> Shirley Collins > Songs > Pretty Saro

Pretty Saro

[ Roud 417 ; Ballad Index R744 ; VWML CJS2/9/2358 ; DT PRETSARO , PRETSAR2 ; Mudcat 15862 ; trad.]

Jean Ritchie: Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians Cecil J. Sharp, Maud Karpeles: English Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachians

Susan Reid sang At the Foot of Yonders Mountain in 1954 on her Elektra album Susan Reid Sings Old Airs.

Shirley Collins sang Pretty Saro unaccompanied in 1959 on her first LP, Sweet England. The album’s notes comment:

One of the finest American mountain lyric songs of the type derived from English folk song roots. The version is from Sharp’s English Folk Songs From the Southern Appalachians published by Oxford University Press [VWML CJS2/9/2358] .

She recorded it again together with Davy Graham in 1964 for their LP Folk Roots, New Routes. This recording was included in many anthologies, e.g. Folk Now (1965) and Electric Muse (1075), and in 2002 on Shirley Collins’ own Within Sound.

Hedy West sang Pretty Saro as the title track of her 1966 Topic album of Appalachian Ballads, Pretty Saro. She noted:

Pretty Saro is apparently a native lyrical piece from the 19th century. Grandma and Daddy always sing it in this slow free style and with this ornamentation. This long phrasing gives singers a chance to use the keen, long carrying tone quality that was considered excellent.

Gaither Carlton sang Pretty Saro in a recording of the Watson Family made by Ralph Rinzler and Daniel Seeger in May 1965. In was released in 1977 on the Rounder and Topic album The Watson Family Tradition.

Finbar and Eddie Fury sang Pretty Saro in 1968 on Paddie Bell’s album with them, I Know Where I’m Going.

Rosemary Hardman sang Pretty Saro on her 1969 Folk Heritage album Queen of Hearts, which was recorded live at the Bate Hall Hotel in Macclesfield on 29 December 1968. She noted:

This song, which is to be found on both sides of the Atlantic, is one of the most loved folk songs of the Appalachian region of America. It may be noted with some interest that, despite its various journeyings, the lyrics have gone almost unaltered in every version. I have, in fact, made the first alteration that I know of by singing two lines of the lyrics as a refrain. The tune was collected from Eddie Furey and the lyrics from the Jean Ritchie collection.

Jez Lowe sang Pretty Saro on his eponymous 1980 Fellside album Jez Lowe.

Patti Reid sang Pretty Saro on her eponymous 1987 Fellside album Patti Reid.

Andy Turner sang Pretty Saro on his 1990 cassette Love, Death and the Cossack.

Martin Simpson played Pretty Saro on his 1991 Shanachie album When I Was on Horseback. A 1994 live recording from the Holywell Music Room, Oxford, was released in 1996 on his album Live.

Dave Burland “first heard [Pretty Saro] from Hedy West, a wonderful singer and banjo player from America.” He sang it on his 1996 album Benchmark.

Elizabeth LaPrelle sang Pretty Saro in 2004 on her CD Rain and Snow. She noted:

This is the Jean Ritchie version. I love the fiddle drone on this; parts of it are like Jean Ritchie’s dulcimer on her recording of Jean Ritchie and Doc Watson at Folk City.

She also recorded it in 2007 for her CD Lizard in the Spring where she noted:

I learned this old favourite in a ballad workshop led by Sheila Kay Adams, who heard it from her neighbors in Madison County, North Carolina. I sang a Kentucky version on my previous CD.

Sara Grey sang Pretty Saro in 2005 on her Fellside album A Long Way From Home. She also sang it live at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival, Collessie, Fife in May 2008, which recording was included in the following year on the festival anthology Grand to Be a Working Man (Old Songs & Bothy Ballads Volume 5). She noted:

This was sung by Cads Wallin, Madison County, North Carolina. It has been collected in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, the Ozarks, Indiana, and Iowa amongst other states.

The Frank C Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore suggests that that the odd line “banks of said brow” might be a corruption of the line of the another version which has “the mountain’s sad brow”

The use of the word “freeholder” places the song’s origin in England as the term is not used in the United States.

Mark T sang Pretty Saro on his 2011 CD Folk Songs & Ballads.

Rob Harbron sang Pretty Saro in 2015 on his and Emma Reid’s album Flock & Fly.

Hannah Rarity sang Pretty Saro, “an Appalachian love song, derived from English folk song” on her 2016 EP Beginnings.

Odessa Settles sang Pretty Saro, as collected from Mary Sands of Allanstand, Northern Carolina, on 5 August 1916 by Cecil Sharp [VWML CJS2/9/2358] , in 2023 on Martin Simpson’s and Thomm Jutz’s Topic album of songs collected from Mary Sands and Jane Gentry, Nothing But Green Willow.


Shirley Collins sings Pretty Saro

I came to this country in eighteen-forty-nine,
I saw many true loves but never saw mine.
I viewed all around me and I am alone,
And me a poor soldier and far from my home.

It’s not the long journey I’m dreading to go,
Nor leaving the country for the deads that I owe.
There is nothing that grieves me nor troubles my mind
Like leaving pretty Saro my darling behind.

I wish I was a poet and could write a fine hand,
I’d write my love a letter that she might understand.
I’d send it by the island where them waters overflow
I’d think on pretty Saro wherever I go.

Farewell, my dear father, likewise mother too,
I’m going for to ramble this country all through.
And when I get tired I’ll sit down and cry
And think on Pretty Saro with tears in my eye.

Sara Grey sings Pretty Saro

Well I first came to this country in eighteen and forty nine,
I saw many fine lovers but I never saw mine;
I viewed them all around me, I found I was quite alone,
And me a poor stranger and a long way from home.

Well my true love she won’t have me so I understand,
She wants a freeholder but I have no land.
I cannot maintain her with silver and gold,
Nor buy her all the fine things that a big house can hold.

Well, if I were a poet and could write a fine hand
I would write my love a letter that she’d understand.
I’d send it by the waters where the islands overflow,
And I’d think of my darling wherever I go.

Well, if I were a turtle dove, had wings and could fly,
I would fly to my love’s lodging and there I’d draw nigh.
And in her lily white arms all night I would lay
And watch those little winders till the dawning of day.

Way down in some lonesome valley, way down in some lonesome place,
Where those wild birds they do warble and their notes do increase,
My love she is handsome, she’s slender and neat,
And I wouldn’t find no better pastime than to be with my sweet.

Well I strolled through the mountains, I strolled through the plains,
I strolled to forget her but it was all in vain.
On the banks of old Cowley, on the mount of said brow,
Well I once loved her dearly and I don’t hate her now.

Hannah Rarity sings Pretty Saro

Down in some lonesome valley, in a lonesome place,
Where the wild birds do whistle and their notes do increase.
Farewell Pretty Saro, I bid you adieu,
And I’ll dream of Pretty Saro wherever I go.

My love, she won’t have me, so I understand,
She wants a freeholder who owns house on land,
I cannot maintain her with riches and gold,
Nor buy all the fine things that a big house can hold.

If I were a merchant and could write a fine hand,
I’d write my love a letter that she’d understand,
I’d write it by a river where the waters o’erflow,
And I’d dream of Pretty Saro wherever I go.