Friday, December 1, 2023

Connecting and Coffee

by Anne White

A few years ago, my husband and I bought an electric coffee percolator. We usually make a potful in the late morning, and spend our “coffee break” together before going back to whatever we’re working on. I had thought for awhile that it might be nice (and a bit Mitfordish) to grind our own beans, so when we saw not one but three different electric grinders at the thrift store, we picked out one that looked clean and sturdy. It even came in its original box, which we thought was a good sign.

However, packaging isn’t everything.

We bought a bag of coffee beans, watched someone’s “unboxing” video online, and prepared to grind. We plugged it in, the motor ran, and a few of the beans got a bit chewed up, but it obviously wasn’t working properly.  Did we have one of the parts in upside down? Was anything jamming the works? No, everything seemed fine. My husband, ever ready with the screwdriver, took the thing apart, and he saw the problem: the drive shaft was broken, so the grinding burrs wouldn’t turn. It didn’t matter how clean or new it looked, what kind of coffee we used, or for what grind we set it. Without that main connection, the machine was useless. My husband snipped off the cord (those often come in handy) and put the rest aside as e-waste.

Is there an educational metaphor in a broken grinder? In a Herbartian view of education, we might ourselves be viewed as machines in need of replacement parts. Should we say that students (or other people) who lack drive are useless, and, worse, unrepairable? Perhaps yes to the first, but no to the second. Since we hold to a more organic view of the mind, we can also take confidence in the work of the Spirit that strengthens both our “drive” and our ability to connect, to see and form relationships.

I think we got more out of our dud coffee grinder than just an extra cord.

P.S. I heard an interesting thought about the quality of coffee beans, too, but I'll save that for another post.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

How Six Voices, One Story Came To Be (For Those Writing Their Own Chapters)

Most of you reading this know about the new book written by the AO Advisory, Six Voices, One Story: The Heart of AmblesideOnline. Some of you may have already read it. What you may not know, although Donna-Jean hints at it in the introduction, is that this book took several years to go from “we could do that” through “are we ever going to do that” to “here it is.” We wanted to write something that was not only our story, but that would be a book of encouragement; not only about Charlotte Mason, but about the ways that God works in drawing people (many people!) together to act on small ideas; not only about how a curriculum came together, but also a deep friendship.

The project, as we originally envisioned it, was going to be a “let’s make this simple”  collaboration: you bring salad, you bring lasagna, I’ll bring dessert. Everybody contribute what they can, and we keep writing until we have enough pages.  But for some reason, the book kept stalling. We all had other things to do, sometimes very big things, and it seemed we would always have time enough to get back to it. Then, about a year ago, a new version of the book started to take shape. Instead of just a few long chapters, we began to pull some of our other writing together: talks, blog posts, even emails. It tells our story in a different way than we had planned, but that’s so often the way things have gone. It’s also a reflection of the way the Advisory have worked together: occasionally in person, quite often by video chat, but most often and always through daily writing.

The minutes of an Advisory meeting from about two years ago (yes, we are That Organized)  record that “We talked about the need for all of us to encourage those whose chapters are unwritten…” At the time, that referred only to ourselves, but as I look at that now, I think it is more about the fellow travelers, those whose chapters are partly written or who have just begun. As Wendi Capehart once wrote, “We pray that our efforts continue to be a legacy for others seeking to strengthen their own precious family bonds by educating their children using this beautiful philosophy of education popularized by Miss Charlotte Mason.”

(Six Voices, One Story is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle versions.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Hearts and Zucchini


JoAnn Hallum

It's a new school year and I have seen all the printables and wooden blocks, the panic and the purchases, the general clamor to figure out how to home educate your kid.

A child is a human, and humans have brains, but they also have souls. They have things that interest them, and usually it’s an inconvenient interest. There are often piles of rocks stuffed into pockets and once I had a child who developed an obsession with collecting milk cartons. Three-year-olds are especially wild in their interests. But go ahead. Sit them down. Show them the letter A. We might as well all be bored together. We need to feed the cogs of the global economy, isn’t that why you were born!?

