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Origins: I Saw Three Ships.

DigiTrad:
I SAW THREE SHIPS


Related threads:
Tune Req: More to 'I Saw Three Ships' tune? (10)
Lyr Add: I Saw Three Fish (I Saw Three Ships) (1)
Lyr Req: Christmas Day i'da Morning (8)
Tune Add: Christmas Day in the Morning (10)
Lyr Req: Christmas Day in the Morning (4)


GUEST,Q 12 Dec 02 - 03:41 PM
GUEST,Q 13 Dec 02 - 01:11 PM
masato sakurai 13 Dec 02 - 08:33 PM
Joe Offer 13 Dec 02 - 08:54 PM
masato sakurai 13 Dec 02 - 10:09 PM
masato sakurai 13 Dec 02 - 10:12 PM
GUEST,Q 13 Dec 02 - 10:46 PM
GUEST,Q 13 Dec 02 - 10:55 PM
GUEST,Q 13 Dec 02 - 10:57 PM
masato sakurai 14 Dec 02 - 12:15 AM
Malcolm Douglas 09 Jan 05 - 04:24 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jan 05 - 04:48 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jan 05 - 05:24 PM
Joybell 09 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM
Malcolm Douglas 09 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM
Joybell 09 Jan 05 - 05:43 PM
Malcolm Douglas 09 Jan 05 - 05:44 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jan 05 - 06:25 PM
Joybell 09 Jan 05 - 06:39 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jan 05 - 08:38 PM
Mick Tems 09 Jan 05 - 08:54 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 09 Jan 05 - 09:27 PM
GUEST,John 10 Jan 05 - 12:24 PM
Malcolm Douglas 10 Jan 05 - 12:52 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Jan 05 - 01:01 PM
GUEST,John 10 Jan 05 - 03:09 PM
Malcolm Douglas 10 Jan 05 - 03:39 PM
GUEST 10 Jan 05 - 03:44 PM
GUEST,John 10 Jan 05 - 08:08 PM
Q (Frank Staplin) 10 Jan 05 - 09:18 PM
Malcolm Douglas 11 Jan 05 - 12:20 AM
Q (Frank Staplin) 18 Dec 06 - 10:58 PM
GUEST 24 Nov 13 - 12:52 AM
Joe Offer 03 Dec 20 - 05:02 PM
Joe Offer 03 Dec 20 - 05:09 PM
Steve Gardham 03 Dec 20 - 06:10 PM
GUEST,henryp 03 Dec 20 - 06:43 PM
Steve Gardham 04 Dec 20 - 05:05 AM
leeneia 05 Dec 20 - 01:11 PM
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Subject: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 12 Dec 02 - 03:41 PM

The DT has the version of "I Saw Three Ships" usually sung, apparently close to the text from "Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern," ed. Wm. Sandys (London) 1833. The last verse in Sandys has "Then let us all rejoice amain," rather than "Then let us all rejoice and sing,..."

The original dates to 1666, in John Forbes Cantus, 2nd ed.
The Forum is dead, and I can't find anything via the filter.

Versions in the Bodleian Library have a first verse that begins "As I Sat..." I posted one of these in thread 54556 ("The Sunny Bank," ca. 1821-1827): Christmas failures

The Oxford Book of Ballads, ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch, 1910, has one beginning "As I sat...," as no. 104.
What was the 1666 version? Is it closer to the "As I sat..." versions?
Here is the Quiller-Couch entry.

I SAW THREE SHIPS

As I sat under a sycamore tree,
-A sycamore tree, a sycamore tree,
I looked out upon the sea
On Christ's Sunday at morn.

I saw three ships a-sailing there,
-A-sailing there, a-sailing there,
Jesu, Mary and Joseph they bare
On Christ's Sunday at morn.

Joseph did whistle and Mary did sing,
-Mary did sing, Mary did sing,
And all the bells on earth did ring
For joy our Lord was born.

O they sail'd in to Bethlehem!
-To Bethlehem, to Bethlehem;
Saint Michael was the sterésman,
Saint John safe in the horn.

