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Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)


Related threads:
(origins) Origins/versions: Pretty Polly? (37)
(origins) Origins: Gosport Tragedy/ Cruel Ship's Carpenter (183)
Lyr Req:Pretty Polly (from The Dillards) (8)
pretty polly - Cruel Ship's Carpenter? (14)
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Lyr/Chords Add: Pretty Polly (5)
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Lyr Add: Pretty Polly (#311) (2)
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In Mudcat MIDIs:
The Dreadful Ghost (Midi made,... of that set in Creighton's Maritime Folk Songs (1962).)

pelrad 04 Jan 00 - 12:45 PM
Malcolm Douglas 04 Jan 00 - 03:36 PM
pelrad 04 Jan 00 - 10:10 PM
Malcolm Douglas 04 Jan 00 - 11:49 PM
Bruce O. 05 Jan 00 - 02:38 AM
Bruce O. 05 Jan 00 - 03:39 AM
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From: pelrad
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 12:45 PM

I got the new Waterson:Carthy album, Common Tongue, for Christmas; I'm intrigued by the twelfth cut, Polly's Love. It seems to be a composite of Ship's Carpenter and and The Dreadful Ghost from Barrand and Roberts' Dark Ships In The Forest album. The jacket notes are disappointingly scanty, and I'm wondering if anyone here knows something about either song. Martin Carthy simply says that they learned it from Jim Eldon, who collected it in East Riding.


Fair maids are a-shining over valley and town
There once was a fair maid, her name it was Miss Brown
A young man came courting her dear for to be
And he was by trade a ship's carpenter, was he.

Well, the king he needed sailors for to go off to sea
This made the young maiden to cry and to say
"William, oh William, do not leave me here
Remember your vows you have made to your dear."

It was early the next morning, before it was day
He's gone to his Polly, these words he did say
"Polly, oh Polly, you must come along with me
Before we get married, my friends for to see."

Then he's led her through the groves and through the valleys so deep
This caused poor Polly to cry and to weep
"William, oh William, you've led me astray
On purpose to take my own sweet life away."

"No pardon will I give you and there's no time to stand"
And there in a moment drew a knife with his hand
He stabbed her poor body till red blood did flow
And into a grave her poor body did throw.

Then he's covered her body so safe and secure
He thought none would find her of that he was sure
Then he went on board ship to sail the world round
Before that his murder would ever be found.

It was early one morning, before it was day
The Captain came to him, these words he did say,
"There's a murderer on board and it's lately been done
Our ship, she's in mourning and cannot sail on."

And up stepped one sailor; "Indeed, sir, not I."
And up stepped one other; "Indeed, sir, not I."
And up stepped young William to storm, curse and swear,
"Indeed, sir, not I, sir, I vow and declare."

And as he was turning from the Captain with speed
He's met pretty Polly; it's made his heart bleed
She's ripped him, she's stripped him, she's torn him in three,
Crying, "That's for the murder of my baby and me."

As sung by either John Roberts or Tony Barrand on "Dark Ships in the Forest"

'Tis of a sailor of whom I write.
Unto the seas he took great delight.
Two maidens fair he did beguile,
And those two maidens he had with child.

Oh, one of them for public shame
Unto some handsome grove she came,
And there at length for to end all strife
She cut it there, the thread of life.

She hung herself down from a tree
Where two men a-hunting did her see.
They got a knife and cut her down,
And on her bosom a note was found.

And this was writ in letters large:
"Don't bury me, I do you charge,
But on the ground, there let me lie,
That maids may see me as they pass by.

"Let them take warning by my fate,
And quit this folly before it's too late."
And while on land she plagued him so,
To the seas at length he was forced to go.

One morning on the topmast high,
A little boat he chanced to spy,
A little boat with a large crew of men
And a female ghost who stood up then.

Down decks, down decks this young man goes
To greet the Captain in his morning clothes,
Saying, "Captain, Captain, stand my defense,
For I see a spirit coming hence!"

So up on deck this Captain goes,
And there he spies this dreadful ghost.
She says, "Captain, Captain, come tell me true:
Does such a man sail among your crew?"

"Twas in St. Taliens this young man died,
And in St. Taliens his body lies."
She says: "Captain, Captain, don't tell me so,
For he's sailing down in your ship below.

"And if you don't bring him up to me,
A mighty storm you soon shall see,
Which will cause both you and your gallant men to weep,
And leave you slumbering in the deep."

Down decks, down decks this Captain goes
And brings this young man up to his foes,
And when she fixed her grim eyes on him,
It made him tremble in every limb.

"Oh, don't you remember when I was a maid?
You caused my poor trembling heart to bleed.
Now I'm a spirit come for thou.
You balked me once, but I've got you now!"

Down in her boat she forced him.
Down in her boat he was forced for to go,
And as he did we all did admire,
For the boat went down in a flame of fire.

And as she sank, she rose again,
And aye she sang this mournful strain:
"You sailors all who are left behind,
Never prove false to young womankind!"