I am reading the Princess and the Goblin to my 8-year-old. Maybe you haven’t read it but you should know, for safety’s sake, the only way to keep Goblins away is to sing silly songs. A poetic chant. A laugh in the face of reason. The data monsters are real, they have come to the surface. They promise you knowledge but you’ll only get information.

You will have a head full of facts while you drown in reality.

Now is the time for poems. Now is the time to grow hearts and zucchini. Now is the time to read the books that kept us human for so long. There are enough computers. We need more harvest mice scampering by. We need more gardens with thistle and dock. We need the charms of the old words to keep the goblins away.

There was a time when people knew the world was full of forests, but they didn’t care enough about the trees to keep them. The Limberlost swamps are gone. We used to know about bread, and how to make it, but now we can find it easily, in its mummified form. We have lost our way, with pure knowledge, fake bread, and a lack of love. The cure is in the books, it’s in the words, it’s in the silly rhyme you learned in ancient times on a knee.

Beware! If you find knowledge, you will fall in love and everyone will think you are crazy for getting emotional about Charles Dickens. But the Goblins won’t get you, and you will have gotten an education. You will care, and you will know the lyrics to the songs that will carry us through. One, two, hit and hew!

This post is written by guest blogger JoAnn Hallum, a mom of four boys who homeschools them using AmblesideOnline. JoAnn writes on her Substack at JoAnn’s Substack | Collections | Substack

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Single Readings and CM Exams

Several years ago, Wendi Capehart planned a post to share her thoughts on Charlotte Mason-style term examinations. We are pleased to (finally) post this, and trust that it will bless those who have missed Wendi's voice.

I am coming to this as somebody who singularly failed at exams and really regrets it. One of the benefits of exams that I see, from my spot with my nose pressed firmly on the glass window, outside looking in to the Little Shop of CM Regrets, is that the exams themselves work to help focus the child's attention and probably gently prompt some internal review in ways the child doesn't even realize. With re-reading before the exam, that beneficial spur is blunted.

I would be hesitant to lose that benefit. Now, if a kid wanted to reread his favourite paragraph to Dad at dinner, I wouldn't discourage that. And I can see an occasional exception made for something like the Parables of Nature, with its deep spiritual lessons, and sharing with Dad is also incredibly wonderful and important and you wouldn't want to interfere in that or discourage it. But I would probably not include a reread story in the exam.

I would want to be very careful that rereading something before exams does not become a habit, because it will take the edge off the keen interest and attention and focus of CM's only one reading, and then later comes the exam tool. If we're used to doing a lot of rereading, the single reading feels so counterintuitive. CM said that really, when it comes to education, the mind can know nothing save the answer to the questions it puts to itself. That's something to think about.

A few weeks ago I was reading some material on studying and learning, and I read this interesting study that showed the most effective way to study had nothing to do with flash cards, and highlighters and notes--it was to read the material carefully, turn it over, and then write down as much as you could remember. Basically, a written narration. What we are hunting for is for the children themselves to basically find themselves so beguiled by the stories they do all the reviewing themselves, internally, by thinking about them. This happens under various conditions:

         · Narration

         · Short readings that stop before they are ready for them to stop, so they are left hanging, wanting more. they think about the story more this way.

         · When you start to read the next time, you ask first, "Where were we? What was happening?" And they review again.

         · Timelines and maps, if applicable, are another review.

         · Free play--when they incorporate the readings into the story.

         · Sometimes when you ask (after the narration), does this remind you of anything else? They will review a few stories, looking for connections (which is something the brain does naturally anyway).

And because all this comes from within the child, it has increased power and the child remains alert--and once he's had his first exams, he remembers how that goes, and, I presume, will have that extra little bit of push to remember, to think about, what he's read.


          Wendi Capehart

Monday, April 17, 2023

Introducing the AO Folk Songs for 2023-2024




Some of you may remember these songs from the last time we worked our way through the cycle of folk songs. But if you're new here, and even if you're not, we think you'll get more out of these songs if you read the blog posts we've put together for them.

For selected video links, please visit our Folk Songs page at 

We are also featuring each folk song on its very own post here on Archipelago, linked in the list above. These posts will be linked from the AO Folk Songs page, too. This way, when you start preparing to introduce a new song, it will be easy as pie to click straight to that song's blog post. Be sure to check out each song's post for recommended lyrics and recordings, and interesting info about each song.

