. The lovers must remain faithful to themselves and to each other if they are to have a future together. Rosemary also helps them remember what they had so that they do not become discouraged by the impossible tasks they must now accomplish. By remembering what they had, they know what they are working towards.
Thyme represents courage, daring and activity. All of these virtues point to what it will take in order to complete the tasks so that they may once again be lovers. It will take courage and daring to face the tasks, along with much activity to complete them.
What do you think? Does this sound like a plausible explanation of why “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” were included in this song?