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The Dark-Eyed Sailor

[ Roud 265 ; Laws N35 ; G/D 5:1037 ; Henry H232 ; Ballad Index LN35 ; VWML CJS2/9/161 ; Bodleian Roud 265 ; Wiltshire 498 , 926 ; trad.]

A Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect Bothy Songs and Ballads Everyman's Book of English Country Songs The Constant Lovers The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs Sam Henry's Songs of the People Songs of the Ridings Songs of the West The Folk Handbook Travellers' Songs from England and Scotland Vaughan Williams in Norfolk Volume 2

Jack Clark sang the well-known broken-token song The Dark-Eyed Sailor at The Eel's Foot, Eastbridge, Suffolk, in 1947. This recording by E.J. Moeran was included in 2000 on the Veteran anthology of traditional singing and music from The Eel's Foot, Good Order! Ladies and Gentlemen Please, and in 2012 on the Snatch'd from Oblivion CD East Anglia Sings.

Phil Tanner sang Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor on a BBC recording made on 22 April 1949 at Penmaen. It was included in 1968 on his eponymous EFDSS album, Phil Tanner, and in 2003 on his Veteran anthology CD The Gower Nightingale. Roy Palmer noted in the album's booklet:

Lovers, faced with years of separation and fearing they would fail to recognise each other when they were reunited, would break a coin or a ring and take half each, to be kept as a form of identification. The “broken token” theme inspired a whole series of songs, including Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor (which is sometimes known merely by the second half of the title). This may owe something to the vogue for Biack-Ey’d Susan, written by Douglas Jerrold in 1829, and in turn based on John Gay’s poem, Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-Eyed Susan of the previous century. Fair Phoebe seems to have been first printed by the ballad­ publishing rivals, John Pitts and James Catnach, both of Seven Dials in London, and it appears in both their catalogues. Other printers took to it up in Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and elsewhere—and it became widespread in oral tradition in Britain, Ireland and North America.

A.L. Lloyd sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor, in 1956 on his Riverside LP English Street Songs. He noted:

Like The Indian Lass, this widespread ballad presents the idealised sailor in a situation which was a favourite with 19th century stall ballad printers. In it, a tear stained beauty encounters her sailor lover (long thought drowned) by the shores of the rolling sea. He identifies himself (with the aid of the much used ring-token) and they marry and live happily thereafter. So firmly did street balladeers’ leaflets fix this song in the minds of the people, that its many versions, collected over wide areas of Britain and America, hardly vary at all, and seem to have remained virtually unaffected by the processes of oral transmission usual with folk songs.

Sam Larner sang The Dark Eyed Sailor to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1958-60. This recording was included in 2014 on his Musical Traditions anthology Cruising Round Yarmouth. Rod Stadling noted in the album's booklet:

A well-known and well-loved song right across the Anglophone world, with 347 Roud entries, ranging from an 1820s’ English printing to a 1989 sound recording in Ireland. It’s one of a number of modern ballads on the theme of Hind Horn, with parted lovers, a broken token, the man's return in disguise, the woman's fidelity tested,ending in a gentle Victorian triumph. Catnach published the song on a broadside c.1830 and every example that has since turned up relates to that printed set. The tune is slightly older—Vaughan Williams includes it in one of his Folk Song Suites—and its sophisticated ‘doubletting’ of the first half of the final phrase shows the influence of the stage, the kind of thing that the folk might adopt, but wouldn't invent.

Scan Tester and company sang The Dark Eyed Sailor on 27 May 1960 at The Royal Oak, Milton Street, Sussex. This recording by Brian Matthews was included in 2001 on the Musical Traditions anthology of songs from Sussex pubs, Just Another Saturday Night.

Arthir Wood of Middlesbough, Yorkshire, sang The Dark Eyed Sailor in 1962 or earlier to Colin S. Wharton as part of what became his Leeds University degree thesis “Folk Songs from the North Riding”. It was included in 2019 on the Musical Traditions anthology of Songs of the North Riding from the 1962 Colin Wharton Collection.

Caroline Hughes sang a one-verse fragment of The Dark-Eyed Sailor to Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker in 1963 or 1965. This recording was included in 2014 on her Musical Traditions anthology Sheep-Crook and Black Dog.