And all the bells on earth did ring,
-on earth did ring, on earth did ring
Welcome be thou Heaven's King
On Christ's Sunday at morn!
(horn = prow; bare = old form of bore)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 01:11 PM

Refresh.
First version? Anyone have the 1666 words?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: masato sakurai
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 08:33 PM

One stanza is quoted from Forbes's Cantus (1666) in Opie's Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, 2nd ed. (no. 471 [p. 456]):

       There comes a ship far sailing then,
       Saint Michel was the stieres-man:
       Saint Iohn sate in the horn:
       Our Lord harped, our Lady sang,
       And all the bells of heaven they rang,
       On Christs Sunday at morn,
       On Christs Sonday at morn.

~Masato


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 08:54 PM

Is Greensleeves the only tune used for this?
-Joe Offer-


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Subject: Lyr Add: ALL SONS OF ADAM
From: masato sakurai
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 10:09 PM

The version quoted in Sandys' Christmas Carols (p. 184) seems to be originally from Forbes:

Ritson (Introduction to Scotch Songs, vol. i. p. civ.) gives the following lines as sung during the Christmas holidays about the middle of the 16th century, which bear a similarity to this carol.

      All sons of Adam, rise up with me,
      Go praise the Blessed Trinitie, &c.
      Then spake the Archangel Gabriel, said, Ave, Marie mild,
      The Lord of Lords is with thee, now shall you go with child.
                                        Ecce ancilla domini.
      Then said the Virgin, as thou hast said, so mat it be,
          Welcome be heavens King.
      There comes a ship far sailing then,
      Saint Michael was the stieres-man;
          Saint John sate in the horn:
      Our Lord harped, our Lady sang,
      And all the bells of heaven they rang,
          On Christ's sonday at morn, &c.

There're sound recordings of this song titled "All Sons of Adam" on Sing We Noel / The Boston Camerata (Elektra/Nonesuch 9 71354-2); Mary's Music / Scottish Early Music Consort (Chandos CHAN 8332); and Christmas in Anglia / Ensemble for Early Music (Nonesuch H-71369) [LP]. This is a different (at least musically) song. The following is copied from notes to Mary's Music (no source is given; stanzaic divisions added).

             ALL SONS OF ADAM

      All sons of Adam, ryse up with me,
      Goe lov* the blissed Trinitie, [*praise]
      Sing we nowell, nowell, nowell,
      Cry Kyrie with hosanna,
      Sing Sabaoth, sing alleluya,
      Now save us all Emanuell.

      Then spak archangel Gabriel,
      Said Ave Mary mild,
      The Lord of Lordis is with the,
      Now sall thou goe with chyld.
      Ecce ancilla Domini.
      Then said the virgin young,
      As thou hes said so mot it be,
      Welcom be heavens king.

      Ther cam a ship fair sailland then,
      Sanct Michaell wass the steiresman,
      Sanct John sat in the horne*.   [*prow]
      Our Lord harpit, our Ladie sang
      And all the bells of heavn they rang
      On Chrysts-son-day at morn.

      Then sang the angels all and sum*:   [*all together]
      Lauda Jerusalem, Dominum,
      Lauda Deum tuum, Sion.

      The sons of Adam ansuered them:
      Sing glore be to the* God and man,   [*thee]
      The Father and the Spirit also,
      With honour and perpetual jo*.   [*joy]


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: masato sakurai
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 10:12 PM

Sorry, source is given: from Music of Scotland 1500-1700, ed. K. Elliott and H.M. Shire (Musica Britannica 15), London: Stainer & Bell, 3rd edn. 1975.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 10:46 PM

Thanks, Masato. The stanza from the Cantus (1666) has some lines that appear in the Quiller-Couch version, Oxford Book of Ballads.
Joe, the melody is in Sandys, and is on midi at Cyberhymnal. I have never heard the tune to "Greensleeves" used.
Try I Saw Three Ships for the tune. The Cyberhymnal has the version in the DT, except that in the last verse.
The DT errs by using "I sing: rather than "Amain." (Now that I think about it, I have always heard "I sing" and never "amain.")


