War, Women and Song

batgirl

Siúil a Rún is an Irish song, most likely from the late 17th century, in which a lass is heartbroken because the lover is joining the military and going to war and she will do anything to assure his safe return. Women and war is a theme in some older folk songs. Like many songs from the UK, this one traveled to America and mutated. Since the original is in the Celtic gaeilge, the lyrics didn't travel well. During the Revolutionary War, it had become "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier."  I had originally thought this song was Civil War era and referred to Johnny Reb, but it was almost a century earlier.

One thing I feel should be taken into consideration is that back in the day, a man leaving his woman was more serious than some emotional upheaval, though it was that also. Without a husband present, the woman had to farm, take care of the animals, the children, the house, as well as deal with the outside world. With her man going to war, she had the expectation he may not return or he may return maimed.  It had to be a horrifying experience even for an unmarried woman and her lover but probably more so for a married woman. So I'm not sure how the writers were able to even find the words for songs like these.

Siúil a Rún found itself called Shule Aroon or Shule Agra or Agrah, then Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier.

Here is Siúil a Rún in its original English/Irish:

Siúil a Rún  

I wish I was on yonder hill
Tis there I'd sit and cry my fill
Till every tear would turn a mill
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan.

Siúil, siúil, siúil a rúin
Siúil go sochair agus siúil go ciúin
Siúil go doras agus éalaigh liom
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán

I'll sell my rock, Ill sell my reel
I'll  sell my  onlyspinning wheel
to buy my love a sword of steel
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

Siúil, siúil, siúil a rúin
Siúil go sochair agus siúil go ciúin
Siúil go doras agus éalaigh liom
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán

I'll dye my petticoats, I'll dye them red
and it's round the World I will beg for bread
until my parents would wish me dead.
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

Siúil, siúil, siúil a rúin
Siúil go sochair agus siúil go ciúin
Siúil go doras agus éalaigh liom
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán

I wish my love would return from France,
his fame and fortune there advanced.
If we meet again, 't will be by chance.
Is go dte tu mo mhuirnin slan

Siúil, siúil, siúil a rúin
Siúil go sochair agus siúil go ciúin
Siúil go doras agus éalaigh liom
Is go dté tú mo mhúirnín slán



     I came across this song (below) in the 1829 book, "Mirror of Literature, Amusement and Instruction."  It's not the same song, but seems to have borrowed the refrain from the mutated version, Shule Aroon.

 

 

 

"Siúil a Rún"  was published as "Shule Aroon" in the 1845 book "Ballad Poetry of Ireland."





But I first heard this song as "Gone the Rainbow" by Peter, Paul and Mary.  It's a beautiful rendition, perhaps one of the best, but in my opinion marred by the inclusion of these nonsense  words for the original Irish chorus.  

Shule, shule, shule-a-roo
Shule-a-rak-shak, shule-a-ba-ba-coo
When I saw my Sally Babby Beal
Come bibble in the boo shy Lorey



Below in an 19th century broadside showing Shule Agra(h).



And below is sheet music displayed in the 1864 book, "Songs of Ireland."

 

Pete Seeger sang, "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier:

 

Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier

Here I sit on Buttermilk Hill
Here I sit and cry my fill
And my tears could turn a mill
Johnny has gone for a soldier'

Shule, Shule, Shule Agrah
Me, oh my, I love him so
But only time will heal my woe
Johnny has gone for a soldier

I'll sell my rock, I'll sell my reel
And buy my love a sword and shield
but now he lies murdered on the field.
Johnny has gone for a soldier

Shule, Shule, Shule Agrah
Me, oh my, I love him so
But only time will heal my woe
Johnny has gone for a soldier.

Shule, Shule, Shule Agrah
Me, oh my, I love him so
But only time will heal my woe
Johnny has gone for a soldier.



While his group, The Weavers called it "Buttermilk Hill" 
The only female in the group, Ronnie Gilbert, sang it solo. I'm not particularly fond of this version.

