'Sweet William's Farewell to Black-ey'd Susan: A Ballad' by John Gay

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1All in the Downs the fleet was moor'd,
2The streamers waving in the wind,
3When black-ey'd Susan came aboard.
4Oh! where shall I my true love find!
5Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
6If my sweet William sails among the crew.

7William, who high upon the yard,
8Rock'd with the billow to and fro,
9Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
10He sigh'd, and cast his eyes below:
11The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
12And, (quick as lightning) on the deck he stands.

13So the sweet lark, high pois'd in air,
14Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
15(If, chance, his mate's shrill call he hear)
16And drops at once into her nest.
17The noblest captain in the British fleet,
18Might envy William's lip those kisses sweet.

19"O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
20My vows shall ever true remain;
21Let me kiss off that falling tear,
22We only part to meet again.
23Change, as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
24The faithful compass that still points to thee.

25"Believe not what the landmen say,
26Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
27They'll tell thee, sailors, when away,
28In ev'ry port a mistress find.
29Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
30For thou art present wheresoe'er I go.

31"If to far India's coast we sail,
32Thy eyes are seen in di'monds bright,
33Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
34Thy skin is ivory, so white.
35Thus ev'ry beauteous object that I view,
36Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

37"Though battle call me from thy arms
38Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
39Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms,
40William shall to his dear return.
41Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
42Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eye".

43The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
44The sails their swelling bosom spread,
45No longer must she stay aboard:
46They kiss'd, she sigh'd, he hung his head.
47Her less'ning boat, unwilling rows to land:
48"Adieu", she cries! and wav'd her lily hand.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Interpreting John Gay's "Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan: A Ballad"

Have you ever read a poem that tells a story that feels so vivid, so alive, that you can imagine everything that’s happening as if you were watching a movie? If not, you should definitely read John Gay’s “Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan: A Ballad.” This poem is not only a masterpiece of storytelling, but also a classic example of a ballad, a type of folk poetry that has been passed down from generation to generation.

But what is it about this ballad that makes it so special? Why has it survived for centuries, and why does it still resonate with readers today? In this essay, I’ll explore these questions and more, as I dive into the world of “Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan.”

The Story

First of all, let’s talk about the story that this ballad tells. It’s a simple one, but one that’s full of emotion and meaning. The ballad opens with the narrator introducing us to Sweet William, a sailor who’s about to embark on a long journey across the sea. William is in love with a young woman named Black-eyed Susan, and he’s sad to be leaving her behind.

As William and Susan say their goodbyes, William promises to return to her as soon as his journey is over. Susan, meanwhile, gives him a ribbon to remember her by, and tells him that she’ll pray for his safe return. With heavy hearts, the two lovers part ways, and William sets sail.

As William travels across the sea, he faces many dangers and challenges. He battles storms and rough seas, and he misses Susan terribly. But through it all, he keeps her ribbon close to his heart, and he remembers her sweet smile and kind words.

Finally, after many long months, William returns home. But when he arrives, he finds that Susan has died of a broken heart, unable to bear the thought of never seeing him again. Devastated by the news, William visits Susan’s grave, and he lays down her ribbon as a token of his love.

The ballad ends with William’s heartfelt tribute to Susan, as he laments the loss of his beloved and honors her memory. It’s a touching and poignant story, one that captures the essence of love, loss, and devotion.

The Language

But what really sets this ballad apart is its language. John Gay was a master of poetic expression, and he uses his words to paint a vivid picture of the world he’s describing. From the opening lines, we can feel the rhythm and flow of the ballad, as the narrator sets the scene and introduces us to the characters:

All in the Downs the fleet was moored,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard,
Oh! where shall I my true love find?

These lines are full of movement and energy, as we can picture the ships swaying in the water and the wind blowing through the sails. The repetition of the phrase “Oh! where shall I my true love find?” adds a sense of urgency and longing to the scene, as Susan searches for William among the sailors.

Throughout the rest of the ballad, Gay’s language continues to be rich and evocative. He uses metaphors and similes to describe the stormy seas and the dangers that William faces:

The wind did whistle, and the wave did roar,
La, la, la, la, la, la, la,
We jolly sailors ploughed the deep,
For our jolly bonny ship, the Sweep.

