“Waly Waly (The Water is Wide)”


The singer laments the effects of unrequited love and an untrue lover. Typical symbols include the rotten-hearted oak that looks solid but breaks and the beautiful flower protected by thorns. In some versions the lover is untrue; sometimes (s)he is dead


Some scholars consider this a degraded form of "Jamie Douglas" [Child 204], with which it shares several lyrics. It can hardly be denied that they are related. Since, however, "Waly Waly" has worn away to a purely lyric piece (and some even believe it to be the older of the two songs, which has provided a few chance lyrics to "Jamie Douglas"), it is my firm opinion that the two should be kept separate.

Paul Stamler considers at least some of the versions of "I Wish, I Wish/Love is Teasing" to belong here. To me, they look more like versions of "The Butcher Boy." Still, it shows you how lyric this piece has become.

Under the title "Forsaken," this is one of the handful of traditional songs in Palgrave's _Golden Treasury_ (item CXXXIII)- RBW

Cross references


  • Liam Clancy, "The Water is Wide" (on IRLClancy01)
  • Mobile Strugglers, "Trouble, Trouble's Followed Me All My Days" (on AmSkBa, classified there for want of a better place; it's really a collection of floaters, and could as easily go with "I Wish, I Wish/Love Is Teasing." It shares the verse "If I had wings like Noah's dove" with "Dink's Song," but not its distinctive chorus. - PJS)
  • Pete Seeger, "The Water is Wide" (on PeteSeeger18) (on PeteSeeger34) (on PeteSeeger47)


  1. Bronson (204), 8 versions (including "Jamie Douglas")
  2. Percy/Wheatley III, pp. 145-148, "Waly Waly, Love Be Bonny" (1 text)
  3. BarryEckstormSmyth pp. 469-474, "Jamie Douglas" (notes and scattered stanzas; the only full text is in fact this piece)
  4. Kennedy 149, "Deep in Love" (1 text, 1 tune)
  5. Logan, pp. 336-337, "Picking Lilies" (1 text)
  6. Peacock, pp. 475-476, "Love is Lovely" (1 text, 1 tune, strongly composite, starting with a verse perhaps from "Peggy Gordon," then the chorus of "Waly Waly (The Water Is Wide)," two more which might be anything, and a conclusion from "Carrickfergus")
  7. Leach, pp. 546-551, "Jamie Douglas" (3 texts, with only the third text belonging with this piece)
  8. Friedman, p. 101, "Jamie Douglas" (2 texts, with only the second text belonging with this piece)
  9. Sharp-100E 39, "O Waly Waly" (1 text, 1 tune)
  10. Sandburg, pp. 16-17, "Waillie, Waillie!" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #8}
  11. Copper-SoBreeze, pp. 218-219, "Love" (1 text, 1 tune)
  12. Hodgart, p. 143, "O Waly, Waly" (1 text)
  13. Lomax-FSNA 70, "Love is Pleasin'" (1 text, 1 tune, of four verses, two of which go here, one belongs with "Fair and Tender Ladies," and the fourth could be from several sources; the whole could be a "Love is Teasing" variant)
  14. HarvClass-EP1, pp. 323-324, "O Waly, Waly" (1 text)
  15. PSeeger-AFB, p. 77, "The Water Is Wide" (1 text, 1 tune)
  16. SHenry H683, p. 393, "The Apron of Flowers" (1 text, 1 tune -- apparently a collection of floating verses including one that goes here)
  17. Silber-FSWB, p. 145, "Waillie"; p. 163, "The Water Is Wide" (2 texts)
  19. Roud #87
  20. BI, K149


Alternate titles: “A Ship Came Sailing”; “When Cockle Shells Turn Silver Bells”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1765 (Percy)
Found in: Britain(England,Scotland) Ireland US(Ap,NE,SE) Canada(Newf)