Buttermilk Hill

Here I sit on Buttermilk hill.
Who can play me, cry my fill.
And every tear and turn of milk.
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

Behold my, I loved him s.o
Broke my heart to see him go.
And only time can heal my wound.
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

I sold my rock, I sold my reel.
I even sold my spinning wheel.
To buy my love a sword of steel.
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

Here I sit on Buttermilk hill.
Who can play me, cry my fill.
And every tear and turn of milk.
Johnny is gone for a soldier.

 

Don't you love how these songs change and undulate like plasma....

 

War... sometimes a woman couldn't sit at home when her lover left to fight.  sometimes she tgged along, dressed like a comrade.

Again I first heard such a some from Peter Paul and Mary with "Cruel War"  -- a gorgeous rendition,  no nonsense words needed.



This song, which doesn't seem as old as Siúil a Rún, also is found uder different titles with great variations in the lyrics. 

Peter, Paul and Mary's Cruel War
The cruel war is raging, Johnny has to fight.
I want to be with him, from morning 'til night.

I want to be with him, it grieves my heart so,
"Won't you let me go with you?", "No, My Love, No."

"I'll tie up my hair, men's clothing I'll put on
I'll pass as your comrade, as we march along."

"I'll pass as your comrade, noone will ever know
Won't you let me go with you?" "No, My Love, No."

"Oh Johnny, oh Johhny, I fear you are unkind
I want to be with you, from morning 'til night."

"I want to be with you, it grieves my heart so,
Won't you let me go with you?" "Yes, My Love, Yes."

-----

The Golden Encyclopedia of Folk Music has these lyrics:

The cruel war is raging Johnny has to fight
I want to be with him from morning till night

Oh Johhny, dear Johnny, morning, noon and night,
I think of you marching, left, right, left and right

I know you're so gentle when you hold me tight,
Oh how will they make you get out there and fight?

Go speak to your sergeant, and say you want out,
Just say you're allergic to this kind of bout.

Oh Johnny, dear Johnny, yes, I know you're brave,
But oh how I miss you, it's your love I crave.

Oh why did the army take you from my side,
To go into battle, away from your bride.


Pete Seeger's half-sister Peggy (see: The First Time) recorded this version:


This title is:

The Cruel War is Raging

The cruel war is raging and Johnny has to fight
I want to be with him from morning til night
I want to be with him, it grieves my heart so
Won't you let me go with you, No my love no

Tomorrow is Sunday, and Monday is the day
That your captain will call you and you must obey
Your captain will call you, it grieves my heart so
Won't you let me come with you? No, my love, no.

I'll go to your Captain, go down upon my knees
Ten thousand gold guineas I'd give for your release
Ten thousand gold guineas, it grieves my heart so
Won't you let me come with you? No, my love, no.

Your waist is too slender, your fingers are too small
Your is too to the cannonball
Your waist is too slender, it grieves my heart so
Won't you let me come with you? No, my love, no.

Oh Johnny, oh Johnny, I feel you are unkind
For I love you far better than all of mankind
I love you far better than words can e'er express
Won't you let me come with you? Yes, my love, yes.

I'll tie back my hair, men's clothing I'll put on.
I'll pass for your comrade as we march along.
I'll pass for your comrade, no one will ever guess
Won't you let me come with you? Yes, my love, yes.

 

Another verison I found in "Words to Songs by Various Artist for All Occasions," compiled by Bruce Simmons of North York Ontario.



And there's "Johnny, My Jewel," a field recording done in Fayetteville, Ark. 1960:



"English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians" by Olive Dame Campbell and Cecil Sharp, 1917 has this song:


A rarer version is William and Nancy's Parting 
The image below is from "The Quest of the Ballad" by Prof. W. Roy Mackenzie, 1966

Here's an example but with far different lyrics than above:



Other titles may include:

"Girl Volunteer"
"I'm Going to Join the Army"
"Men's Clothing I'll Put On"

 

This may seem like a long posting ... but oh, if war were only this short.

kinggeorgeprimero

Que linda música. Gracias por compartir.

kamalakanta

I stand in amazement at the depth of your posts!

batgirl
kinggeorgeprimero wrote:

Que linda música. Gracias por compartir.

