A traditional Maine song for Valentine’s Day

Enough with politics for awhile. It’s Valentine’s Day!

In celebration, I’m passing along a traditional song that was collected by the Maine Folklife Center. This wonderful organization is located at the University of Maine and developed a traditional song and story map. Locations on the map can be clicked and then go to a song or story collected there. They have also developed an accompanying curriculum. As the Center’s funds have been cut, they could always use some financial support.

Now, onto the song!

As the archivist notes:

“The Banks of Claudy” is a variation of a theme that has been widely used in traditional songs. In the ballad, a young man, Johnny, meets a young woman who we later discover is his distressed lover, searching for him after some time away at sea or war. She does not recognize him, and he conducts several tests of her faithfulness. There are many slight variations in the story, but in the longest versions he first tells her that Johnny is false, which she denies by saying he is away at war. He then says Johnny’s ship been wrecked, and after the girl has wrung her hands, torn her hair, and sworn she will never love another man, he reveals that he is in fact Johnny. The pair then lives happily ever after. Many folklorists refer to this theme as the returned lover.

One of my favorite movies, “The Princess Bride,” includes this broad theme.

The song’s words are below and the song can be heard at this site.

[1.

As I roved out one evening all in the month of May,

Down by yon flowery garden where I by chance did stray;

I overheard a damsel in sorrow to complain,

"It is on the banks of Claudy where my darling does remain."

2.

I boldly stepped up to her, which took her by surprise,]

She owned she didn’t know me, I being in disguise;

I said, “My handsome fair maid, my love, my heart’s delight,

How far have you to travel on this dark and stormy night?”

3.

“To Claudy’s banks, kind sir,” she said, “You please the way to show?

Take pity on a stranger for the way I do not know;

For I’m in search of a young man and Johnny is his name,

And it’s on the banks of Claudy I’m told he does remain.”

4.

“It is on the banks of Claudy, my love, that we now stand,

Put not your faith in Johnny for he’s a false young man;

Put not your faith in Johnny for he’ll not meet you here,

But come with me to yonder grove, no danger need you fear.”

5.

“If Johnny he were here this night, he’d shield me from all harm,

He’s on the fields of battle all in his uniform,

He’s crossed o’er the wide oceans for honor and for fame,

On Claudy’s banks I’ll wait for him ’til Johnny comes again.”

6.

And when he saw her tears, he could no longer stand,

He clasped her in his arm saying, “Betsy, I’m the man.

Oh, Betsy, I’m the young man, the cause of all your pain,

And since we met on Claudy’s banks we’ll never part again.”

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives.