You are here:

World Music/My Jolly Salior Bold Poem/Sea Shanty

Advertisement


Question
Hello Chelsey, I have tried dozens of website to find what this song/shanty is about and I have come up short nearly every time, and the answers I have found weren't helpful, so I hope you can help me. I am wondering if you know what this song/sea shanty is about, I'm not really looking for it's origins or for a paragraph on every piece of the shanty, I'll be extremely happy with just a summary, any information you can give me, I'll be extremely grateful. Here is the song/shanty:

Upon one summer's morning I carelessly did stray
Down by the Walls of Wapping where I met a sailor gay.
Conversing with a young lass who seem'd to be in pain,
Saying, William, when you go I fear you'll ne'er return again

His hair it hangs in ringlets his eyes as black as soles
My happiness attend him wherever he goes.
From Tower Hill to Blackwall I'll wander, weep and moan
All for my jolly sailor until he sails home

My father is a merchant the truth I now will tell
And in great London City in opulence doth dwell.
His fortune doth exceed 300,000 gold
And he frowns upon his daughter who loves a sailor bold.

A fig for his riches his merchandise and gold
True love has grafted my heart give me my sailor bold.
Should he return in pov'rty from o'er the ocean far
To my tender bosom I'll press my jolly tar.

My sailor is as smiling as the pleasant month of May
And often we have wandered through Ratcliffe Highway
Many a pretty blooming young girl we did behold
Reclining on the bosom of her jolly sailor bold.

My name it is Maria a merchant's daughter fair
And I have left my parents and three thousand pounds a year
Come all you pretty fair maids whoever you may be
Who love a jolly sailor that plows the raging sea

While up aloft in storm from me his absence mourn
And firmly pray arrive the day he's never more to roam.
My heart is pierced by Cupid I disdain all glittering gold
There is nothing can console me but my jolly sailor bold.

Thank you in advance!!!!
Sincerely,
Ariel

Answer
I have done quite a bit of research trying to find anything I could on this chantey. I found the lyrics and a few recordings of the song, but nothing behind the meaning. I can give you what I personally believe, though. Mind you, this is my own opinion and by no means what the musician actually wanted to convey.

Upon one summer's morning I carelessly did stray
Down by the Walls of Wapping where I met a sailor gay.
Conversing with a young lass who seem'd to be in pain,
Saying, William, when you go I fear you'll ne'er return again

(This talks of the person coming upon a happy sailor down at the Walls of Wapping, which is a place of poverty in England during that time. The sailor is leaving somewhere and the female is sad and afraid he'll never be back.)

His hair it hangs in ringlets his eyes as black as soles
My happiness attend him wherever he goes.
From Tower Hill to Blackwall I'll wander, weep and moan
All for my jolly sailor until he sails home

(This gets confusing. I'm guessing the original sailor from the first verse just reminded the female telling the tale of her own sailor. She's just awaiting his return, but of course during that time, a person's return from sea could be delayed days, weeks, or even months...)

My father is a merchant the truth I now will tell
And in great London City in opulence doth dwell.
His fortune doth exceed 300,000 gold
And he frowns upon his daughter who loves a sailor bold.

(The female comes from a very rich family. According to measuringworth.com, the 300,000 that her father brings in has a relative value ranging from 31,100,000.00 to 2,480,000,000.00 which in US $ is $38,094,071.53 to $3,037,726,604.61. Because she is upper class, her father does not want to see her marry outside her class.)

A fig for his riches his merchandise and gold
True love has grafted my heart give me my sailor bold.
Should he return in pov'rty from o'er the ocean far
To my tender bosom I'll press my jolly tar.

(This is just saying that she'll walk away from all of that wealth because of her love. Even if her sailor comes back poor, she'll still take him in and love him just the same.)

My sailor is as smiling as the pleasant month of May
And often we have wandered through Ratcliffe Highway
Many a pretty blooming young girl we did behold
Reclining on the bosom of her jolly sailor bold.

(Here she's saying her sailor has a pleasant smile and as they walk through Ratcliffe Highway, which was actually notorious for its high crime rate, they see quite a few other girls with their sailors along the way.)

My name it is Maria a merchant's daughter fair
And I have left my parents and three thousand pounds a year
Come all you pretty fair maids whoever you may be
Who love a jolly sailor that plows the raging sea

(Maria, we now know her name, is telling us that she has left her family and the wealth they have in order to be with her sailor. She is also calling on all the young woman who are also in her position, those who love a sailor as well.)

While up aloft in storm from me his absence mourn
And firmly pray arrive the day he's never more to roam.
My heart is pierced by Cupid I disdain all glittering gold
There is nothing can console me but my jolly sailor bold.

(Here she's just waiting for the day when he won't be a sailor anymore and they can settle down together. She also says that no amount of gold could satisfy her because of her love for the sailor.)

One interesting thing that I learned during my research is that quite a few people believe this song is actually a ripoff, altered for a London setting, of the traditional Irish folksong The Banks of Claudy. Compare the first verses:

It was on a summer's morning all in the month of May
Down by the Banks of Claudy I carelessly did stray.
And there I heard a pretty maid, in sorrow did complain
All for her absent lover that sailed the ocean main.
- one version of The Banks of Claudy

Upon one summer's morning, I carelessly did stray,
Down by the Walls of Wapping, where I met a sailor gay,
Conversing with a bouncing lass, who seem'd to be in pain,
Saying, William, when you go, I fear you will ne'er return again.
- My Jolly Sailor Bold

Hope this answered your question! Thanks for such a challenging and rewarding bit of music!

AllExperts
-Chelsey

World Music

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Chelsey Moudry

Expertise

I can answer questions regarding the history and background of music from around the world. For more modern pieces, I can answer questions regarding the country of origin for artists/bands and for some older groups. I am very comfortable with music from: Japan, China, england, Scotland, Ireland, Philippines, India, Canada, USA, Mexico, Russia, and Iceland. I am fairly knowledgeable of other smaller countries as well, but may not be able to comfortably answer too many questions regarding these other countries. "Bollywood" is another area I feel very comfortable with. I could answer questions regarding what film a song is from as well as who is singing.

Experience

I collect music from around the world, both old tunes and new. With every song or album I aquire, I always look up the english lyrics in order to understand what the artist is singing about, and I read up on the history of the piece. My curent library holds over 10,000 songs from 85 different countries.

Education/Credentials
I do not hold a degree, but I have 2 years of college as a vocal music major. Most of my knowledge is gained through self study.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.