Sweet William's Girl
Sometimes great legends can be found among the unassuming wildflowers. The Black Eyed Susan along with the Southern European native plant Sweet William (which blooms at the same time and are wonderful companion flowers in a garden) tells a romantic love story that is replayed even today with the overseas wars and rumors of wars. The story of a farewell to a lover who is off to an uncertain fate has been experienced by myself twice as my husband, Chuck, left for the Iraqi war in 2004 and again in 2008. He came back not much worse for wear but not every soldier has been so lucky.
This timeless ballad takes us back to the years of our founding father's and their own struggles for Independence. Written in the 1700's by John Gay and at the time the lyrics were very popular in several ballad operas of it’s time. The words were set to various scores by different composers, including Carey, Leveridge, Haydon and Sandonis.
So I ask you as you prepare for this year's July 4th to take a moment and consider these lovers and the insecurity they feel about their future and think about our soldiers, many who have given all and never returned to their own Black Eyed Susan.
The Ballad of Black Eyed Susan by John Gay
All in the dawn the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving to the wind,
When Black-eyed Susan came on board,
Oh where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William, if my sweet William
Sails among your crew?
Oh William, who high upon the yard,
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly thro' his glowing hands
And as quick as lightning, and as quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.
So sweet the lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
If, chance, his mate's shrill voice he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William, might envy William's
Lip those kisses sweet.
'Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear!
My vows shall ever true remain,
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again:
Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass, the faithful compass
That still points to thee.
'Oh, believe not what the landsmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind,
They'll tell thee sailors when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present
Wheresoe'er I go.
If to fair India's coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright:
Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
Thy skin as ivory so white:
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul, wakes in my soul
Some charm of lovely Sue.'
Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn:
Though cannon roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his dear return:
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly
Lest precious tears, lest precious tears
Should drop from Susan's eye.
The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
Her sails their swelling bosom spread:
No longer can she stay on board -
They kissed, she sighed, he hung his head:
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land,
'Adieu,' she cries, 'Adieu,' she cries
And waved her lily hand.
To hear one of the most popular of those tunes to which this poem was set can be found at http://www.contemplator.com/england/susan.html
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