> Lal & Norma Waterson > Songs > I Wish I Had Never

The Darling Boy / I Wish I Had Never

[ Roud 1452 ; Master title: The Darling Boy ; Ballad Index ReSh047 ; VWML CJS2/10/297 ; Bodleian Roud 1452 ; trad.]

Lal and Norma Waterson and Lal’s daughter Maria Knight (Marry Waterson) sang I Wish I Had Never on their 1977 album LP and CD A True Hearted Girl. Bob Hudson noted:

Lal and Norma’s specific source for this song is unstated, though it has much in common with the popular traditional Scottish song If I Was a Blackbird, which has been recorded by Silly Wizard and Andy M. Stewart, among others. Stewart, by the way, sings the song from the male’s point-of-view. The refrain of If I Was a Blackbird (similar to verse 4 of I Wish I Had Never) is:

And if I was a blackbird who could whistle and sing,
I’d follow the ship that my true love sails on;
And in the top rigging I’d there build my nest
To fly like a seagull to his lily-white breast.

In If I Was a Blackbird, however, the cause for the woman’s grief is her parents’ disapproval of her suitor—a sailor—whereas in I Wish I Had Never, the lad has simply sailed away to fight for “sweet liberty,” leaving the woman distraught and, apparently, pregnant. In both versions the woman fantasises about the affection she will lavish on her true love when he returns:

And when he returns I will crown him with joy,
And I’ll kiss the sweet lips of my own darling boy.

Mary Humphreys and Anahata sang Darling Boy (I Wish I Had Never Known) in 2004 on their WildGoose album Floating Verses. Mary Humphreys noted:

The song was collected by Cecil Sharp from Mrs Emma (Mary) Overd in Langport, Somerset [VWML CJS2/10/297] and published in his collected works edited by Maud Karpeles in 1974. These two volumes have regrettably been out of print for years. Good old EFDSS and Folk South West have reprinted a selection in Still Growing published in 2003 and this is one of the songs in that capital little book. I notice that the folk process had taken hold and some of the lines which I sing aren’t quite as CJS published them. This is proof that folk song is still evolving, and hasn’t died as the pessimists have predicted. Most singers—including myself—change songs unconsciously to suit their own patterns of speech.


I wish I had never seen no man at all
Since love’s been a grief and has proved my downfall
Since love’s been a grief and a tyrant to me
I lost me love fighting for sweet liberty

I wish I had never seen his curly hair
Nor yet had I been in his company there
With his red rosy cheeks and his rolling dark eye
And his flattering tongue caused my poor heart to sigh

Some people come to me and this they do say
Your love he has ’listed and he’s gone far away
And when he returns I will crown him with joy
And I’ll kiss the sweet lips of my own darling boy

If I’d wings like a linnet oh where would I fly?
I’d fly to the arms of me own darling boy
And in that top rigging I’d build up my nest
And bury my head on his snowy-white breast

Some say I’m with child but that I’ll deny
Some say I’m with child but I’ll prove it a lie
I’ll tarry a while and soon let them know
That he likes me too well to serve me so

Now some do wear ’spensions* but I do wear none
And them that don’t like me don’t leave me alone
They can like me or leave me or else let me go
For I don’t give a straw if they love me or no

[* What are “spensions”? Are “suspensions” something that help to conceal pregnancy? I am ignorant of the possibilities and need help with this word.]


Transcription by Garry Gillard, with thanks to Wolfgang Hell. Thanks to Bob Hudson for the note.