And Now For A Few Helpful Hints

If you’re new around here (and if so, welcome and we’re so glad you’re here!), please (we beg you!) read/re-read Wendi Capehart’s post Folk Songs: Some Back Story. It'll do you good.

Then read her brief but terrific introductory comments here, where she shared some of her easy but brilliant ideas for living the folk singing life.

And if you’re still not quite sure why we AO folks make such a fuss about singing, please read Folk Songs: Some Real Life Experiences for a hearty dose of encouragement. 

You may also enjoy this essay by Lynn Bruce: Folk Songs, Unplugged

Here's to another great year of folk songs! 

Folk Song for June 2024: Click Go the Shears

"Click Go the Shears" is a traditional "bush ballad," which many Australians remember learning in their first years of school. The song describes the process of shearing sheep with blade shears, and the roles of the different people in the shearing shed, including the "ringer" and the "tar boy."

Variations in the Lyrics

Is it a "blue-bellied joe," a "bare-bellied ewe," or a "bare-bellied yoe?" Is there a correct, "authorized" version? Apparently not! We have chosen one set of lyrics, but if you learned it a different way, feel free to use your favourite version.

One or Two Cautions

In the last verse, the "old shearer" takes his paycheque and heads to the pub. You may or may not choose to include this verse.

Also, the original version of the verse about the "colonial experience man" (a young Englishman sent out to the colonies) uses a non-family-friendly word, and this is still used in certain recorded versions. However, even some of our Australian AO informants were not aware of that, as they were taught only the first verse, or (if they did learn the rest) that  he was "smelling like a flower" (or similar words).

So if you would like to simplify the song, especially for younger children, it would be fine to sing just the first verse and the chorus.


1. Out on the board the old shearer stands,
Grasping his shears in his thin bony hand,
Fixed is his gaze on a bare-bellied yoe —
Glory, if he gets her won’t he make the ringer go.

Click go the shears, boys — click, click, click,
Wide is his blow and his hands move quick,
The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow,
And curses the old snagger with the bare-bellied yoe.

2. In the middle of the floor in his cane-bottomed chair,
Sits the boss of the board with his eyes everywhere;
Notes well each fleece as it comes to the screen,
Paying strict attention that it’s taken off clean.

3. The tar boy is there, awaiting in demand,
With his blackened tar pot, in his tarry hand,
Sees one old sheep with a cut upon its back;
Here is what he’s waiting for — it’s “Tar here Jack!”

4. The colonial experience man, he is there of course,
With his shiny leggings on, just got off his horse.
He gazes all around, like a real connoisseur,
With brilliantine and scented soap — he’s smelling like a flower.

5. Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques,
So roll up your swags, boys, we’re off on the track,
The first pub we come to, it’s there we’ll have a spree,
And everyone that comes along, it’s “Come and drink with me!”

Video Links

This version by the Stringybark Band includes lots of footage and photos of sheep shearing. (The Colonial Experience man is there, "smelling pretty good.")

Rolf Harris's version is sung with much enthusiasm, and includes some spoken explanation of the difficult words. One verse refers to drinking. (Another way around the problem line: "You can hear him whistling, 'Ain't I the perfect lure?'")

This blogpost, suggested by an Australian AO user, includes a recording of a gentleman singing the song. (Caution: it does include the non-family-friendly word, and an extra verse which you might not want to sing with children.)

This recording by Slim Dusty seems to be popular. (This version includes only the first and last verses, and then switches to other songs..Also, for North Americans: it goes a bit slower!)

Finally, for fun: Olivia Newton-John!

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for April 2024: A Man's a Man For A' That

“A Man’s a Man for A’ That” was written by the Scottish poet Robert Burns. (Alternate titles are “Is There Honest Poverty” and “For A' That and A' That.” )

Like other poems by Burns, it was intended to be sung, and when Burns sent it for publication (in 1795), he included a tune based on “Lady Macintosh’s Reel,” which he had also used for earlier songs (including “I am a Bard of No Regard”). The song was soon translated into other languages, including German and French (scroll down to find the poem). It became widely known because of its message of equality, especially during the European uprisings of the nineteenth century.