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 10:55 PM

Found my error:
I Saw Three Ships


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Q
Date: 13 Dec 02 - 10:57 PM

Heck! It's www.cyberhymnal.org., go to titles, and click on i; then I saw hree ships.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: masato sakurai
Date: 14 Dec 02 - 12:15 AM

I SAW THREE SHIPS COME SAILING IN at The Cyber Hymnal.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 04:24 PM

Various notes from the older carol collections can be seen at Hymns and Carols of Christmas: I Saw Three Ships. The link may not work in some older browsers due to the way stylesheets have been implemented.

It certainly appears that the "Forbes text" (frequently referred to on websites, but rarely with specifics; presumably all copied from a single source and not checked) is that quoted by Ritson and Elliott/Shire. John Forbes, Cantus: songs and fancies, to severall musicall parts... (etc), (Aberdeen, edition of 1666) is the earliest certain appearance in print; it should be noted that the three distinct editions of the book (1662, 1666 and 1682) contained a mix of Scottish, English and Italian material.

The tune in Forbes is presumably unrelated to those we are now familiar with; examples found in oral currency have tended to be sung to variants of popular tunes of the day such as Nancy Dawson or Green Sleeves. The song was widely published on broadsides during the 19th century, as mentioned earlier. Examples can be seen at   Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads:

As I sat on a Sunny Bank


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 04:48 PM

Adding more versions to the pot.

Three Ships (Iona and Peter Opie)

I saw three ships come sailing by
Come sailing by, come sailing by,
I saw three ships come sailing by,
On New Years Day in the Morning.

And what do you think was in them then,
Was in them then, was in them then?
And what do you think was in them then,
On New-Year's day in the morning?

Three pretty girls were in them then,
Were in them then, were in them then,
Three pretty girls were in them then,
On New-Year's day in the morning.

One could whistle, and one could sing,
And one could play on the violin;
Such joy there was at my wedding,
On New-Year's day in the morning.

Probably derived from this version of the carol:

I Saw Three Ships

I saw three ships come sailing by,
Come sailing by, come sailing by.
I saw three ships come sailing by,
On Christmas day in the morning.

And who should be in those three ships,
In those three ships, in those three ships,
And who should be in those three ships,
But Joseph and his Lady!

And he did whistle, and she did sing,
And she did sing, and she did sing,
And he did whistle, and she did sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On earth shall ring, on earth shall ring,
And all the bells on earth shall ring,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

And all the angels in heaven shall sing,
In heaven shall sing, in heaven shall sing,
And all the angels in heaven shall sing,
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Martin Shaw and Percy Dearmer, The English Carol Book, 1913, 2nd Ser.
Revised from a folk version (?) but seems to express the same ideas as the Ritson song quoted by Masato.

Origins? Sticking my neck out-
The Ritson version and "All Sons of Adam," to me, suggest that St. Michael and St. John were on board, and "our Lord harped and our Lady sang to welcome them.
Continuing to guess, someone with no knowledge of geography then put "Joseph and his Lady" aboard and created the anomaly.

Some have speculated that the three ships were bringing the Three Magi to Jerusalem (Matthew 2.1-2), but there seems to be no version with this thrust.

The nursery rhyme versions seem to be late; Victorian.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 05:24 PM

Found a version with Mary mild and Christ. Joseph left behind. The Shaw and Dreamer version, quoted above, has Joseph and his Lady, but no mention of the child.

Bruce Cockburn, in discussing the three ships, suggested (also many others) that they were the 'ships of the desert' (camels).

It is the excellent old tune that people like about the carol. The words matter little. Has anyone found other early use of the tune?


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Joybell
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM

So, here goes a possible red herring. What about a connection with the story of the three Marys who landed, from a boat, in the South of France? One of them was supposedly the Virgin Mary. A maid of theirs became (in some versions of the story) Sara Kali/Kali Sarah, of the Gypsies. Just wondering. Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 05:39 PM

If you mean the best-known tune, then see discussions re. 'Nancy Dawson', 'Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush' and so on. Known earlier as Piss Upon the Grass.

Bruce Cockburn was, I fear, talking through his hat.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Joybell
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 05:43 PM

OOps! just found the other thread. Need a split screen.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 05:44 PM

The story of the Marys' sea journey to Southern Europe was quite widespread, but there are more likely candidates (insofar as any can be considered likely). Also suggested have been thematic links with German 'ship carols' and the story of the Three Kings of Cologne: see, for more on the latter, Anne G Gilchrist, The Three Kings of Cologne (I saw Three Ships), in Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, vol V, number 1, 1946, pp 31-40).


