The singer's true love has been transported; (he) promises that "All around my hat I will wear the green willow... for a twelve month and a day... [for] my true love ... ten thousand miles away." He hopes they can reunite and marry
Kennedy calls this "Perhaps one of the most popular of all English love songs." And this does not even take into account the Steeleye Span recording, said to have gone higher on the British pop charts than any other traditional song. (Don't ask me if that's a compliment.)
But Kennedy also claims this as the same tune as "The Budgeon It Is a Delicate Trade" (for which see under "The Miller of Dee") -- which it is *not*; "The Budgeon" is in the Lydian mode, and his tune for "All Around My Hat" is an ordinary Ionian melody. (Possibly the two were more alike in the original version of Chappell, which was his reference for "The Budgeon"; that edition levelled some modal tunes).
One of Sam Henry's texts, "The Laird's Wedding," mixes this with "The Nobleman's Wedding (The Faultless Bride; The Love Token)" [Laws P31]. There are hints of such mixture in other versions of the two songs. Roud goes so far as to lump them.
Spaeth (_A History of Popular Music in America_, pp. 83-84) has what is evidently a version of this song, from about 1840 -- in dialect! ("All round my hat, I vears a green villow.") It is credited to J. Ansell (John Hansell) and John Valentine. If this is the actual origin of the chorus, I have to think it merged with some separate love song. But I suspect the Ansell/Valentine piece of being a perversion of an actual folksong. - RBW
In view of the broadside parodies listed below I am surprised not to find (yet) any broadsides for "All Around My Hat."
Bodleian, Harding B 11(38), "All Around My Hat I'll Wear the Green Willow" ("All round my hat I vears a green villow ..."), J. Pitts (London), 1797-1834; also Firth b.27(536), "All Around My Hat I Wear a Green Willow"; Harding B 16(5a), Firth c.21(60), Firth c.21(62), Harding B 20(2), Harding B 11(40), "All Round My Hat"
LOCSinging, as200070, "All Round My Hat," J. Andrews (New York), 1853-1859; also cw100090, as100150, "All Round My Hat"
Broadside LOCSinging as200070: J. Andrews dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS