The Water is Wide

“The Water Is Wide” is a Scottish ballad, based on lyrics that partly date to the 1600s. It has seen considerable popularity through to the 21st century. Cecil Sharp published the song in Folk Songs From Somerset (1906). It refers to the ostensibly unhappy first marriage of James Douglas (second Marquess of Douglas) to Lady Barbara Erskine. If the lyrics are to be believed, in 1681 the rumour mills were abuzz that Erskine had been having an affair with someone, and Douglas promptly dropped her. Her father took her home and she never remarried. Over the years, the song has been recorded by many artists, including the likes of legendary Irish singer Bob Dylan.

The water is wide I can’t cross o’er
And neither have I wings to fly.
Give me a boat that can carry two,
And both shall row, my love and I.

Love is gentle and love is kind.
The sweetest flower when first it’s new.
But love grows old, and waxes cold,
And fades away like morning dew.

I put my hand into some soft bush,
Thinking the sweetest flower to find.
I pricked my finger to the bone,
And left the sweetest flower alone.

There’s a ship and she sails the sea.
She’s loaded deep as deep as can be.
But not as deep as the love I’m in,
I know not how I sink or swim.

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