“Lowlands (My Lowlands Away)”


Sometimes a ballad: The singer is at sea when his love comes to him in a dream. She is dressed in white, and he realizes that his love is dead. Other times a lyric, in which the sailor talks about his travels, his ship, low pay, and/or a bad captain


This tune pattern ("Lowlands, lowlands away, my John...," with final line either "My lowlands away" or "My dollar and a half a day") has been used for at least three separate plots (which have perhaps cross-fertilized a bit): A dead sailor, a dead sailor's girl, and a more lyric piece about the bad conditions sailors face, the latter often having the "dollar and a half" refrain.

Shay, who apparently regards the dead sailor version as original, thinks this lyric item a much-decayed version of "The Lowlands of Holland." This is certainly possible, especially thematically, but there is a lot of evolution along the way....

Bone comments on this subject, "'Lowlands' is a very old song. There are many versions, but it seems to me that the lament in the air establishes it as an adaption of some old ballad....

"I have heard it sung on many occasions -- as a capstan shanty -- and always there were the three standard lines, repeated, as verses, 'I dreamt a dream the other night.' ... 'I dreamt I saw my own true love.' ... 'And then I knew my love was dead.' With these the chantyman felt that he had held to tradition and then warranted in his own right to hawk his own wares.'"

Hugill adds that it was ?never too popular, as it was too difficult to sing properly? -- which strikes me as true; it feels more like a ballad than a shanty. Most shanties have a very regular rhythm; this has very little.

Hugill thinks the "'dead lover' theme definitely originated in Scotland or the North of England" (which again feels right, not that that's proof). But he also thinks the tune as "a negro touch about it." That part I'm not so sure about. He adds that it is "the only chanty in which Sailor John allowed 'sob-stuff,'" which he again takes as evidence that it was not originally a shanty or even a sea-song. - RBW


  • Anita Best and Pamela Morgan, "Lowlands Low" (on NFABestPMorgan01)
  • Anne Briggs, "Lowlands" (on Briggs1, Briggs3)


  1. Doerflinger, pp. 80-82, "Lowlands" (3 texts, 1 tune)
  2. Bone, pp. 124-126, "Lowlands" (1 text plus an excerpt, 1 tune)
  3. Colcord, p. 100-101, "Lowlands" (2 texts, 2 tunes; the first is the dead lover version, the second the "Dollar and a half" version)
  4. Harlow pp. 127-128 "Lowlands" (1 text, 1 tune, a "Dollar and a half" version")
  5. Hugill, pp. 65-70 "Lowlands Away," "Lowlands or My Dollar An' A Half A Day" (4 texts, 2 tunes -- three dead lover versions, one Dollar and a half" version) [AbEd, pp. 61-64]
  6. Sharp-EFC, XVIII, p. 21, "Lowlands Away" (1 text, 1 tune, a"Dollar and a half" version)
  7. Mackenzie 109, "A Dollar and a Half a Day" (1 text)
  8. Shay-SeaSongs, pp. 43-44, "Lowlands" (1 text, 1 tune); pp. 46-47, "Lowlands, II" (1 text); p. 47, "Lowlands, III" (1 fragment)
  9. PBB 100, "Lowlands Away" (1 text)
  10. Lomax-FSUSA 43, "Lowlands" (1 text, 1 tune)
  11. SHenry H469, p. 144, "My Lowlands, Away" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Silber-FSWB, p. 89, "Lowlands" (1 text)
  14. ADDITIONAL: Captain John Robinson, "Songs of the Chantey Man," a series published July-August 1917 in the periodical _The Bellman_ (Minneapolis, MN, 1906-1919). "Johnny Boker" is in Part 1, 7/14/1917. "Lowlands" is in Part 1, 7/14/1917.
  15. Roud #681
  16. BI, PBB100


Author: unknown
Earliest date: before 1870
Found in: US(MA) Canada(Mar,Newf) Ireland