These lines call to mind the sound of the wind and waves, as well as the sight of the ship cutting through the water. The repetition of the word “jolly” adds a sense of camaraderie and solidarity among the sailors, even as they face a perilous journey.

But Gay’s language is perhaps most powerful when he describes the love between William and Susan. He uses simple, straightforward words to convey the depth of their feelings:

My love no more shall me inspire,
Nor fortune my sail enhance;
My love no more shall me require,
With her I'll live, with her I'll dance.

These lines are poignant and heartfelt, as William expresses his love for Susan and his desire to be with her forever. There’s no need for flowery language or complicated metaphors here – Gay’s words speak directly to the heart.

The Meaning

So what does this ballad mean, and why does it still resonate with readers today? At its core, “Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan” is a story about the power of love and devotion. William and Susan’s love is so strong that it transcends time and distance, and even death itself.

But the ballad is also a commentary on the fragility of life and the inevitability of loss. Susan’s death is a reminder that we can never know what the future holds, and that even the strongest of relationships can be cut short by tragedy.

In this way, the ballad speaks to a universal human experience – the experience of loving someone deeply, but knowing that we can never hold onto them forever. It’s a bittersweet message, but one that’s ultimately hopeful, as William’s tribute to Susan shows that love can endure even in the face of loss.


In the end, “Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan” is a masterpiece of storytelling and poetic expression. It’s a ballad that has stood the test of time, and that still resonates with readers today. Whether you’re a lover of poetry, a student of literature, or just someone who appreciates a great story, this ballad is definitely worth reading.

So why not take a moment to immerse yourself in the world of Sweet William and Black-eyed Susan? You might just find yourself swept away by the power of their love, and the beauty of John Gay’s words.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan: A Ballad by John Gay is a classic poem that has stood the test of time. This ballad is a beautiful and emotional piece that tells the story of a young man named Sweet William who must leave his beloved Black-eyed Susan behind. The poem is filled with vivid imagery, powerful emotions, and a timeless message that still resonates with readers today.

The poem begins with Sweet William bidding farewell to his love, Black-eyed Susan. He tells her that he must leave her and go to sea, but promises to return to her one day. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with its melancholy and bittersweet mood. The imagery used in this stanza is particularly powerful, with Sweet William describing the sea as a "rolling wave" and the wind as a "whistling gale." These descriptions create a sense of danger and uncertainty, highlighting the risks that Sweet William must face on his journey.

In the second stanza, Sweet William reflects on his love for Black-eyed Susan. He tells her that she is the "fairest flower of the vale" and that he will always remember her. This stanza is filled with romantic imagery, with Sweet William comparing Black-eyed Susan to a rose and a lily. The use of these floral metaphors creates a sense of beauty and fragility, emphasizing the preciousness of their love.

The third stanza is perhaps the most emotional of the poem. Sweet William tells Black-eyed Susan that if he should die at sea, she should not mourn him too much. He asks her to remember him fondly, but not to let his death consume her. This stanza is filled with sadness and resignation, as Sweet William acknowledges the dangers of his journey and the possibility of his own death. The use of the word "farewell" in the final line of this stanza is particularly poignant, as it emphasizes the finality of their separation.

The fourth stanza is a reflection on the nature of love and the passage of time. Sweet William tells Black-eyed Susan that their love will endure, even if they are separated by distance and time. He compares their love to a "constant star" that will shine forever, no matter what happens. This stanza is filled with hope and optimism, as Sweet William looks beyond their current separation and imagines a future where they will be reunited.

The final stanza of the poem is a repetition of the first, with Sweet William bidding farewell to Black-eyed Susan once again. However, this time there is a sense of finality to his words, as he tells her that he must leave her forever. The use of the word "adieu" in the final line of the poem emphasizes this sense of finality, as it is a more formal and permanent way of saying goodbye.

Overall, Sweet William's Farewell to Black-eyed Susan: A Ballad is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the themes of love, separation, and the passage of time. The use of vivid imagery, romantic metaphors, and poignant language creates a sense of beauty and sadness that still resonates with readers today. The poem is a testament to the enduring power of love, and a reminder that even in the face of separation and loss, love can endure and shine like a constant star.

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