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Black-Eyed Susan

[ Roud 560 ; Laws O28 ; Ballad Index LO28 ; trad.]

Shirley Collins sang Black-Eyed Susan on her 1967 album The Power of the True Love Knot. She commented in the sleeve notes:

Tableau: a handsome sailor on board a ship of the line taking leave of his true love. They make vows, exchange tokens, dry tears: the fleet is setting sail. It's a familiar scene on dinner plates, prints and samplers. Out of such an emotionally charged situation just had to come some great songs. This rather formal sailor's farewell has a few literary touches to give away its composed origin (John “Beggar's Opera” Gay) but they don't worry me. Dolly's stately dancing decorations are true in feel to the song's date of composition - the mid-eighteenth century.

A 1966 demo recording of Black-Eyed Susan was published in 2006 on the CD Snapshots.


Shirley Collins sings Black-Eyed Susan

All in the downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came on board,
“Oh, where shall I my true love find?
Tell me tar-full sailors, tell me true,
Does my sweet William, does my sweet William
Sail on board with you?”

William who high upon the yard
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sighed and cast his eyes below.
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands
And quick as lightning, and quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.

“Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My heart shall ever true remain.
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again.
Change as you list she wins, my heart shall be
A faithful compass, a faithful compass
That still points to thee.”

The bosun gave the dreaded word,
Her sails their swelling bosoms spread.
No longer must she stay on board,
They kissed, she sighed and hung her head,
Her boat unwilling rows its way to land,
“Adieu,” she cries, “Adieu,” she cries
And waves her lily hand.