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The Water Is Wide

[ Roud 87 ; Child 204 ; Ballad Index C204 , K149 ; trad.]

Alex Campbell sang this mournful song from the eighteenth century on his 1966 album Yours Aye, Alex; this track was included in 2005 on his anthology Been on the Road So Long.

Louis Killen sang The Water Is Wide in 1975 on his and Sally Killen's LP Bright Shining Morning. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

I don't know where, or how, I learned this song, probably by osmosis; or perhaps it was forced into my head at school. Many good songs were dinned into me in those days though I'm not sure I always appreciated their goodness at the time. However, I do know that it was collected by Cecil Sharp around 1909. It has had its ups and downs in the “fashions” of the folk revival, which is a great pity; its fine lyricism deserves a more stable position.

Barry Dransfield played The Water Is Wide in his role as the blind fiddler, Michael Byrne, in the Dino de Laurentiis movie The Bounty (1984) with Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins. And he recorded it in 1994 for his CD Be Your Own Man.

Mary Black sang The Water Is Wide on her 1985 album Without the Fanfare.

Gay Woods sang a very short version of The Water Is Wide with just two verses on Steeleye Span's 1996 CD Time. The sleeve notes commented:

They were once known as “love affairs” but now we call them “relationships”. They are still fraught, however, with what seems to be insurmountable problems and sometimes we know not if we “sink or swim”. When all is said and done, perhaps a “boat that will carry two” is the best way to navigate the sea of love and life.

A earlier live recording from The Forum, London on September 2, 1995 was released in 1999 on Steeleye Span's 25th anniversary double CD, The Journey. Their fiddler Peter Knight sang this song in 2002 on the Feast of Fiddles' CD Nicely Wrong, and their guitar player Ken Nicol recorded it in 2006 for his solo album Thirteen Reasons.

June Tabor recorded The Water Is Wide in 1998 for her CD A Quiet Eye; this track was also included on her anthology The Definitive Collection.

e2K sang The Water Is Wide in 2001 on their Topic CD Shift. In the same year e2K won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the BBC Folk Awards, and this track was included on the accompanying CD The Folk Awards 2001.

Marsden Blant & Squire recorded The Water Is Wide in 2003 for their album Trio.

Jon Boden sang The Water Is Wide as the September 13, 2010 entry of his project A Folk Song a Day. He commented in the blog:

I learnt to ‘fiddle-sing’ by learning half the arrangements off Be Your Own Man by the lime-light-shunning Barry Dransfield.

Lyrics

Louis Killen sings The Water Is WideBarry Dransfield sings The Water Is Wide

The water is wide, I can't get o'er
And neither have I wings to fly;
Give me a boat that will carry two
And will row my love and I.

The water is wide, I cannot get o'er
Nor yet have I the wings to fly;
Give me a boat that will carry two
And both shall row, my love and I.

Down in the meadow the other day
A-gathering flowers both bright and gay,
Gathering flowers red and blue
I little thought then what love might do.

Down in the meadow the other day
A-gathering flowers both bright and gay,
Gathering flowers both red and blue
I little thought what love could do.

I put my hand in some soft bush,
Thinking the fairest flower to find;
But I pricked my finger to the bone
And left the fairest flower behind.

I leaned my back against an oak,
I thought he was a trusty tree;
But first he bent and then he broke
And so did my false true love to me.

I put my back against an oak
Thinking it was a trusty tree,
But first it bent and then it broke
Just like my own false love and me.

There is a ship and it sails the sea,
It's loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as this love I'm in
I know not if I sink or swim.

Oh, love is handsome and love is kind
Oh love's a jewel when first is new.
But as it grows old love waxes cold
And fades away like the morning dew.

For love is gentle and love is true,
And love's a pleasure when first it's new.
But as it grows old it waxes cold,
Then fades away like the morning dew.

Oh, there's a ship that sails the sea
She's loaded deep as deep can be,
Yet not so deep as the love I'm in;
I know not if I sink or swim.

(repeat first verse)

June Tabor sings The Water Is WideSteeleye Span sing The Water Is Wide

The water is wide, I cannot get o'er
Neither have I wings to fly;
Give me a boat that can carry two
And both shall row, my love and I.

There is a ship that sails the sea
It is loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I'm in
That I know not if I sink or swim.

There is a ship and she sails the sea,
She's loaded deep as deep can be.
But not so deep as the love I'm in,
I know not if I sink or swim.

The water is wide we cannot get o'er
And neither have I wings to fly.
Give me a boat that will carry two
That boat shall row my love and I

I leaned my back against an oak
Thinking that she was a trusty tree,
But first she bent, aye, and then she broke,
So did my false love to me.

Note: On The Journey, the first line of the second verse ends with “I cannot swim over”.

For love is handsome and love is fine,
And love's a pleasure when first it's new.
But love grows old, aye, and waxes cold
And fades away like morning dew.

Links

See also Just Another Tune's study The Water Is Wide — The History of a “Folksong”.