Friday, 19 August 2011


‘No, that’s no good as a song; we want one of them old sea shanties, one of the real old timers.’ 'Shenandoah.’ Ultramarine

‘Oh Shenandoah’ (also called simply ‘Shenandoah’, or ‘Across the Wide Missouri’) is a traditional American folk song, dating from at least the early nineteenth century. The lyrics may tell the story of a roving trader in love with the daughter of an Indian chief. Other interpretations tell of a pioneer’s nostalgia for the Shenandoah river, and a young woman who is its daughter; or of a Union soldier in the American Civil War, dreaming of his country home to the west of the Missouri river. The song is also associated with escaped slaves, who sang it in gratitude because the river allowed their tracks to be lost.

‘Shenandoah’ was first printed as part of William L. Alden’s ‘Sailor Songs’, in the July 1882 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. The song had become popular as a sea shanty with British sailors by the 1880s. The lyrics were printed in Sea Songs and Shanties, collected by W. B. Whall, Master Mariner (1910). A Mr J. E. Laidlaw of San Francisco reported hearing a version sung by a black Barbadian sailor aboard the Glasgow ship Harland in 1894, which went:

Oh, Shenandoah! I hear you calling!
Away, you rolling river!
Yes, far away I hear you calling,
Ha, Ha! I’m bound away across the wide Missouri.
My girl, she’s gone far from the river,
Away, you rolling river!
An’ I ain’t goin’ to see her never.
Ha, Ha! I’m bound away,’ &c

The above lyrics from Sea Songs and Shanties, collected by W. B. Whall may be near to what Lowry knew or heard on board Pyrrhus.

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