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All Things Are Quite Silent

[ Roud 2532 ; Ballad Index VWL013 ; VWML RVW2/2/207 ; trad.]

All Things Are Quite Silent is a woman's lament for her husband who has been abducted from his bed and press-ganged into the navy. Ralph Vaughan Williams collected it in 1904 from Ted Baines of Lower Beeding, Sussex [VWML RVW2/2/207] . He and A.L. Lloyd published it in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Louis Killen sang All Things Are Quite Silent on his 1965 Topic album Ballads & Broadsides. Angela Carter commented in the album's liner notes:

Speaking more truly than he knew, Melville's Billy Budd cried out, “Farewell, old Rights of Man!” as the press-gang rowed him from the merchant vessel, The Rights of Man and its kindly master to the grim privations of a Royal Navy man o' war. To maintain the crews inside the ‘wooden walls of England’ in the hellish conditions below decks, press-gangs forced men where there were no volunteers and wives and sweethearts were left behind to mourn. This lament of a deserted wife seems to have been collected only once in the British tradition—by Vaughan Williams, in Sussex in 1904. It is the first song in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs. The haunting first verse, where the press-gang breaks in on a scene of idyllic peace and tranquillity, recalls the more familiar ballad, The Lowlands of Holland. There the press-gang unceremoniously snatch a man from his marriage bed. But the stoic dignity of the wife in All Things Are Quite Silent is in marked contrast to the violent grief of the other girl.

Shirley Collins sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 1967 on her album The Sweet Primeroses; this recording was also included on her anthologies Fountain of Snow and The Classic Collection. A live performance recorded in 1978 in Dublin can be found on both Harking Back and Within Sound. Another live version sung at the Folk Festival Sidmouth in 1979 can be heard on the festival's anthology and on the collection of Shirley Collins live recordings, Snapshots.

Shayna Karlin sang All Things Are Quite Silent on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). She noted:

Appalling conditions on board ships of the “King's Navee” in the 18th and early 19th Centuries meant plenty of work for the men of the press-gangs. After having raised as many recruits as possible by posting patriotic bills in the market towns around the seaport, the captains of the ships of the line would send out press-gangs to search the courts, the streets and the inns. If these methods brought in insufficient numbers they would not stop short of dragging a man from his marriage bed. The haunting first verse, where the press-gang breaks in on a scene of idyllic peace and tranquility, recalls the more familiar ballad The Lowlands of Holland. But the stoic dignity of the wife in this song is in marked contrast to the violent grief of the other girl. The song has been collected only once in British tradition, by Ralph Vaughan Williams in Sussex in 1904.

The concertina here emulates the effect achieved by the medieval portative-organ used to accompany British folk singer, Shirley Collins.

Steeleye Span recorded All Things Are Quite Silent in 1970 for their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, at the suggestion of Ashley Hutchings. They returned to it in 2016 on their CD Dodgy Bastards where they noted:

The press gang was a much feared outfit that came off the ships in search of men to increase their company. They were either illegal or operated with the blessing of the navy, coming ashore and abducting men with impunity. This version comes from the The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs from the singing of Ted Baines, collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Linda Adams sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 1986 on the Fellside anthology A Selection from The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

Phil Hare sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 1990 on his Fellside album Living on Credit.

Jo Freya sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 1992 on her CD Traditional Songs of England. She also sang it with Blowzabella as a bonus track of the 1996 CD re-issue of their album A Richer Dust. The former album's notes commented:

Collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams from Ted Baines, Lower Beeding, Sussex in 1904, this song recounts the work of the dreaded press-gangs that terrorised the taverns, villages and farms around England's coast up to the early decades of the 19th century. Conditions at sea were so notorious that the Navy relied upon such impressment to fill its warships. It seems that even the marriage bed was no insurance against being pressed to sea.

Hen Party sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 2002 on their WildGoose album The Heart Gallery. They commented in their liner notes:

The press gang ripped the heart out of countless lives. Perhaps this song is so touching because of the absence of anger and bitterness. It tells of love, longing and despair muted by tender memories and a fragile hopefulness. This is the first song in The Penguin Book of English Folk Songs, it was collected in Sussex by Vaughan Williams from Ted Baines in 1904.

Bella Hardy sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 2007 on her first CD, Night Visiting.

You Are Wolf sang All Things Are Quite Silent on her 2011 EP Hunting Little Songs.

Andy Turner sang All Things Are Quite Silent as the March 18, 2016 entry of his project A Folk Song a Week.

Dipper Malkin sang All Things Are Quite Silent in 2017 on their CD Tricks of the Trade. They commented in their liner notes:

A woman laments her husband who has been press-ganged into the navy. Ralph Vaughan Williams collected this song in 1904 from Ted Baines, of Lower Beeding, Sussex. Dave [Malkin] learnt it from recordings of the Tyneside singer, Louis Killen.

Lyrics

Louis Killen sings All Things Are Quite Silent

All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
As me and my true love was snug in one nest.
A bold set of ruffians they entered into our cave,
And forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.

I begged for my sailor as I'd begged for my life.
But they'd not listen to me although a fond wife,
Saying, “The king must have sailors, to the seas he must go.”
And they left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.

Through green fields and meadows we oft times did walk,
And with sweet conversations of love we did talk,
While the birds in the woodland so sweetly did sing,
And the young thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.

Though my love has left me I'll not be cast down.
Who knows but some day my love might return?
And will make me amends for my sorrow and strife,
And me and my true love will be happy for life.

Steeleye Span sing All Things Are Quite Silent

All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
When me and my true love lay snug in one nest,
When a bold set of ruffians broke into our cave,
And they forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.

I begged hard for my darling as I would for my life.
But they'd not listen to me although a fond wife,
Saying, “The king must have sailors, to the seas he must go.”
And they've left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.

Through green fields and meadows we oft times have walked,
And the fond recollections together have talked,
Where the lark and the blackbird so sweetly did sing,
And the lovely thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.

Now although I'm forsaken, I won't be cast down.
Who knows but my true love some day may return
And will make me amends for my trouble and strife,
And me and my true love might live happy for life.

Jo Freya sings All Things Are Quite Silent

All things are quite silent, each mortal at rest,
When me and my love lay snug in one nest,
Then a bold set of ruffians they entered our cave,
And they forced my dear jewel to plough the salt wave.

I begged hard for my sailor as though I begged for life.
They would not listen to me although a fond wife,
Saying, “The king he wants sailors, to the sea he must go.”
And they've left me lamenting in sorrow and woe.

Through green fields and meadows we oft times did walk,
And sweet conversation of love we have talked,
With the birds in the woodland so sweetly did sing,
And the lovely thrushes' voices made the valleys to ring.

Although my love's gone I will not be cast down.
Who knows but my sailor may once more return?
And will make me amends for all trouble and strife,
And me and my true love may live happy for life.