At the Foot of Yonder Mountain (Pretty Saro)

TITLE: At the Foot of Yonder Mountain (Pretty Saro)
AUTHOR: unknown
CATEGORY: Traditional, Public Domain
KEYWORDSlove, poverty, river
EARLIEST PRINTED OR RECORDED REFERENCE: 1911 (Lomax, North Carolina Booklet, according to Randolph)

Robin MacKenzie Illustration (
Robin MacKenzie Illustration (

Pretty Saro was first recorded in the early 20th century when a few academic heroes travelled through the mountains capturing songs that had been handed down through oral tradition. Although there are multiple lyric variations, there are two primary musical versions. One is sweeter and usually played with a mandolin or guitar. The other is more plaintive and sung with minimal or no accompaniment. As with all music of this genre, the gender of the singer is irrelevant which gives the song a universal power, transcending a boy-girl love story. Pretty Saro carries the weight of all wandering strangers pining for another life, a happy ending that seems to elude them. (from The Great Whatsit

Richard Chase in American Folk Tales and Songs, says “[Folk song collectors] Lucy Broadwood and Anne Gilchrist have written articles which set forth the hypothesis with such logic and insight as to bring conviction that this song is derived from an ancient mystical hymn to the Virgin.”


  • Pretty Saro
  • Pretty Sarah

RECORDINGS: (mp3’s available through


BONUS YOUTUBE VIDEO: Ngan Le & Dolce Chorus

At the Foot of Yonder Mountain

At the foot of yonder mountain there runs a clear stream,
At the foot of yonder mountain there lives a fair queen;
She’s handsome, she`s proper, and her ways are complete.
I ask no better pastime than to be with my sweet.

But why she won`t have me I well understand;
She wants some freeholder and l bave no land.
I cannot maintain her on silver and gold,
And all the other fine things that my love`s house should hold.

Oh I wish I were a penman and could write a fine hand!
I would write my love a letter from this distant land.
I`d send it by the waters just for to let her know
That I think of pretty Mary wherever I go.

Oh I wish I were a bird and had wings and could fly,
It`s to my love`s dwelling this night I`d draw nigh.
I`d sit in her window all night long and cry
That for love of pretty Mary I gladly would die.


  • Folk Song Index: A Comprehensive Guide to the Florence E. Brunnings Collection, Florence E. Brunnings, Garland Publishing, Inc., New York and London 1981—Amazon Books
  • Country Music Sources: A Biblio-Discography of Commercially Recorded Traditional Music, Guthrie T. Meade, Jr. with Dick Spottswood and Douglas S. Meade, Southern Folklife Collection, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries, NC 2002—Amazon Books


NOTICE: I’m not the best guitar player or vocalist, but no one loves these songs more than I do. The tune and lyrics are in the public domain unless otherwise noted. The recording © copyright 2013 by Stephen Griffith and may be used by permission of the copyright holder. The variation of the song I’m posting is the version I perform and is not exactly replicating the sources cited, but is always in the same song family. If anyone has more details about this song, or believes I’ve stated something in error, please let me know. I’m also open to suggestions to improve the site. Thanks. sgg

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