Gracias.

batgirl
kamalakanta wrote:

I stand in amazement at the depth of your posts!

I think you might mean the length....

52yrral

Awesome as always batgirl! Thank you

batgirl

I really don't expect people to read this through or to listen to the music.  But I personally find it fascinating to follow the path old songs have taken and how later artists have interpreted them.  

52yrral

It is an awakening look into a little known era end how it was carried on by the generations that followed.

dashkee94

Pardon me for saying, BG, but I'm wondering if this corona lockdown is getting to you.  Chess wasn't enough?  Now you're going to take on music, too?  And with the same dedication?  I fear you have too much time on your hands these days. 

That being said, that was some great work on uncovering the evolution of both the lyrics and the music.  I had only heard "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier" from the closing credits of the A&E mini-series "The American Revolution" (which was a strange title because it was all about the War for Independence, but it was cable TV, so....), and I'd call that version hauntingly beautiful.  The overall sound of all the versions has an emotional appeal, almost like the blues in the way it captures sadness and despair.   The Peggy Seegar song comes very close to blues in lyric structure; it's not that far off.  But the whole progression from the Gaelic to the 1960s I find fascinating, the variations on the same theme without losing the feeling of it are as interesting to me as new moves in the opening.  Thanks for another great post, BG.

Letterman003

Another version of "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier". From the soundtrack of the PBS series, LIBERTY!

 

Letterman003

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgBIk7Ibmt0&list=RD0IvNLFoKOEU&index=3

Letterman003

I have an old, artful kerchief passed down from my great grandfather from WW1 that has the words and music to a song , "Keep The Home Fires Burning" printed on it.

Keep the home fires burning while your hearts are yearning

Though your lads are far away they dream of home

There's a silver lining through the dark cloud shining

Turn the dark cloud inside out til the boys come home

Letterman003

To your original point, so well supplemented and enhanced by the music and videos, women on the home front face their own challenges, struggles and sufferings during wartime. Thanks for guiding us on these empathetic journeys, batgirl.

Letterman003

I live in rural upstate New York where there is a lot of Revolutionary War history. Reading through the words to one of the songs here, something struck me (pun not intended) and I'm imagining the courage it must have taken for a foot soldier to face cannons and cannonballs ...

batgirl
Letterman003 wrote:

I'm imagining the courage it must have taken for a foot soldier to face cannons and cannonballs ...

It's been said before, particularly with the Civil War, that what kept more soldiers moving forward into an artillery cannonade (more so canister and grape rather than iron balls) was the greater fear of a public show of cowardice.... i.e. peer pressure.  

 

batgirl
dashkee94 wrote:

Pardon me for saying, BG, but I'm wondering if this corona lockdown is getting to you.  Chess wasn't enough?  Now you're going to take on music, too?  And with the same dedication?  I fear you have too much time on your hands these days. 

That being said, that was some great work on uncovering the evolution of both the lyrics and the music.  I had only heard "Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier" from the closing credits of the A&E mini-series "The American Revolution" (which was a strange title because it was all about the War for Independence, but it was cable TV, so....), and I'd call that version hauntingly beautiful.  The overall sound of all the versions has an emotional appeal, almost like the blues in the way it captures sadness and despair.   The Peggy Seegar song comes very close to blues in lyric structure; it's not that far off.  But the whole progression from the Gaelic to the 1960s I find fascinating, the variations on the same theme without losing the feeling of it are as interesting to me as new moves in the opening.  Thanks for another great post, BG.

Check my blog, Rob. I'm been exploring music long before Mr. Corona came to town.  Music and chess are cousins, I think.  Nice to hear from you, as always.

batgirl

I had considered James Taylor's version, but in listening to it, all I could think of was "Sweet Baby James."

52yrral

I saw James Taylor in Memphis in 1971. He was a great at keeping the audience entertained!

batgirl

The Entertainer

Zenrider

I stand with Kamalakanta in amazement.