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The Water is Wide is the American version of the original Scottish song "O Waly, Waly" (O, Woe is me, woe is me) based on the story of Lady Barbara Erskine, daughter of the 9th Earl of Mar, who married the 2nd Marquis of Douglas in 1670, but was forsaken by her husband when she was falsely accused of adultery by a former lover.
O waly waly up the bank And waly waly doon the brae, And waly waly by yon burn side Where I and my first love did gae.
I leaned my back against an oak Thinkin’ it was a trusty tree, But first it bent and then it broke, And so did my first love tae me.
When we cam in frae Glasgow toun, We were a comely sight tae see, My love was clad in the velvet black, And I mysel in cramasie.
Noo Arthur’s Seat shall be my bed, No sheets shall e’er be pressed by me, Saint Anton’s Well shall be my drink, Since my fause love’s forsaken me.
’Tis not the frost that freezes fell Nor blawin’ snaw’s inclemency, ’Tis not sic cauld that makes me cry But my love’s heart’s grown cauld tae me.
Oh Martinmas wind when wilt thou blaw And shake the green leaves off the tree? Oh gentle death, when wilt thou come? For of my life I am weary.
The American version also speaks of being forsaken, of love that "grows old and waxes cold."
(American version) The water is wide, I cannot get o’er, Neither have I the wings to fly. Give me a boat that can carry two, And both will row, my love and I.
There is a ship, and she sails the sea. She’s loaded deep, as deep can be, but not as deep, as the love I’m in, I know not if I sink or swim.
I leaned my back against an oak, Thinking it was a trusty tree, But first it bent, and then it broke, Just as my love proved false to me.
O, 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 the mornin’ dew.
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