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 06:25 PM

The three Kings of Cologne takes us pretty far afield. Bodies of the three kings were said to have been brought to Constantinople by Empress Helen, then eventually to Cologne in 1162 by Frederick Barbarossa. The tale is widespread in Catholic countries, especially Spanish.
Even in the southwestern States, the Three Kings bring their gifts to many Latin-Americans and to the Pueblo Indians (in lieu but often in addition to Christmas nowadays); on Jan. 7. It is a day of feasting. At the Indian pueblos, by Spanish edict of 1620, new governors and councilors are elected that day (even though many of the Puebloans do not profess to be Christian).


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Joybell
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 06:39 PM

Thanks Malcolm. I appreciate the references. What a valuable guide you are. Cheers, Joy


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 08:38 PM

A number of carols in Spanish and German about the three kings, but none found with a ship or ships.

Los Reyes del Oriente
Los Reyes Magos de Hamada
Los Reyes de Ordejón de Abajo
Los Santos Reyes
Los Tres Santos Reyes
etc.

German
Es führt drei König Gottes Hand
Drei Könige kommen
Drei König von Saba kommen
etc.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Mick Tems
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 08:54 PM

The Sandy Banks

As I sat on the sandy banks,
The sandy banks, the sandy banks,
As I sat on the sandy banks
On Christmas Day in the morning.

I saw two ships come sailing along,
Sailing along, sailing along,
I saw two ships come sailing along
On Christmas Day in the morning.

Who could it be in those two ships,
Those two ships, those two ships,
Who could it be in those two ships
But Joseph and the Virgin Mary?

Joseph was praying and Mary was singing,
The bells of heaven they were ringing,
Joy of Jesus, he was born
On Christmas Day in the morning.


Noted from the parish of Llangennith by the Reverend J D Davies in A History Of West Gower, 1884.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 09 Jan 05 - 09:27 PM

Thanks for posting the "Sandy Banks." Related to "The Sunny Bank," but there are three ships in that one.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,John
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 12:24 PM

Where does the "three ships" motif originate? This tradition does not seem to represent any of the events recorded in the "approved" Gospels in the Bible. Could it have anything to do with heresy, perhaps from an early Christian or medieval Knights Templar or Cathar tradition?

Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day, on Christmas day;
Our Savior Christ and His lady,
On Christmas day in the morning.

(I won't venture too far into Da Vinci Code territory.)

www.theinsider.org


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 12:52 PM

Very unlikely, given the known (and surmised) dates.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 01:01 PM

It is just a song. Speculation is fun but it leads nowhere.
As Malcolm and others have pointed out, the song appeared (1666) long after the Gnostics, Cathars, Templars and the 'kings of Cologne' legend. Might as well trace it to some Druidic folk memory.

There are variations, folk-generated, by people who had to have the Bible read and interpreted to them. They added their own contributions to the stories.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,John
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 03:09 PM

I do not mean to provoke a debate, but I would point out that although the Inquisition killed many Gnostic Christians it did not kill them all. Heretical beliefs were certainly have suppressed, and its followers forced to hide, but the traditions were not necessarily eliminated altogether.

The verse in question could well demonstrate the fact. Indeed, the Cathars are known to have believed that Magdalene sailed to Europe on a rudderless ship carrying the child of Christ conceived before the Crucifixion. If somebody has an alternative explanation for the origin of the "three ships" motif, let us hear it!

Freemasonry and particularly the Masonic Knights Templar contains early Christian and Gnostic elements. Grand Lodge Freemasonry was not consolidated in England and Wales until 1717 and there are well documented examples of earlier and in some cases more Gnostic brands of Masonry and related secret societies before then.

It may be no accident that these long-forgotten traditions are re-emerging and gaining popularity today:

    "The knights want a Papal apology nearly 700 years after they were disbanded and hounded into exile"

    - The Times, 29 November 2004: "The last Crusade of the Templars", page 13.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 03:39 PM

As a rule, it's the job of someone who proposes a theory to produce verifiable evidence to support it. See my references above for some earlier attempts at "explanation," mostly rather outdated now, but at least in the Gilchrist example based on close textual analysis.