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Subject: RE: Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 03:36 PM

Polly's Love is also known as The Cruel Ship's Carpenter.  There is a version of it, and of The Sailor's Tragedy a.k.a. The Ghost So Grim -they are separate songs- in Frank Purslow's The Wanton Seed, a selection of songs from the Hammond & Gardiner mss., collected in the 1900s in Southern England.   Purslow has this to say about the first:

"Like many British songs, this has crossed the Atlantic and versions have been recorded in many places in North America, where it is especially popular as Pretty Polly.  The superstition that a ship would refuse to sail if there was a wrong-doer on board is very ancient and wide-spread.   For many references to this see Brown Robyn's Confession, No.57 of Child's Ballads.  Other songs involving murderers in this situation which became popular in the English countryside are Captain Glen and The New York Trader.  See also The Sailor's Tragedy later in this book for a song where a spirit threatens to destroy a ship unless the guilty man is handed over.  The origin of the tune connected with this song is obscure but country singers seem to have had universal difficulty in reproducing it.  The usual versions have been influenced to some degree by the ubiquitous Villikins an' 'is Dinah."

And of the second:

"(George Blake's) tune was clearly related to the Croppy Boy group of tunes... A very rare song, only two or three versions have been recovered from tradition.  It is presumably of 17th century origin, although the texts of collected versions seem to stem from very late 18th century broadsides.   The above tune belongs to a group of tunes in 3/2 rhythm which are indigenously 17th century English; most tunes in this rhythm seem, from their associated texts, to be of Irish origin and of the 18th century.  With both groups there is disagreement among musicians as to whether the minim should be the first or second beat of the bar.  The passing of these tunes into oral transmission almost certainly gave rise to the appearance of the 5/4 rhythm in English folk song: some singers found the pause of the minim unnatural and turned it into a crotchet.  Less occasionally the 5/4 rhythm is the result of the adaptation of a 6/8 dance tune to a slow-moving text."

In both cases, the texts are pretty close to these already quoted, so I don't give them here.  I haven't heard the Waterson Carthy recording, so I don't know if their tune is the same as the one I have; I'll happily post a midi for the second song if you don't have a tune for it.  Two copies of a (presumably) earlier, and considerably longer version of Polly's Love, called The Gosport Tragedy or, The Perjured Ship-Carpenter, may be found at the Bodleian Library Online Broadside collection.  One is undated; the other was printed in Coventry some time between 1797 and 1846.  Click here  for the small .gif image.


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Subject: RE: Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)
From: pelrad
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 10:10 PM

Malcolm, thanks for the info and the link. You've given me a "jumping-off place," so to speak. The link especially was a huge help; the Watersons and Carthys both tend to find these severely truncated versions of songs that leave half the story out, and one has to guess at the plot or character's reasoning. It was nice to see the elongated version of the same tale. :-)

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Subject: RE: Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 04 Jan 00 - 11:49 PM

I was glad -and interested- to be able to help.  Songs surviving in tradition do tend to become shortened, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing; broadsides were often over-long and badly written, so the oral "filtering" process can result in something that actually works much better as a song.  It can be helpful, though, to be able to go back a step or two in order better to understand the material we're working with.  After all, tradition exists in a context, and the better we understand that, the more justice we can do it. THE CRUEL SHIP'S CARPENTER is on the Database, incidentally, here.  Described as "transcribed from the singing of Mike Waterson".  There's also an American version of PRETTY POLLY, here, and a version of The Gosport Tragedy, from The Penguin Book of Canadian Folksongs, here.  Reminds me that Banks of Red Roses contains a similar murder sequence, though I don't think that it's directly related.  If you find out any more, do let us know!


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Subject: RE: Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)
From: Bruce O.
Date: 05 Jan 00 - 02:38 AM

"Polly's Love: or the Cruel Ships Carpenter" and "The Gosport Tragedy" (Laws P36 A&B) are given the same number, 15, in Steve Roud's folk song and and broadside ballad indexes, and there are dozens of traditional versions from the British Isles, Canada and the US listed, as well as many broadside/chapbook copies of each. Steven Wade is working on American traditional versions, and we copied the Bodley Ballads ones about two months ago, and made xeroxes of the two reprinted ones noted at ZN1429 in the broadside ballad index at

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Subject: RE: Info Req: Polly's Love (Waterson-Carthy)
From: Bruce O.
Date: 05 Jan 00 - 03:39 AM

Note that "The Gosport Tragedy" was to be sung to "Peggy's gone over the sea [with the soldier]". An ABC of the tune is B367 among the broadside ballad tunes on my website.

The ballad of Peggy and the soldier is ZN1517 in my broadside ballad index. Traditional versions are Laws P13 (in DT). The Roud # is 907 and English and Scots versions, as well as American ones are listed in his folk song Index. "Peggy and the soldier" is one of the tunes cited for the broadside ballad version of "The Nightingale's Song", broadside ballad = ZN277 (given in Scarce Songs 1 on my website), and as Laws P14 there are 4 versions in DT of this latter song.

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