Fred Jordan sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor to Bill Leader and Mike Yates in a private room in The Bay Malton Hotel, Oldfield Brow, Altringham, Cheshire, in 1966. This recording was included in the same year on his Topic album Songs of a Shropshire Farm Worker and in 1998 on the Topic anthology My Ship Shall Sail the Ocean (The Voice of the People Volume 3). The original album's notes commented:

This is one of a number of modern ballads on the theme of Hind Horn, with parted lovers, broken token, the man’s return in disguise, the woman’s fidelity tested, ending in a gentle Victorian triumph. Catnach published the song on a broadside around 1836, and every example that has since turned up relates to that printed set. The tune is slightly older, and its sophisticated doubletting of the first half of the final phrase shows the influence of the stage, the kind of thing that folk might adopt but wouldn’t invent. Fred Jordan learnt this song from his mother; it was one of her favourites.

George Benton sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor to Sean Davies and Tony Wales at Madehurst, Arundel, Sussex on January 29, 1967. This recording was released in the same year on his EFDSS album All Jolly Fellows ….

Sydney Scott of North Ronaldsay, Orkney, sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1967 to Alan Bruford. This field recording was included in 2004 on the Greentrax anthology Orkney: Land, Sea & Community (Scottish Tradition 22).

Bob Hart sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor to Bill Leader at home in 1969. This recording was included in 1998 on his Musical Traditions anthology A Broadside. Rod Stradling noted:

Yet another very well-known song which has remained popular with country singers 'til the present day; Roud's 194 instances are about equally divided between books, broadsides and sound recordings. Although the great majority are from England, it was widely found in North America, and Gavin Greig found several examples in Scotland.

Peter Bellamy sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1969 on his second solo LP, Fair England's Shore.

Steeleye Span recorded The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1970 for their first album, Hark! The Village Wait, with both Gay Woods and Maddy Prior singing. A live recording from St. David's Hall, Cardiff on 6 December 1994 can be found on the video 25 Live: The Classic Twenty Fifth Anniversary Tour Concert. Another live recording from The Forum, London on 2 September 1995 was released on the CD The Journey. The first album's sleeve notes commented:

A song after the fashion of John Riley commonly found on broadsides. Gay and Terry [Woods] heard this version from Al O'Donnell, a friend and singer in Dublin. It must be remembered that sea voyages a few centuries ago could take years to complete and it is not surprising that the two lovers should each take one half of a ring as a token of their enduring love. Hutchings: “This was brought in by Terry & Gay, and it's a song I still perform today with The Albion Band.”

Percy Webb sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor, on 16 February 1970 at the King's Head Folk Club. This recording was included in 2012 on the Musical Traditions anthology of traditional performers at the King's Head Folk Club.

Christy Moore sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor, in 1972 on his Trailer album Prosperous.

Walter Pardon sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor, recorded by Bill Leader, Peter Bellamy and Reg Hall in June 1974, on his Leader LP A Proper Sort and in an alternative recording in 2000 on his Topic anthology A World Without Horses.

Louis and Sally Killen sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1975 on their LP Bright Shining Morning. He also sang it in 1997 on his CD A Seaman's Garland. He noted on the first album:

This is the classic “broken token” song and can be found, almost without variant in tune or text, throughout the British Isles, Newfoundland, and the Maritime Provinces. I learned this from a good friend and source of songs, Brian Ballinger, in Oxford in 1956.

Al O'Donnell sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on his 1978 Transatlantic The Leader Tradition album Al O'Donnell 2.

Gordon Tyrrall sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1978 on his Hill & Dale album Farewell to Foggy Hills.

Charlotte Renals of the West Country travelling families, the Orchards. sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor to Pete Coe in 1978. This recording was included in 2003 on the family's Veteran CD Catch Me If You Can. Charlotte's newphew Viv Legg sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on his and Thomas McCarthy's CD Jauling the Green Tober. Mike Yates noted:

Charlotte’s version of this ‘broken token’ ballad is strikingly similar, both textually and melodically, to a set collected by Cecil Sharp on 9 January 1904, from one William Nott, of Meshaw in Devonshire [VWML CJS2/9/161] . The idea of the “broken ring” goes back to Homer—who used the idea in The Odyssey—and forms a central part of the ballad Hind Horn (Child 17), although the song The Dark Eyed Sailor probably only dates from the end of the eighteenth century. It was published on a number of nineteenth century broadsides and has been collected extensively.