Anybody can announce that they are Knights Templar and part of a continuous tradition, but I doubt if they could prove it.

You might be right, of course; but as I've said, it's very unlikely indeed.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 03:44 PM



Far more probable that someone just revived discredited or suppressed "heresy" on a whim and/or thought them up on their own


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,John
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 08:08 PM

I refer the honourable gentlemen to the question I posed earlier regarding the origin of the "three ships" motif in Christian folklore.

Those of you believe you know where this motif does not originate, perhaps you would therefore be so kind as to explain where it does originate!

If anybody has an alternative explanation for the origin of the "three ships" motif, let us hear it.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 10 Jan 05 - 09:18 PM

Oh, dear! Ring around the rosie all over again.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Malcolm Douglas
Date: 11 Jan 05 - 12:20 AM

I do hope not! Have a look at that discussion, John, and you'll see what Q means.

For myself, I think that "explanations" (particularly convoluted and esoteric ones) are unnecessary in the case of songs like this. I've pointed to suggestions made by others in the past, with which I neither particularly agree nor disagree; if you care to challenge them, by all means do so (once you've read, and digested, what they had to say), but don't drag me into it. Equally, if you want to make a properly reasoned case (with verifiable supporting evidence) for your own suggestion, then please do so.

Saying, in effect, "This is what I think, though I can offer no evidence. If you disagree, prove me wrong" is not the way to make a useful or convincing case. Bruce Cockburn's camels were silly enough; unless we are careful, the next thing we know, those "ships" will be flying saucers.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Upon a Christmas morning
From: Q (Frank Staplin)
Date: 18 Dec 06 - 10:58 PM

Lyr. Add: UPON A CHRISTMAS MORNING

I wash my face in a golden vase,
Golden vase, golden vase,
I wash my face in a golden vase,
Upon a Christmas morning.
2.
I wipe my face on a lily-white towel,
Lily-white towel, lily-white towel,
I wipe my face on a lily-white towel,
Upon a Christmas morning.
3.
I comb my hair with an ivory comb,
Ivory comb, ivory comb,
I comb my hair with an ivory comb,
Upon a Christmas morning.
4.
Two little ships were sailing by,
Were sailing by, were sailing by,
Two little ships were sailing by,
Upon a Christmas morning.
5.
Guess who was in one of them,
One of them, one of them,
Guess who was in one of them,
Upon a Christmas morning.
6.
The Blessed Virgin and her son,
And her son, and her son,
The Blessed Virgin and her son,
Upon a Christmas morning.

7.
Guess who was in the other of them,
Other of them, other of them,
George Washington and his son,
Upon a Christmas morning.

Sung by Catholic children in the streets of New York, 'a few years ago.' Newell remarks of the last stanza: "... chanted in perfect good faith, and without intentional irreverence, is a curious evidence of the manner in which ancient religion is affected by newly acquired patriotism, among children accustomed to too little literary culture to perceive the incongruity..."

W. W. Newell, in JAFL, 1892, Vol. 5, No. 19, p. 326.

See another unusual version in thread 13722: Christmas


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Subject: RE: Lyr Add: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST
Date: 24 Nov 13 - 12:52 AM

http://christmas.oldcornwall.org/looe.htm --Take a look...


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Subject: ADD Version: I Saw Three Ships. (Humber version)
From: Joe Offer
Date: 03 Dec 20 - 05:02 PM

Steve Woodbury sang this version today, and I really liked it.

https://www.cdss.org/song-of-month-category-blog/1756-march-2020

I SAW THREE SHIPS COME SAILING BY

I saw three ships come sailing by,?
I saw three ships come sailing by,?
By, by, by,
I saw three ships come sailing by.

I asked them what they'd got on board,
I asked them what they'd got on board,
Board, board, board,
I asked them what they'd got on board.

They said that they had got three crawns,
They said that they had got three crawns,
Crawns, crawns, crawns,
They said that they had got three crawns.

I asked them where they was taking them to,
I asked them where they was taking them to,
To, to, to,
I asked them where they was taking them to.

