Introduced by Ian Robb
I first heard this “unbroken token” ballad from a young St. John’s singer, Ellen Power, then in her teens, at the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. Asking around, I discovered that the song had come from singer and accordion player Dorman Ralph, of Little Harbour Deep, White Bay, Newfoundland, who lived in St John’s from 1956 until his death in 1999.
I was attracted to the song for two reasons: Firstly, I loved the denouement, when not only do the long parted lovers fall into each other’s arms, but “both sat down to sing…” Secondly, I was intrigued by the melody, which is a version of that collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Harriet Verrall, in Monk’s Gate, Sussex, and to which he set John Bunyan’s poem “To Be a Pilgrim,” creating one of the best known English hymns. On the English folk scene, the tune is mostly associated with Mrs Verrall’s song “Our Captain Cried All Hands” and with a version of “A Blacksmith Courted Me,” but despite the fact that the text of “Welcome Home My Sailor” is known in England, sung and recorded by no less than Lal Waterson and later, Eliza Carthy, the tune used is quite different.
The words here are as I sing it, mostly from Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne’s version on their CD, How Good is Me Life, with some inevitable minor tinkering.
Here are Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne singing the song:
Lyrics, from Jim Payne, who had it from Dorman Ralph, White Bay, NL:
One night as I walked out, it being dark all over
The moon gave out no light, I could scarce discover
Down by a briny beach where ships were sailing,
A comely maid I spied, weeping and wailing.
I boldly stepped to her and I asked what grieved her,
The answer that she gave was none could relieve her,
“My own true love’s last prayer was to cross the ocean
My heart is like the wave, always in motion.”
I said, “My fair young maid, mark well my story
For your true love and I fought for England’s glory
By one unlucky shot he from me was parted,
And by our foe’s last shot, died broken hearted.
He said before he died that his heart was broken
‘I’ll give you my gold ring, take it as a token
Give it to my true love — there is none who’s fairer —
And tell her to prove true, and wed the bearer’.”
And when she heard these words, she fell distracted
She knew not how she felt, nor how she acted
She wrang and tore her hair, like one in anger,
“Young man you’ve come too late, I’ll wed no stranger.”
And when I heard these words, my love grew stronger
I fell into her arms, I could stay no longer
We both sat down to sing, and she sang clearest
Like a nightingale she sang, “Welcome home my dearest.”
She sang, “God bless the wind that blew you over,”
She sang, “God bless the ship that brought you over,”
She sang, “God bless the waves that tossed you over,”
Like a nightingale she sang, “Welcome home my sailor.”
Dorman Ralph, from his eponymous CD, released in 1999.
Jim Payne and Fergus O’Byrne, from their 2005 CD, How Good is Me Life.
Both are available from Singsong Inc.
Ian Robb is a singer, concertina player and occasional “writer of old songs,” who lives in Ottawa, Canada.