Bob Roberts sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1982 on his Solent album Breeze for a Bargeman.

Tony Rose sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1982 on his album Poor Fellows. As this album is now unavailable, he re-recorded it in 1999 for his CD Bare Bones. He noted on the first album:

Perhaps the best known of all the “broken token” songs. The remarkable consistency of tune and text is largely due to the amazing popularity of the Catnach broadside of 1836.

John Bowden sang Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor on his and Vic Shepherd's 1982 album A Motty Down. They noted:

Many years ago we heard Tony Rose sing some of Phil Tanner's song, and soon afterwards we bought the EFDSS record, which has remained a treasured part of our collection ever since. Although an old man when it was recorded, Phil Tanner was a marvellous stylist with the range and flexibility of voice of a man half his age. This lovely broken-token song has been one of John's favourites for many years.

Gordon Syrett of Mendlesham Green, Suffolk, sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor to John Howson in December 1982. This recording was included in 1993 on a Veteran Tapes double cassette and in 2009 on the Veteran anthology of traditional music making from Mid-Suffolk, Many a Good Horseman. John Howson noted:

This classic broken-token song, often known as Fair Phoebe and her Dark-Eyed Sailor, tells the story of two lovers who break a token—such as a ring—in half when they are parted, so that they will know each other when they are finally reunited. The song originated in the late eighteenth century, was printed on street ballad sheets in the early nineteenth century, and survived in the oral tradition into the twentieth century when it was particularly popular in Suffolk. It was a favourite of Fred Whiting from Kenton and E.J. Moeran recorded Jack Clark at the Eel's Foot in Eastbridge singing it in 1947.

Elaine Morgan sang Dark-Eyed Sailor on her 1989 Albino cassette First Blush. She was accompanied by Phil Beer, Ashley Hutchings and others.

June Tabor recorded Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1990 with the Oysterband for their album Freedom and Rain.

Cyril Tawney sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on his 1992 Neptune Tapes cassette In Every Port. This track was included in 2003 on his anthology Nautical Tawney.

Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts sang Dark-Eyed Sailor in 1995 on their eponymous album Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts.

Calennig sang Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor in 2000 on her WildGoose CD A Gower Garland, which was produced in remembrance of the 50th anniversary of Phil Tanner's death.

Tarras sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor in 2001 on their Topic CD Walking Down Mainstreet.

Bonnie Milner sang Dark-Eyed Sailor in 2003 on the Folk-Legacy anthology of traditional Irish-American songs from the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection, Irish Songs from Old New England.

The Stanchester Quire, directed by Eddie Upton, sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor as part of Folk South West's The Fanfare of the South West Suite on their 2003 Fellside CD Fanfare for the South West.

Mike Bosworth sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on his 2004 CD of songs from the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould Collection, By Chance It Was. He was accompanied by John Kirkpatrick on concertina.

Ruth Notman recorded Dark-Eyed Sailor in 2007 for her first CD, Threads.

Stephanie Hladowski and Chris Joynes sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on their 2012 CD The Wild Wild Berry.

Olivia Chaney sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on 22 May 2013 on Mark Radcliffe's BBC Radio 2 programme The Folk Show. This was published a month later on the download EP The Mark Radcliffe Folk Sessions.

Kim Lowings & the Greenwood sang Dark-Eyed Sailor in 2015 on their CD Historia.

Kelly Oliver sang Dark-Eyed Sailor on her 2018 CD Botany Bay. She noted:

Collected by Lucy Broadwood in Hertfordshire; taken from The New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs.

The moral of this story is to stay true to your love while they are away, but also to try and remember what your fiancée looks like.

Ken Wilson sang The Dark-Eyed Sailor on his 2018 CD Portraits. He noted:

Perhaps the most well known of the ‘broken token’ songs. A classic story of two lovers, each taking one half of a ring as a token of their enduring love, before a sailor went off to sea. Often for tens of years before returning.

Belinda Kempster and Fran Foote sang Dark Eyed Sailor on their 2019 CD On Clay Hill.

