Arguably the most famous English folk song
in the whole wide World. Even if you can't recognize the text, you almost certainly know the music. It's so catchy, so elegant, so universally popular that many people actually think it's Irish
. As with many other all-time favorites
, uncountable different versions exist. I've tried to mix the most popular ones, and here's what it gives.
The water is wide, I cannot cross over,
And neither have I wings to fly,
Give me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row - my love and I.
Down in the meadows the other day,
Gathering flowers, both fine and gay,
Gathering flowers, both red and blue,
I little thought what love can do.
A ship there was, and she sails the sea,
She's loaded deep as deep can be,
But not so deep as the love I'm in,
And I know not how, I sink or swim.
I leaned my back up against some young oak,
Thinking he was a trusty tree,
But first he bended and then he broke,
And thus did my false love to me.
I put my hand into some soft bush,
Thinking the sweetest flower to find.
I pricked my finger to the bone,
And left the sweetest flower alone.
Oh, love is handsome, love is fine,
Gay as a jewel, when first it is new,
But love grows old, and waxes cold,
And fades away, like summer dew.
When my love's dead and at her rest,
I'll think on her whom I love best,
I'll wrap her in the linen strong,
And think on her when she's dead and gone
It should be stressed that while most versions share roughly the same melodramatic
tone, several shinier, happier version float around:
O, love is handsome, love is fine,
Gay as a jewel when first it's new;
And love grows old, and ever bold,
And shines as bright as morning dew
As a final note, when Pete Seeger
recorded his own version, he added the following final verse:
The seagulls wheel, they turn and dive,
The mountain stands beside the sea.
This world we know turns round and round,
And all for them - and you and me.
This version proved so popular that this new verse is now regarded as an "official" part of the whole song. This is quite a rare example of one single person that managed to make his own personal contribution part of a centuries-old collective heritage