We have included the original lyrics, and also a version in more standard English that was published in the 1840’s.

Understanding the Words

The lyrics are written in “light Scottish dialect,” meaning that, with a bit of attention, most of the words can be understood by English speakers outside of Scotland.  One of the few words whose meaning cannot be guessed by context is “coof,” which means a dunce or a fool (maybe a “goof?”). “Hodden grey” is a homespun cloth. A guinea was a gold coin.

But what does “for a’ that” mean?  It depends on the context. The closest current phrase might be “in spite of everything”; but the phrase can also be used to mean “et cetera,” for instance in the line “His ribband, star, an’ a’ that.” The German translation uses the phrase “trotz alledem,” and in French it is “après tout.”

The Lyrics

Is there for honest poverty

   That hings his head, an’ a’ that?

The coward slave—we pass him by,

   We dare be poor for a’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   Our toils obscure, an’ a’ that;

The rank is but the guinea(’s) stamp,

   The Man’s the gowd for a’ that!


What tho’ on hamely fare we dine,

   Wear hodden grey, an’ a that?

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine;

   A Man’s a Man for a’ that!

For a’ that, and a’ that,

   Their tinsel show, an’ a’ that;

The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,

   Is king o’ men, for a’ that.


Ye see yon birkie ca’d a lord,

   Wha struts, an’ stares, an’ a’ that;

Tho’ hundreds worship at his word,

   He’s but a coof for a’ that:

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   His ribband, star, an’ a’ that;

The man o’ independent mind ,

   He looks an’ laughs at a’ that.


A prince can mak a belted knight,

   A marquis, duke, an’ a’ that;

But an honest man’s aboon his might,

   Gude faith, he mauna fa’ that!

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   Their dignities an’ a’ that;

The pith o’ sense, an’ pride o’ worth,

   Are higher rank than a’ that.


Then let us pray that come it may,

   As come it will for a’ that,

That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,

   May bear the gree, an’ a’ that.

For a’ that, an’ a’ that,

   It’s comin’ yet, for a’ that,

That Man to Man, the warld o’er,

   Shall brithers be for a’ that.


Simplified Lyrics

 Is there, for honest poverty,

                That hangs his head, and all that?

The coward slaves, we pass him by,

                We dare be poor for all that,

For all that and all that,

                Our toil’s obscure, and all that,

The rank is but the guinea’s stamp,

                The man’s the gold for all that.


What though on homely fare we dine,

                Wear hodden gray, and all that?

Give tools their silks, and knaves their wine,

                A man’s a man, for all that;

For all that, and all that;

                Their tinsel show, and all that;

The honest man, though e’er so poor,

                Is king of men, for all that.


You see yon fellow called a lord,

                Who struts and stares and all that?

Though hundreds worships at his word,

                He’s but a dunce for all that;

For all that, and all that;

                For all that, and all that;

The man of independent mind,

                He looks and laughs at all that.


A prince can make a belted knight,

                A marquis, duke, and all that;

But an honest man’s above his might,

                Good faith has he for all that;

Their dignities, and all that;

                For all that, and all that;

The pith and sense and pride of worth

                Are higher ranks than all that.


Then let us pray that come it man,

                As come it will for all that,

That sense and worth; o’er all the earth,

                May bear the palm; and all that;

For all that, and all that,

                It’s coming yet for all that,

That man to man, the world all o’er,

                Shall brothers be for all that.


Video Links

Here is a 1975 recording by The McCalmans.

And here is Ian F. Benzie singing, with a video showing scenes of Scottish life and artwork.

 American users may be particularly interested in this recording by folk singer Earl Robinson, from his 1963 album Songs for Political Action.

Finally, we present Sheena Wellington singing "A Man's a Man For A' That" at the Opening of Parliament in 1999. Advisory member Leslie Laurio comments, “it makes one proud to be Scottish! (And I'm not Scottish.)”

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for February 2024: Now is the Hour (Māori Farewell Song)

“Now is the Hour” (Pō Atarau) began as a piano piece called “Swiss Cradle Song,” written by an Australian composer in the early twentieth century. 