Compare to this Lal Waterson singing The Welcome Sailor on her and Norma Waterson's LP and CD A True Hearted Girl, to Joan Baez singing John Riley on her first, eponymous album (Vanguard VSD 2077), and to Nancy Kerr singing The Poor and Young Single Sailor on her and Eliza Carthy's second album, Shape of Scrape.

Lyrics

Phil Tanner sings Fair Phoebe and the Dark-Eyed Sailor

It's of a comely young lady fair,
Who was walking out for to take the air,
She met a sailor upon her way,
𝄆 So I paid attention 𝄇 to hear what they did say.

Said William, “Lady, why roam alone?
The night is coming, and the day near gone.”
She said, while tears from her eyes did roll,
𝄆 “It’s a dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 hath prov-ed my downfall.

“It is two long years since he left this land,
I took a gold ring from off my hand,
I broke that token, this part with me,
𝄆 And the other is rolling 𝄇 in the bottom of the sea.”

Said William, “Drive him all from your mind,
Some other sailor as good you’ll find.”
“Genteel he was, not a rake like you.
𝄆 To advise a maiden 𝄇 to slight the jacket blue.”

These words did Phoebe's fond heart inflame,
She said, “On me you shall play no game.”
She drew a dagger and then did cry,
𝄆 “For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 a maid I live and die.

“ But still,” said Phoebe, “I ne’er disdain
A tarry sailor but treat the same,
Love turns aside and soon does grow.
𝄆 Like a winter’s morning 𝄇 when the land is covered with snow.”

Then half the ring did young William show.
She seemed distracted with joy and woe,
“Oh welcome William, I’ve land and gold.
𝄆 It's my dark-eyed sailor, 𝄇 so manly, true and bold.”

His coal black eyes and his curly hair,
And pleading tongue did her heart ensnare,
“Oh, drink his health, here’s a piece of coin.
𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 still claims this heart of mine.”

Then in a village down by the sea,
They joined in wedlock, and will agree:
All maids be true when your lover is away,
𝄆 For a cloudy morning, for a cloudy morning, brings forth a sun shine day!

Bob Hart sings The Dark-Eyed Sailor

It's of a comely young lady fair
Who was walking out for to take the air,
She met a sailor all on her way,
𝄆 So I paid attention 𝄇 just to hear what they did say.

Said William, “Lady, why roam alone?
The night is dark and the day far gone."
She said, while tears from her eyes did fall,
𝄆 “It's a dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 that provèd my downfall.

“It is two long years since he left the land,
He took a gold ring from off my hand.
We broke the token; here's part with me,
𝄆 And the other lays rolling 𝄇 at the bottom of the sea.”

Said William, “Drive him from your mind,
Some other sailor, as good, you'll find.
Love turned aside, oh, and soon will grow,
𝄆 Like a winter's morning 𝄇 when the lands are covered with snow.”

These words did fair Phoebe's heart inflame.
She said, “On me you shall play no game.”
She drew a dagger and then did cry,
𝄆 “For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 a maid I'll live and die.

“His coal-black eyes and his curly hair,
His pleasing tongue did my heart ensnare.
Genteel he was, not a rake like you,
𝄆 To advise a maiden 𝄇 to forsake a jacket blue.”

Then half the ring did young William show.
She seemed distracted, 'midst joy and woe.
“Oh, welcome, William, I've land and gold
𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 so manly, true and bold.”

Then in a village down by the sea,
Let's join in wedlock and well agree.
Be true to your lovers when they're away,
𝄆 For a cloudy morning 𝄇 bringeth forth a sunny day.

Peter Bellamy sings The Dark-Eyed Sailor

It's of a charming young lady fair,
She went walking out for to take the air;
She met a sailor all on her way
𝄆 And I paid attention 𝄇 to hear what they did say.

He said, “Fair lady, why do you walk alone,
For the day is gone and the night is come?”
Said she while tears from her eyes did fall,
“𝄆 It is the dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 has caused me my downfall.”

“'Tis three long years since he left this land
He pulled a gold ring from off his hand.
We broke the token and this half's with me,
𝄆 And the other lies rollin' 𝄇 at the bottom of the sea.”

He said, “Fair lady, drive him from your mind,
For I'm as good as he, you'll find.”
But she drew a dagger and loud she did cry,
“𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 I lived and now I'll die.”

