The Rambling Sailor

It was Cecil Sharp's opinion that early broadsides were about a soldier.

There is an argument that the original was an Irish, particularly Ulster song, according to Sam Henry, the greatest collector of Ulster folk songs. The Irish song was called The Rambling Suiler (suiler translated as beggarman, which, indeed, still provides a metaphor for movement, fluidity and lack of fixity): Gale Huntington and Lani Herrmann (eds.), Sam Henry's Songs of the People (University of Georgia Press, 1990). Another suggestion is that 'the rambling suiler' refers to the amorous encounters of James V of Scotland, who roamed his kingdom in disguise and may have written the song about himself or had it written about him. Whether of Gaelic origin, and whomsoever the subject, the anglicised versions of this song are many, using different place names. Nevertheless, the key points are well illustrated. Detaching himself from authority and beoming mobile earns the subject his liberty as an English man. As was frequently the case, 'rambling' was a metaphor for sexual liberty or libertinism. The story of the woman who went to sea inverts several aspects of 'The Rambling Sailor'. Instead of being universalised by being given a name which could apply to any English man - a young man, the son of John - the woman is particularised - Rebecca Young of Gravesend. She is loyal to the memory of her 'true love', a pressed seaman who had drowned, and it was to honour him that she went to sea. She too, drowned, but was undaunted, and in death 'anchored', rather than mobile.

This version comes from Roy Palmer, The Oxford Book of Sea Songs (Oxford/NY, 1986).

The Rambling Sailor

I am a sailor stout and bold,
Long time I have ploughed the ocean
To fight for my king and country too,
For honour and promotion.
I said 'Brother sailors I will bid you adieu.
I will go no more to the seas with you,
I will travel the country through and through,
And still be a rambling sailor.'

When I came to Greenwich town
There were lasses plenty!
I boldly stepped up to one
To court her for her beauty.
I said 'My dear, be of good cheer.
I will not leave, you need not fear,
I will travel the country through and through,
And still be a rambling sailor.'

When I came to Woolwich town,
There were lasses plenty.
I boldly stepped up to one
To court her for her money.
I said 'My dear, what do you choose?
There's ale and wine and rum punch too,
Besides a pair of new silk shoes
To travel with a rambling sailor.'

When I awoke all in the morn
I left my love a-sleeping.
I left her for an hour or two
Whilst I go courting some other;
But if she stays till I return
She may stay there till the day of doom.
I'll court some other girl in her room,
And still be a rambling sailor.

And if you want to know my name,
My name it is young Johnson.
I have got a commission from the king
To court all girls that are handsome.
With my false heart and flattering tongue
I court all girls both old and young;
I court them all and marry none,
And still be a rambling sailor.

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