Dark-Eyed Susan (Lehr and Best)

All in the Downs where the fleet lay moored
With streamers waving in the wind,
When dark-eyed Susan came on board,
Saying: "Where will I my true love find?
Tell me ye jovial sailors, tell me,
O tell me true if my love William,
If my love William sails among your crew."

William was high up in the yard,
Tossed by the billows to and fro;
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sighed and cast his eyes below.
The chord slides swiftly through his glowing hands
And quick as lightning,
And quick as lightning, on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark high-poised in the air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast;
If chance his mate's shrill call he hears,
And drops at once into her nest.
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William,
Might envy William's lips those kisses sweet.

"O Susan, Susan, o lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear -
We only part to meet again.
Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass,
The faithful compass that still points to thee.

"Believe not what the landsmen say,
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind;
They'll tell thee sailors when away
In every port a sweetheart find.
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present,
For thou art present wheresoe'er I go.

"If to fair India's coast we sail,
Thine eyes are seen in diamonds bright;
Thy breath in Africa's spicy gale -
Thy skin is ivory so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul,
Wakes in my soul some charms of lovely Sue.

"Though battle calls me from thine arms,
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harm
William shall to his dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that 'round me fly
Lest precious tears,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eyes."

The bosun gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosoms spread;
No longer must she stay on board -
They kissed, she sighed, he hung his head.
Her listing boat unwilling sped to land
"Adieu," she cried,
"Adieu," she cried, and waved her lily hand.

####.... John Gay [1685-1732] Borough of Barnstaple, London, UK. Variant of a British broadside ballad, Black-Eyed Susan (Dark-Eyed Susan) [Laws 028] American Balladry From British Broadsides (G Malcolm Laws, 1957). Also a variant of an 18th-century British broadside ballad, William And Susan, published by W and C Dicey (London) sometime between 1736 and 1763, and archived at the Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads, shelfmark: Harding B 1(6) ....####
This variant collected in 1977 by Genevieve Lehr and Anita Best from Anita's mother Elsie Genevia Best nee Reid [1925-2015] of Meerasheen and St John's, NL, and published as #28 in Come And I Will Sing You: A Newfoundland Songbook, pp.47-49, edited by Genevieve Lehr (University of Toronto Press ©1985/2003).

Anita Best noted that her mother brought this song with her from Tack's Beach when she moved to Merasheen, Placentia Bay, NL. Lillian Pittman learned it from her and wrote it down in her song scribbler. The scribbler was lost in the move to Placentia during the Resettlement Era, but the song survived. Anita Best added, "Great was my surprise to find out, much later, that John Gay of Beggar's Opera fame had composed it in 1720, and that our version matched his almost word for word."

See more Lehr and Best songs.

From University of Toronto's Representative Poetry Online ©2005:
Sweet William's Farewell to Black-ey'd Susan: A Ballad - Original text: John Gay, Poems On Several Occasions (London: Jacob Tonson and Bernard Lintot, 1720). E-10 4365 Fisher Rare Book Library (Toronto, ON).


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