A Sailors Life

This song was collected by W.P. Merrick in 1899 from Henry Hills of Lodsworth, Sussex and published in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. A.L. Lloyd recorded it and wrote in the album's sleeve notes: “it is known to sundry tunes all over the British Isles and in America (a Wisconsin set, called The Pinery Boy, transforms the sailor into a lumberjack). Most versions end with the girl ordering her own funeral, and directing that a marble dove be set over her grave, but in fact this motif belongs more properly to the song Died for Love, and Mr Henry Hills, of Lodsworth, Sussex, who sang our version to W.P. Merrick in 1899, would have none of it. It has also been recorded by Martin Carthy who says often adapted to fit other occupations this is one of a group of songs which includes Early Early All in the Spring and the American song on the same theme, Sailor on the Deep Blue Sea. It was published in various broadsides in the 18th century, but often became confused with Died for Love."

A sailor's life, it is a merry life
He robs young girls of their heart's delight
Leaving them behind to weep and mourn
They never know when they will return

Well, there's four and twenty all in a row
My true love he makes the finest show
He's proper, tall, genteel withal
And if I don't have him, I'll have none at all

Oh, father build for me a bonny boat
That on the wide ocean I may float
And every Queen's ship that we pass by
There I'll inquire for my sailor boy

They had not sailed long upon the deep
When a Queen's ship they chanced to meet
You sailors all, pray tell me true
Does my sweet William sail among your crew?

Oh no, fair maiden, he is not here
For he's been drownded, we greatly fear
On yon green island, as we passed it by
There we lost sight of your sailing boy

Well, she rung her hands and she tore her hair
She was like a young girl in great despair
And her little boat against a rock did run
How can I live now? My sweet William is gone