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Sailor’s farewell: on the sailor’s side!

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A further variant of “Sailor’s Farewell” is titled “Adieu, My Lovely Nancy” (aka “Swansea Town,” and “The Holy Ground”) found in England, Ireland, Australia, Canada, and the United States. It’s developed on twice directions, on the one hand it’s the typical and cheerful sea shanty, sometimes rough and with a lot of drink, and on the other it becomes a more intimate and fragile vein, which reflects on the solitude and danger of the sea. In these versions the sailor is enlisted in the Royal Navy.

Copper Family: Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy

Adieu Sweet Lovely Nancy is one of the best-known songs from the repertoire of the Copper Family. It was published in the first issue of the Journal of the Folk Song Society, Vol. 1, No. 1, in 1899, a version also released in Australia and entitled “Lovely Nancy”, in which it is only the handsome sailor who speaks during the separation on the shore.

Maddy Prior & Tim Hart 1968 from Folk Songs of Old England Vol. 1

The Ballina Whalers

Ed, Will & Ginger from a free session in front of the pub for “Ed and Will in A walk around Britain”

Adieu sweet lovely Nancy,
ten thousand times adieu
I’m going around the ocean love
to seek for something new
Come change your ring(1)
with me dear girl
come change your ring with me
for it might be a token of true love while I am on the sea.
And when I’m far upon the sea
you’ll know not where I am
Kind letters I will write to you
from every foreign land
the secrets of your heart dear girl
are the best of my good will
So let your body(2) be where, it might my heart will be with you still.
There’s a heavy storm arising
see how it gathers round
While we poor souls on the ocean wide are fighting for the crown (3)
There’s nothing to protect us love
or keep us from the cold
On the ocean wide where
we must bide like jolly seamen bold.
There’s tinkers tailors shoemakers
lie snoring fast asleep
While we poor souls
on the ocean wide are ploughing through the deep
Our officers commanded us
and then we must obey
Expecting every moment
for to get cast away.
But when the wars are over
there’ll be peace on every shore
We’ll return to our wives and our families and the girls that we adore
We’ll call for liquor merrily
and spend our money free
And when our money is all gone
we’ll boldly go to sea.

1) Ring is a proof of identity of the soldier that will sometimes remain absent for long years
2) In the part of dialogue ometted Nancy wants to dress up as a sailor to go with him.
3) the reference is always to broadside ballad version in which our johnny (slang term for sailor) has enlisted in the Royal Navy and wants Nancy to stay home waiting for him.


Julie Henigan from American Stranger 1997 “I learned this version from the Max Hunter Collection. Hunter was a traveling salesman and amateur folksong collector from Springfield, Missouri, who amassed an impressive number of field recordings from the Missouri and Arkansas Ozarks. When I was a teenager I learned many songs from the cassette tapes of his collection that were housed in the Springfield Public Library.
Hunter recorded this song in 1959 from Bertha Lauderdale, of Fayetteville, Arkansas. She had learned the song from her grandfather, who, in turn, had learned it from his grandmother, when “he was a young child in Ireland.” Since I recorded the song on American Stranger (Waterbug 038), Altan, Jeff Davis, Nancy Conescu, Gerald Trimble, and Pete Coe have all added it to their repertoires.”

Altan from Local Ground, 2005

Adieu, my lovely Nancy,
Ten thousand times adieu,
I’ll be thinking of my own true love,
I’ll be thinking, dear, of you.
Will you change a ring(1)
with me, my love,
Will you change a ring with me?
It will be a token of our love,
When I am far at sea.
When I am far away from home
And you know not where I am,
Love letters I will write to you
From every foreign strand.
When the farmer boys
come home at night,
They will tell their girls fine tales
Of all that they’ve been doing
All day out in the fields;
Of the wheat and hay
that they’ve cut down,
Sure, it’s all that they can do,
While we poor jolly,
jolly hearts of oak(2)
Must plough the seas all through.
And when we return again, my love,
To our own dear native shore,
Fine stories we will tell to you,
How we ploughed the oceans o’er.
And we’ll make the alehouses to ring,
And the taverns they will roar,
And when our money it is all gone,
Sure, we’ll go to sea for more.

1) Ring is a proof of identity of the soldier that will sometimes remain absent for long years
2) hearts of oak rerefers to the wood from which British warships were generally made during the age of sail. The “Heart of oak” is the strongest central wood of the tree.

Sailor’s farewell

Ralph Vaughan Williams: LOVELY ON THE WATER
versione inglese: ADIEU SWEET LOVELY NANCY
versione americana/irlandese: ADIEU MY LOVELY NANCY
Sea shanty: HOLY GROUND


Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

folklorista delle Terre Celtiche

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