Introduced by Denise and Stuart Savage

This song was collected in November 1899 by W. Percy Merrick, and can be found in the Journal of the Folk Song Society Vol.1 – No.3, 1901. Widely collected in Southern England, see the version in the Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, attributed to Henry Hills, a farmer from West Sussex who lived in Lodsworth, a village just 3 miles from Petworth, where Stuart was born. We have been singing this simple but lovely song for over 40 years, and still love it.

Listen to Denise and Stuart singing the song:

A Sailors Life
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A sailor’s life is a merry life,
They rob young girls of their heart’s delight
Leaving them behind to sigh and mourn
They never know when they will return.

Here’s four-and-twenty all in a row,
My sweetheart cuts the brightest show.
He’s proper tall, genteel withal
If I don’t have him, I’ll have none at all.

O, father, fetch me a little boat
That I might on the ocean float,
And every Queen’s ship that we pass by
We’ll make enquire for my sailor boy.

We had not sailed long upon the deep,
Before a queen’s ship we chanced to meet.
You sailors all come tell me true,
Does my sweet William sail among your crew?

“O no, fair lady, he is not here,
For he is drowned, we greatly fear.
On yon green island as we passed by,
There we lost sight of your sailor boy.”

She wrung her hands, and she tore her hair,
Much like a woman in great despair.
Her little boat ‘gainst a rock did run.
“How can I live, now my William’s gone?”

She wrung her hands, and she tore her hair,
Much like a woman in great despair.
She threw her body into the deep.
In William’s arms to lay fast asleep.

November 1899 – W.P.M.

Denise and Stuart Savage became involved in the folk music revival in the 60s while living in West Sussex, England, and have performed in various group combinations, now as a duo. They visited the USA in 2002 and again in 2004 when we were lucky enough to perform in a number of house concerts from Washington, DC, to Vermont.