Friday, March 22, 2013

"The Water is Wide"

I am always keeping my eye (and ear) out for ideas for songs I might use in voice lessons for my little gals, a third grader and a fourth grader.  I try to look to lyrics that are appropriate for girls that age.  We’ve learned a few patriotic songs, folk songs, spirituals, songs of the old west, and some songs from Disney shows and musicals.  The girls like contemporary artists, but seriously, the themes are often too mature for these girls, and I just can’t see them singing such lyrics at this age. 
With that said, I stumbled across the title to a folk song I learned when I was singing in the school choir: “The Water is Wide.”  (Sound familiar?) It’s a classic.  So, I looked for a piano arrangement that might be pleasing, and I found one by James Taylor.  Love it.  If you want to hear James Taylor sing it, check out the link:

Anyway, I went to Wikipedia and found the following information:
“The Water is Wide” is also titled “O Waly, Waly” and is of English origin, dating as far back as the 1600’s.  Various influences have changed the wording and verses over the centuries, but the modern version of the song was made popular by Pete Seeger.  Many, many recordings have been made of this song, and you may remember renditions by The Seekers, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, James Taylor and others.  I was surprised to discover that the song has been used in ten different films, including The River Wild and The Bounty.

Check out the lyrics (two verses only) from the older English version. (If you’re an English major like me, you might get a kick out of reading the words.  Brings back memories of my college class studying Chaucer!)

Waly, Waly, gin Love be bonny
O Waly, waly, (a lament – "woe is me") up the bank,
And waly, waly, doun the brae (hill),
And waly, waly, yon burn-side (riverside),
Where I and my love want to go!
I lean'd my back into an aik (oak),
I thocht it was a trustie tree;
But first it bow'd and syne (soon) it brak (broke)—
Sae my true love did lichtlie (lightly) me.

O waly, waly, gin love be bonnie (beautiful),
A little time while it is new!
But when 'tis auld (old) it waxeth cauld (cold),
And fades awa' like morning dew.
O wherefore should I busk my heid (adorn my head),
Or wherefore should I kame (comb) my hair?
For my true Love has me forsook,
And says he'll never lo'e me mair (more).

And here are the verses sung in the modern version of “The Water is Wide.”

The water is wide, I can-not cross o'er.
And neither have I wings to fly.
give me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row, my love and I.

A ship there is and she sails the seas.
She's loaded deep, as deep can be;
But not as deep as the love I'm in
And I know not if I sink or swim.

I leaned my back up against a young oak
Thinking he were a trusty tree
but first he bended and then he broke
Thus did my love prove false to me.

O love is handsome and love is fine
Bright as a jewel when first it's new
but love grows old and waxes cold
And fades away like the morning dew.
And fades away like the morning dew.


I think the girls and I will have fun singing this one.  It is in their vocal range and will give them practice holding on to long tones with good breath support.  It’s one of those tunes that can play in your head, lingering like the aroma of a lovely spring bloom.  Can’t wait to get started.


  1. This is one of my favorites - I hope to have an opportunity to hear the girls sing it.

  2. Good luck to your little singers. And thank you for keeping little girls age appropriate.

    It drives me crazy that Ellen promotes those two little girls (Sophia Grace and Rosie) singing Nicki Minage songs. SOOOO inappropriate.

  3. Your little gals are lucky to have you as their teacher!

  4. Love this song...I only know the James Taylor version and didnt realize it was so ancient.
    By the way I used a resist method to make the booties. If you want I can email you the pattern for newborn feet.
    just email me through the link on my profile.
    Thanks for the compliments too!

  5. I know that I've heard this. I'm going to go have a listen to bring it back to memory. The old folk songs are the best, aren't they? Kind of timeless.