The other token he then did show,
She was distracted midst joy and woe.
“Oh William doar, I have land and I have gold
And a store of silver
“𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 so manly true and bold.”

Steeleye Span sing The Dark-Eyed Sailor

As I roved out one evening fair,
It bein' the summertime to take the air,
I spied a sailor and a lady gay
𝄆 And I stood to listen 𝄇 to hear what they would say.

He said “Fair lady, why do you roam,
For the day is spent and the night is on.”
She heaved a sigh while the tears did roll:
“𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇, so young and stout and bold.”

“'Tis seven long years since he left this land,
A ring he took from off his lily-white hand.
One half of the ring is still here with me,
𝄆 But the other's rollin' 𝄇 at the bottom of the sea.”

He said, “You may drive him out of your mind,
Some other young man you will surely find.
Love turns aside and soon cold has grown
𝄆 Like a winter's morning 𝄇, the hills all white with snow.”

She said, “I'll never forsake my dear,
Although we're parted this many a year.
Genteel he was and no rake like you,
𝄆 To induce a maiden 𝄇 to slight the jacket blue.”

One half of the ring did young William show,
She ran distracted, in grief and woe.
Sayin': “William, Will, I have gold in store,
𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 has proved his honour true.”

And there is a cottage by yonder lea,
This couple's married and does agree.
So maids, be loyal when your love's at sea,
𝄆 For a cloudy morning 𝄇 brings in a sunny day.

Note: The live version on The Journey has only five verses in the order 1-5-4-6-7 and some small text differences; e.g. “might” instead of “would” at the last line of verse 1, “shun” instead of “slight” at the last line of verse 5 and “summer's day” instead of “sunny day” in the very last line. And I'm not sure about the end of verse 6 in both versions at all—it sounds more like “overthrow” than “honour true”. Can anyone help?

Tony Rose sings The Dark-Eyed Sailor

It's of a comely young lady fair
Was walking out for to take the air.
She met a sailor all on her way;
𝄆 So I paid attention 𝄇 to hear what they did say.

Said William, “Why do you walk alone,
For the day is done and the night is come?”
Said she as tears from her eyes did fall,
“𝄆 'Twas the dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 has provèd my downfall.”

“It's seven long years since he's left the land
When he took the gold ring from off his hand.
He broke the token in half with me,
𝄆 Now the other's rollin' 𝄇 at the bottom of the sea.”

Said William, “Chase him from your mind,
For a better sailor's than him you'll find.
Love a-turns aside and soon cold has grown
𝄆 Like a winter's morning 𝄇 when the land is white with snow.”

These words did Phoebe's fond heart inflame,
She said, “On me you shall play no game.”
She drew a dagger and then did cry,
“𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 a maid I'll live and die.”

Oh his coal-black eyes and his curly hair,
His 'mazing tongue did my heart ensnare.
Upright he was, not a rogue like you
𝄆 To entice a maiden 𝄇 to slight the jacket blue.”

So William then did the token show,
She seemed distracted midst joy and woe.
“Welcome William, for I've land and gold
And a store of silver
For my dark-eyed sailor so manly true and bold.”

Gordon Syrett sings The Dark-Eyed Sailor

'Twas of a comely young maiden fair,
Who was walking out for to get the air.
She met a sailor lad on the way,
𝄆 So she paid attention 𝄇 to what he had to say.

Said William, “Lady why roam alone?
The night is coming and the day near gone.”
She said, while tears from her eyes did flow,
“Tis the dark-eyed sailor, 'twas the dark-eyed sailor,
That proved to my overthrow.”

Said William, “Drive him from your mind.
Some other sailor lad, as good, you'll find.”
She drew her dagger and then did cry—
𝄆 “For my dark-eyed sailor 𝄇 a maid I'll live or die.”

Then half a ring did young William show.
She seemed distracted midst joy and woe.
“Oh welcome William, for I've land and gold.
𝄆 For my dark-eyed sailor, 𝄇 a man so brave and bold.”

'Twas in a village down by the sea, They joined in wedlock, and I well agree. All maids be true, while your love is away, 𝄆 For a cloudy morning 𝄇 brings forth a sun-shiny day.