They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine,
They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine,
Koln, Koln upon Rhine,
They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine.

I asked them where they was bringing them from,
I asked them where they was bringing them from,
From, from, from,
I asked them where they was bringing them from.

They said they was coming from Bethlehem.
They said they was coming from Bethlehem.
Beth, Beth-e-le-hem.
They said they was coming from Bethlehem.

I saw three ships come sailing by,
I saw three ships come sailing by,
By, by, by,
I saw three ships come sailing by.
I saw three ships come sailing by.




I Saw Three Ships
introduced by Dave Para

Like John Roberts & Tony Barrand, Dave Para loves this "Crawn" version of the widespread carol “I Saw Three Ships.” It was collected in 1895 from a Humber estuary boatman on the east coast of England, and ultimately published by Baring-Gould in his Garland of Country Songs in the same year.

It finally makes sense out of the puzzle of why three ships appear in the Christmas narrative at all. Legend has it that the skulls ("crawns" = "craniums" = "crowns"?) of the "Kings" or "Wise Men" were taken and lodged in the cathedral at Cologne.

Dave thinks of this more as a pilgrim carol than a Christmas song, so here it is in March.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Joe Offer
Date: 03 Dec 20 - 05:09 PM

Nice entry in the Traditional Ballad Index.

I Saw Three Ships

DESCRIPTION: (While sitting on a sunny bank,) the singer sees three ships arrive on Christmas. In the ship are (pretty girls) or Mary, (Joseph), and/or (Jesus). (They/all) (sing/whistle/rejoice) as they sail on to Bethlehem
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1666 (Forbes's Cantus)
KEYWORDS: religious Jesus nonballad ship
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,West),Wales) US(Ap,MW,SE) Ireland
REFERENCES (17 citations):
Broadwood/Maitland, p. 111, "As I Sat on a Sunny Bank" (1 text, 1 tune)
KarpelesCrystal 98, "As I Sat on a Sunny Bank, or I Saw Three Ships" (1 text, 1 tune)
OCroinin-Cronin 147, "The Bells of Heaven" (1 text, 1 tune)
OBB 104, "I Saw Three Ships" (1 text)
OBC 3, "Sunny Bank"; 18, "I Saw Three Ships" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Combs/Wilgus 315, pp. 141-142, "Three Ships Came Sailing In" (1 text)
BrownII 53, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (1 fragment)
BrownSchinhanIV 53, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (2 excerpts, 2 tunes)
Ritchie-Southern, p. 43, "I Saw Three Ships" (1 text, 1 tune)
Gardner/Chickering 152, "As I Sat on the Sunny Bank" (1 text)
Rickert, pp. 213-214, "I Saw Three Ships"; p. 255, "As I Sat under a Sycamore Tree" (2 texts)
Opie-Oxford2 471, "I saw three ships come sailing by" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #331, pp. 180-181, "(I saw three ships come sailing by)"
Jack, p. 252, "I Saw Three Ships" (1 text)
Silber-FSWB, p. 379, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (1 text)
DT, ISAW3SHP*
ADDITIONAL: Ian Bradley, _The Penguin Book of Carols_ (1999), #35, "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In" (1 text)

