Monday, November 1, 2010

"The Water Is Wide" - The History Of A "Folk Song"

The "Water is Wide" is among of the best and the most popular songs of the Folk Revival era. It has been recorded by countless artists and is usually regarded as an "old Folk song"  But in fact it has a complicated, very interesting and surprising history. I have now tried to reconstruct the story behind this song. The text is a little bit too long for this blog and I've posted it on my website:

    The Adventurous Story Of Poor "Mary Of The Wild Moor"

    More than three years  ago I made some extensive research into the history of "Mary Of The Wild Moor". I heard this song first from Bob Dylan who performed it at some of his shows in 1980/81. It's one the many 19th century popular songs that are today regarded as "Folk songs". I have revised the text and  added some more information. It's now available on my new website:

    The very first released recording of this song was by the Blue Sky Boys (Atlanta 1940) from North Carolina, a very popular and influential duo (at the moment available at YouTube):

    'Twas on one cold wint'ry night,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor,
    When poor Mary came wandering home with her child.
    'Till she came to her own father's door.
    "Oh Father, dear father" she cried,
    "Come down and open the door,
    Or the child in my arms it will perish and die,
    By the winds that blows across the wild moor.

    Oh why did I leave this fair spot,
    Where once I was happy and free,
    I'm now doomed to roam without friends or a home,
    And no one to take pity on me."
    But her father was deaf to her cries,
    Not a sound of her voice did he hear,
    So the watch dog did howl and the village bell tolled,
    And the wind blew across the wild moor.

    Oh how the old man must have felt,
    When he came to the door in the morn,
    And found Mary dead but the child still alive,
    Closely pressed in its dead mother's arms;
    In anguish he tore his gray hair,
    While the tears down his cheeks they did pour;
    When he saw how that night, she had perished and died
    From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

    The old man with grief pined away,
    And the child to its mother went soon,
    And no one, they say, has been there since this day,
    And the cottage to ruin has gone;
    But the villagers point out the spot,
    Where the willow droops over the door,
    Saying there Mary died, once a gay village bride,
    From the winds that blew across the wild moor.

    Some years ago JSP Records in Britain released a 5-Cd set of their early recordings 1936 - 1950 (JSP 7782). I'm usually not much into Country but the music on this collection is very enjoyable. 

    Cover of sheet music for J. W. Turner, “Mary Of The Wild Moor”, New York 1882, Library of Congress, Music Division. Music for the Nation: American Sheet Music