Way down in the lone valley, in some lonesome place,
I wish no better pastime than to be with my sweet,
But she says she won't have me, so that I understand
She wants some freeholder, where I have no land.
I cannot maintain her with silver and gold,
Nor buy her all the fine things that a big house can hold.
So farewell, pretty Saro, I bid thee adieu,
I'm going to ramble the whole world all through.
If I were a merchant and could write some fine hand,
I would write my love a letter that she might understand.
I would send it by the river where the water do flow,
And I'll think of pretty Saro wherever I go.
I wish I were a dove and had wings and could fly,
This night to my love's window I would draw nigh.
And in her lily-white arms all night I would lay,
And watch them little windows to the dawning of the day.
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Source: Alan Lomax, The Penguin Book of American Folk Songs, Penguin, 1964
Alan Lomax wrote:
The song refers, fleetingly, to the motive that forced many settlers into the wild and rugged mountain country. All available good land in the lowland South had been taken up by the time of the American Revolution, and the 'poor white' who wished to better himself had to move on west. This love-sick frontiersman feels 'lonesome'; he is not sure he is wanted or has roots anywhere. This 'lonesome' feeling increasing pervaded Southern songs, giving rise, ultimately, to the lonesome blues of the Negro.
These days, I think most people would agree with Lomax's comment up to the final 'giving rise to' clause. No doubt these feelings fed into the 'lonesome blues of the Negro', but to suggest it gave rise to them is far too simplistic.
Roud: 417 (Search Roud index at VWML)