Rolling home across the sea

Leggi in italiano

A “rolling home” is a traveling home on wheels, but it is also the title of the best known among the homeward-bound shanty. In America home is California or Boston, while in Europe it is England, London or Hamburg, but also Scotland, Ireland or Dublin, the song is equally popular on German and Dutch ships.
Taken from a homonymous poem written by Charles Mackay in 1858 it is considered a forecastle song, but it has also been a capstan shanty. The question of origin is still controversial, about twenty versions are known and according to Stan Hugill it could have a Scandinavian origin.


It is the version penned in the poem by Charles Mackay who wrote it on May 26, 1858 while he was on board “The Europe” going home and in effect the verses are a little more elaborate than the phrases usually used by the shantyman
Dan Zanes from Sea Music
Carl Peterson

Up aloft, amid the rigging
Swiftly blows the fav’ring gale,
Strong as springtime in its blossom,
Filling out each bending sail,
And the waves we leave behind us
Seem to murmur as they rise;
“We have tarried here to bear you
To the land you dearly prize”.
Rolling(1) home, rolling home,
Rolling home across the sea,
Rolling home to dear old Scotland (2)
Rolling home, dear land to thee (3).
II (4)
Full ten thousand miles behind us,
And a thousand miles before,
Ancient ocean waves to waft us
To the well remembered shore.
Newborn breezes swell to send us
To our childhood welcome skies,
To the glow of friendly faces
And the glance of loving eyes.
III (5)
I have watched the rolling hillside
Of the wondrous river Clyde (6)
As I sailed away from Greenock
My heart beat fast inside
But I knew as I was sailing
Far from that Scottish shore
I will miss her every minute
But I’ll return once more.

1) rolling has many meanings: it is generally synonymous with “sailing” but it can also derive from “rollikins” an old English term for “drunk”; often as Italo Ottonello suggests, we mean in a literal sense that the typical gait of the sea wolves is “rocking”
2) or England
3) according to Hugill the song comes from a Scandinavian version and he notes that the verse is sometimes sung as “the land’s forbee” with “forbee” = “passing by” or “near.” Förbi is Swedish stands for “past, by.”
4) Carl Peterson skips the 2nd stanza of Charles Mackay’s poem
5) the stanza was added by Carl Peterson
6) it refers to the rolling hills near the Clyde estuary that flows near the port city of Greenock, located on the southern coast


Old Blind Dogs from The Gab O Mey 2003, in a version with a lot of Scotsness

I (1)
Call all hands to man the capstan
See the cable running clear
Heave around and with the wheel, boys
For our homeland we must steer
Rolling home, rolling home
Rolling home across the sea
Rolling home to Caledonia
Rolling home, dear land, to thee
From the pines of California
And by Chile’s endless strand
We have sailed the world twice over
Every port in every land
And to all ye blaggard pirates
Who would chase us from the waves
Heed ye well that those who’ve tried us
Soon have found their watery graves
We were boarded in Jamaica
Where the Jolly Rodger flew
But our swords were hardly drawn, boys
‘Ere they took a rosy hue
We return with precious cargo
And with bounty coined in gold
And our sweethearts will rejoice, boys
For they lo’e their sailors bold

1) it resumes the II stanza of the poem by Charles Mackay

IRISH VERSION: Rolling home to Ireland

Irish Rovers different text and melody

I come from Paddy’s land
I’m a rake and ramblin’ man
Since I was young, I’ve had the urge to roam
So don’t you weep for me
When I’m sailing on the sea
For you won’t see me till I come rolling home
Rolling home to Ireland, rolling home across the sea
Back to me own con-ter-ree (country)
Two thousand miles behind us
and a thousand more to go

So fill the sails and blow winds blow!
We sailed away from Cork
We were headed for New York
I’d always dreamed the sailor’s life for me
But the days were hard and long
With no women, wine, or song
And it wasn’t quite the fun I’d thought ‘twould be
We weren’t too long a-sail
When the wind became a gale
Our boat was tossed and turned upon the foam
With waves like moutains high
Well I thought that I would die
I wished to God that I was rolling home
And when I reach the shore
I will go to sea no more
There’s more to life than sailing ‘round the Horn
Good luck to sailor men
When they’re headed out again
I wish them all safe harbor from the storm


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