ST OBB104 (Full)
Roud #700
RECORDINGS:
Elizabeth Cronin, "The Bells of Heaven" (on IRECronin01)
BROADSIDES:
Bodleian, Douce adds. 137(22), "The Sunny Bank," T. Bloomer (Birmingham), 1821-1827; also Harding B 7(38), Harding B 7(30), Harding B 7(37), Harding B 7(35), "As I Sat on a Sunny Bank" ("As I sat on a sunny bank")[some have no title]; Harding B 7(16), "The Sunny Bank"
CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Glasgow Ships" (some lines, but not the tune)
ALTERNATE TITLES:
As I Sat Under a Sycamore Tree
NOTES [504 words]: It probably need not be pointed out that there is no Biblical basis for this story, and that Bethlehem is nowhere near the ocean nor any body of water large enough for any kind of ship.
This makes it worthwhile to ask, Which version is older? There are secular and Christmas versions. The "Christmas" version is the one now widely sung, and the Combs version (the only one I think that's traditional in America) is a religious text -- but two of Gomme's three versions are secular. Similarly, the Opie version is set on New Year's day, and lists three pretty girls as passengers. On the other hand, several texts refer to "Our Savior Christ and His Lady." This sounds very Catholic -- and hence probably old -- to me.
(I do note that the new year at one time was held to take place on March 25, the day Jesus was conceived, but I don't see a hint of a connection in the song.)
Ian Bradley, in the Penguin Book of Carols, raises the question of why three ships are needed to bring two passengers -- in his version, Jesus and Mary. This is logical, but the likely answer is that the original included Joseph as well, but he was later written out or accidentally dropped. Bradley, though, has a different explanation: That three ships sailed in because they were bearing the relics of the three Magi, or perhaps the Magi themselves. Of course, the Bible nowhere says that there were three Magi; it merely says that the Magi (unnumbered) brought three gifts.
Personally, I'd guess that three is simply an auspicious number. Sure, one ship could carry Jesus and his mother, but three ships gives him an escort -- with the other two ships representing the other two persons of the Trinity. - RBW
Also see Calennig, "Sandy Banks" (on Callenig, "A Gower Garland," Wild Goose WGS 299 CD (2000)). The notes have it noted in Wales by Rev J.D. Davies in 1877. Just two ships here. - BS
OCroinin-Cronin has the form and "Christmas day in the morning" in common with "I Saw Three Ships" but has none of the usual lines.
OCroinin-Cronin: "The bells of heaven began to ring... The bells of hell began to blow... The gates of heaven were dressed in white... The gates of hell were dressed in black... I'll buy for you a little red book... I'll send you up to school to heaven...."
My inclination is to split OCroinin-Cronin from the rest of Roud #700 but sources frequently refer to a 1794 Ritson citation in Scottish Songs that link the "bells of heaven" to "I Saw Three Ships." I don't have the 1794 edition but, from the 1869 edition: "[an] Aberdeen collection, printed in 1666, contains many songs of a much earlier period.... At the end of the same publications are three singular compositions ... which are conjectured to have been sung by peasants in the Christmas holidays before the Reformation; the music is a church chant [f: ... Our Lord harped, our lady sang, And all the bells of heaven they rang, On Christ's sunday at morn" (Ritson,Scottish Songs (Glasgow: Hugh Hopkins, 1869 ("Digitized by Google")) Vol. I p. 99). - BS
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File: OBB104

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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Dec 20 - 06:10 PM

The local legend is that the three ships were caught in a storm and blown off course and had to shelter in the Humber estuary.

I used the tune, format and chorus to make a song about 3 local trawlers that were lost in the same week in 1968. It's on our second album called 'Spare Hands'.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 03 Dec 20 - 06:43 PM

On Christmas Day 2015

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day in the morning

And what was on those ships all three?
On Christmas Day in the morning

On board those ships were refugees
On Christmas Day in the morning

There's no room here for you to stay
On Christmas Day in the morning

So those three ships were turned away
On Christmas Day in the morning


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 04 Dec 20 - 05:05 AM

Nice one, Henry!


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: leeneia
Date: 05 Dec 20 - 01:11 PM

People tend to add their own culture and their own environment to Christmas. The Germans added the pine tree (Christmas tree) and Americans add technology. (Christmas lights). The English, a sea-faring nation, added ships.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Jerry
Date: 06 Dec 20 - 04:23 AM

Surely this original lyric is nothing to do with ships per se, but rather the camels that carried the three kings, ie also known as ships of the desert? It doesn’t even have a sea shanty type melody, unless you want to wind the capstan in jig time.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Dec 20 - 09:19 AM

I don't think anyone suggested it was ever used as a chanty, Jerry.
The legend of the 3 ships carrying the holy crowns is well documented even if it is apocryphal.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 06 Dec 20 - 02:37 PM

If you read through the rest of this excellent thread the pattern becomes obvious. The 3 ships theme has been reworked to cover different scenarios over many centuries. Henry's recent example and mine are just 2 in a long line of appropriations. The earliest, possibly original' is the ships were carrying Mary, Joseph and Jesus in some sort of dreamlike sequence, then comes the attachment of the relics of the 3 kings/wise men, then probably a whole host of adaptations culminating in my trawlermen and Henry's refugees.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Jerry
Date: 06 Dec 20 - 05:29 PM

Fairy Nuff, then.