The Māori words were added in 1915, and the song was used as a farewell to soldiers going to fight in World War I.  The song went through several other adaptations, and eventually caught the attention of English singer Gracie Fields, who learned it while visiting New Zealand. She recorded it in 1947 (or 1948, depending on the source), with a new title (“Now is the Hour”).  Performers such as Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn also recorded the song at that time.

(Gracie Fields' recording adapts the words to take the point of view of the one who is leaving--"When I return," etc.)


Now is the hour when we must say goodbye
Soon you'll be sailing far across the sea
While you're away, oh, then (please) remember me
When you return, you'll find me waiting here

Additional Lyrics (Bing Crosby recording)

Sunset glow fades in the west
Night o'er the valley is creeping
Birds cuddle down in their nest
Soon all the world will be sleeping

Additional Lyrics (Vera Lynn recording)

I'll dream of you,

if you will dream of me

Each hour I'll miss you,

here across the sea. 

It's not good-bye,

it's just a sweet adieu

Some day I'll sail

across the seas to you. 

Recommended Video Version

Musician Jessie Lloyd is (from her website) an Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait singer, social historian and cultural practitioner of Indigenous song. She is also the founder of the Mission Songs ProjectIn this video, she tells about interviewing family members for their memories of this song, and notes that the tune was also used for the hymn "Search Me, O God" by J. Edwin Orr. She sings the first verse of "Now is the Hour" in English, adds a verse of the hymn, sings it again in Māori, then repeats the English verse again. (The music begins at 2:00).

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for March 2024: The Log Driver's Waltz

This month we have a lively song from Canada that celebrates the old occupation of log driving, that is, moving “convoys” of timber down rivers, usually from the forest to the sawmill. When the river was wide enough, the logs could be bundled into rafts; but in narrower stretches, the logs would have to be steered through in smaller groups, or one at a time, to avoid log jams.  The log drivers stood on the logs, walked along them, ran from one log to another and pushed them along the river with poles, with the strength and agility of dancers. It might have looked like fun, but it was a dangerous job, and the log drivers risked being injured or killed.

Just after World War II, Canadian folk singer Wade Hemsworth was working as a surveyor in the northern parts of Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador, and it was there that he found inspiration for many of his songs, including “The Log Driver’s Waltz.” 

What is Birling?

The log driver goes “birling down the white water,” but this is often misheard as “whirling” or “twirling.” “To birl” is a Scottish word to spin or whirl, and the word “birling” became used to describe the action of trying to stay upright on a rolling log.  


1. If you ask any girl from the parish around

What pleases her most from her head to her toes

She'll say I'm not sure that it's business of yours

But I do like to waltz with a log driver 


For he goes birling down and down white water

That's where the log driver learns to step lightly

Yes, birling down and down white water

The log driver's waltz pleases girls completely


2. When the drive's nearly over I like to go down

And watch all the lads as they work on the river

I know that come evening they'll be in the town

And we all like to waltz with the log driver 



3. To please both my parents, I've had to give way

And dance with the doctors and merchants and lawyers

Their manners are fine, but their feet are of clay

For there's none with the style of my log driver 



4. Now I've had my chances with all sorts of men

But none as so fine as my lad on the river

So when the drive's over, if he asks me again

I think I will marry my log driver 


Video Links

The song became very popular  in 1979 when Canada’s National Film Board produced an animated version, featuring singers Kate and Anna McGarrigle.  The film begins with footage of real log drivers, then transitions into animation.

Here is the NFB cartoon in French!

This version, by Captain Tractor, goes a little faster.

Here is a cheerful version with the Toronto SymphonyOrchestra. (The soloist is Heather Bambrick.)

And a really fun bonus link: The Fiddleaires.

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for May 2024: Simple Gifts

Who were the Shakers?

The Shakers are a Christian sect which began in England and was then brought to the American Colonies. Their proper name is the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing. They practice pacifism and a communal lifestyle, and are also known for their “simplicity” in various aspects of life, such as their plain furniture.

What is “Simple Gifts?”