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 25 Dec 20 - 06:12 AM

I saw three ships come sailing in
On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day
Sailing Dover to Calais
On Christmas Day in the morning


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: Lighter
Date: 25 Dec 20 - 07:03 AM

"Three Ships" words easily fit the Shetland tune, "Christmas Day in the Morning."

It was popularized elsewhere by the Boys of the Lough in the 1970s.

Merry Christmas!


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 25 Dec 20 - 12:27 PM

[The] carol was widely printed on broadsides and in song books during the 19th century, and has turned up in oral tradition in most places where English is spoken. The Shetland tune 'Christmas Day i da Moarnin' came from the repertoire of John Stickle (1875-1957) of Unst, and the family tradition was that it had been composed by his great-grandfather Friedemann Stickle (born in the 1780s), who was paid to play it every Christmas morning in the Ha' of Buness, the home of the Edmonston family at Baltasound.

Notation made by Patrick Shuldham-Shaw from John's playing (28 April 1947) was printed in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society, 9 (3) 1962, 140; but nowadays it is probably most familiar in the form recorded by The Boys of the Lough, which they got via Tom Anderson. Either he or they seem to have changed it rather at some point, if the 1947 notation is anything to go by (and Pat Shaw noted that Mr Stickle's playing was very consistent and that he was very insistent that the notation be exactly as played).

If there were ever any words sung to it in Shetland, they don't survive; though Tom Anderson apparently reckoned (quite reasonably) that the words of the title can be 'heard' in the final line.
By Malcolm Douglas edited 10 Sep 07 - 05:12 am on joe-offer.com/folkinfo


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,Julia L
Date: 25 Dec 20 - 05:59 PM

Just thought I'd add this song written by my friend John Morris for his show "A Time for Singing", which was a broadway adaptation of the novel "How Green was my Valley" 1939 by Richard Llewellyn
best- Julia Lane

Three Ships
Gerald Freedman & John Morris ASCAP 1965?

One day in times of long ago
Out on the mist and far away
Three ships came sailing into view
Glistening in fine array

The first was bronze and burnished gold
Then one of pearl; a princely sight
The last was plain with pure white sails
Bathed in a beauteous light

And one ship held wisdom and truth for all men
One ship held beauty their souls to delight
The last ship so plain held a mother and child
And shone with such light; with such radiant light

That ship so plain as plain could be
Holding the things we think least of
Had brought the greatest gift of all
Brought us the gift of love


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Subject: RE: Origins: I Saw Three Ships.
From: GUEST,henryp
Date: 26 Dec 20 - 12:32 AM

From Mainly Norfolk. Transcribed by Reinhard Zierke. Very many thanks to Georgina Boyes for her corrections.

Coope Boyes & Simpson sang Mike Waterson's song Three Ships in 2002 on their album Twenty-Four Seven. After the last “official” track on this album Mike Waterson sings Three Ships himself, recorded from a telephone call to Jim Boyes. The album's sleeve notes say;

In Arctic waters, seas whipped up by winter gales can turn to ice immediately they land on the decks of fishing trawlers. Before the introduction of new technologies, this had to be chopped off with axes or vessels rapidly became top heavy and capsized. Forced to fish in extreme conditions in 1968, the Hull trawlers, the “St Romanus”, the “Kingston Peridot” and the “Ross Cleveland” sank within days of each other with the loss of fifty-eight lives.

Three Ships, Mike Waterson's superb memorial to the tragedy was originally written for the play The Northern Trawl, which — like Cold Coasts of Iceland — also dealt with the life and death of deep water fishing industry.

I saw three ships come sailing by
Come sailing by, come sailing by
And I saw three ships come sailing by
So early in the morning

And the masts and the spars were hung with crystal
Glittering crystal, ice-cold crystal
And the masts and the spars were hung with crystal
Early in the morning

And the crew were all paid off in silver
Glittering silver, ice-cold silver
And the crews were all paid off in silver
Early in the morning

And I wonder what's the weight of gold
The weight of gold that a tongue can hold
To keep a story so untold of
Early in the morning


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