The song is attributed to Elder Joseph Brackett of the Shaker community in Alfred, Maine, and it was apparently written to accompany a dance ritual. (The Shaker Museum website has posted a different view of the origins of the song.) It remained largely unknown outside of Shaker circles until the American composer Aaron Copland used its melody in Appalachian Spring, in 1944.

Is it "A Gift" or "The Gift?"

Most written lyrics for the song say "'Tis the gift to be simple." However, at least one of the videos linked below has it as "'Tis a gift to be simple," and if you listen to the way many people sing it, it sounds more like "a" than "the." You can choose whichever way you prefer.

Other Uses of the Tune

English songwriter Sydney Carter adapted the tune and lyrics for his hymn "Lord of the Dance" (1963).


'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd,
To bow and to bend we will not be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right.

Video Links

This video by Charles Szabo (with piano accompaniment and on-screen lyrics) is a good one for learning the song.

This recording with folk instruments (autoharp and Seagull Merlin strumstick) is also very nice for singing along.

American folk singer Judy Collins included Simple Gifts on her 1970 album Whales and Nightingales.

John Williams created an instrumental version titled "Air and Simple Gifts," which was performed (by Anthony McGill, Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, and Gabriela Montero) at the inauguration of U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009.

Additional Verses: A Challenge

Many people have added verses to this song, according to their own philosophies and convictions. Perhaps this is a writing challenge that AO students would also enjoy.

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for October 2023: The Ash Grove

The autumn is, in much of the northern hemisphere, a good time to focus on changing seasons, especially that which is seen in the trees. The folk song for this month, ”The Ash Grove,”  is about a “broad leafy dome”  where the singer used to wander; but it is also about change and loss. The Welsh song was known as early as 1802, but the melody is likely much older than that.  If you have ever taken recorder lessons, you may have played it.

The tune of “The Ash Grove” has been used for other purposes, including several Christian hymns. One of better known of these is “Let All Things Now Living,” by Katherine K. Davis; another is “Sent Forth By God’s Blessing.” 

Because “The Ash Grove” was originally written in Welsh (its Welsh title is “Llwyn Onn”), there are various translations into English. There have also been translations into other languages, such as German. We are including four sets of lyrics: those written by Thomas Oliphant (included in an 1862 book called Welsh Melodies, with Welsh and English Poetry); a later adaptation by John Oxenford; one by Harald Boulton; and one from the twentieth century (see below for details). Feel free to choose the one you like best.

Lyrics #1 (Oliphant Translation)

1. Down yonder green valley, where streamlets meander,
When twilight is fading I pensively rove,
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.
'Twas there, while the blackbird was cheerfully singing,
I first met my dear one, the joy of my heart!
Around us for gladness the bluebells were ringing,
Ah! then little thought I how soon we should part.

2. Still glows the bright sunshine o'er valley and mountain,
Still warbles the blackbird its note from the tree;
Still trembles the moonbeam on streamlet and fountain,
But what are the beauties of nature to me?
With sorrow, deep sorrow, my bosom is laden,
All day I go mourning in search of my love;
Ye echoes, oh, tell me, where is the sweet maiden?
"She sleeps, 'neath the green turf down by the ash grove."

Lyrics #2 (Oxenford Version)

1.       The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly 'tis speaking;
The harp (or wind) through it playing has language for me,
When over its branches the sunlight is breaking, (or: Whenever the light through its branches is breaking,)
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me;
Each step wakes a memory as freely I roam.
With (soft) whispers laden the leaves rustle o'er me;
The ash grove, the ash grove alone (again) is my home.
2. Down yonder green valley where streamlets meander,
When twilight is fading I pensively rove,
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
Amid the dark shades of the lonely ash grove.
'Twas there while the blackbird was cheerfully singing
I first met that dear one, the joy of my heart.
Around us for gladness the bluebells were ringing,
But then little thought I how soon we should part.
3. My lips smile no more, my heart loses its lightness;
No dream of the future my spirit can cheer.
I only can brood on the past and its brightness;
The dear ones I long for again gather here.
From ev'ry dark nook they press forward to meet me;
I lift up my eyes to the broad leafy dome,
And others are there, looking downward to greet me;
The ash grove, the ash grove again is my home.

Lyrics #3 (Harald Boulton Translation, in Songs of the Four Nations, 1900)

(A note from Advisory member Anne White: In one of the first years of this curriculum, I taught the The Ash Grove to my daughter, and this is the version we learned, so it's included here with a nostalgic sigh for the "memories most tender.")

The fair woodland bowers are peopled with flowers,
The trees, long forsaken, with green buds abound;
But trust not the weather though all bloom together;
When the ash trees awaken. then summer's come round.
Ah! sweet was the pleasure, in long days of leisure.
When life lay before us, in greenwood to rove;
Mild breezes were blowing, glad streamlets were flowing,
The birds sang in chorus throughout the Ash Grove.

'Tis years since together we hailed the warm weather,
When ash trees in maytime awaken to life.
Old comrades, light-hearted, long since have departed.
Instead of youth's playtime, there's sorrow and strife.
Yet when woodland bowers are filled with fresh flowers,
'Neath trees of green splendour 'tis comfort to rove;
Though glimpses of gladness are mingled with sadness,
With memories most tender I seek the Ash Grove.

Lyrics #4 (Rodney Bennett Translation)

The Arnold Book of Old Songs was published in 1950, and its story can be told only briefly here. British composer Roger Quilter wrote piano accompaniments for sixteen folk songs, and four of those were given newly-translated English lyrics by Rodney Bennett. The new set of lyrics for “The Ash Grove” were written in honour of Quilter’s nephew Arnold Guy Vivian, who had died during the war, and for whom the book was named.

1.Away in the shadows a lone bird is singing,

The wind whispers low in a sighing refrain;

Their music makes memory’s voices go winging:

The Ash Grove in beauty I see once again;

The voices of friends that the long years have taken,

Oh faintly I hear them, the song and the word.

How much in the heart can so little awaken:

The wind in the leaves and the song of a bird.


2. How little we knew, as we laughed there so lightly,

And time seemed to us to stretch endless away,

The hopes that then shone like a vision so brightly

Could fade as a dream at the coming of day!

And still, spite of sorrow, whene’er I remember,

My thoughts will return like a bird to the nest,

No matter though summer may wane to December,

And there in the ash grove my heart be at rest.

Video Links

The King’s Singers, recorded in 1991

Laura Wright, from her album The Last Rose

Raymond Crooke, playing the guitar and singing John Oxenford’s lyrics

Blackmore's Night, with Candice Night singing the Oxenford version

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.

Folk Song for January 2024: The Water is Wide (Oh Waly, Waly)

"The Water Is Wide" (also called "O Waly, Waly" or "Waly, Waly") is a  Scottish folk song that was also known in southern England. “Waly” means “wail” or “woe.” 

Folklorist Cecil Sharp included the song (compiled from various versions) in Folk Songs From Somerset (1906). There were, in fact, so many different versions of this song, that it can be considered a “family of lyrics.” Since it has “grandparent” songs (such as the ballad “Jamie Douglas”), it also has “cousins” based on those earlier sources (such as “Carrickfergus and "Peggy Gordon"); and there are also “descendants,” including the modern version of “The Water is Wide,” which was popularized by Pete Seeger.

The melody has been arranged by classical composers, such as Benjamin Britten and John Rutter (it is the third movement in Rutter's Suite for Strings). It has also been used for Christian hymns, such as John Bell’s “When God Almighty Came to Earth; and other hymns (such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”) can be sung to this tune.

 Which Version to Sing?

Like so many folk songs, there are versions and verses that are family-friendly, and there are others that are not. Even Pete Seeger’s version has verses that you may prefer not to sing with children; please preview.

Here are the lyrics as sung by Karla Bonoff (a favourite version of Advisory member Leslie Laurio). 

1.   1. The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

and neither have I wings to fly

Give me a boat that can carry two

And both shall row, my love and I

2. Oh, love is gentle and love is kind

The sweetest flower when first it’s new

But love grows old and waxes cold

And fades away like morning dew.

(instrumental bridge)

3. There is a ship and she sails the sea,

She’s loaded deep as deep can be,

But not as deep as the love I’m in,

I know not how I sink or swim.

4. The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er

And neither have I wings to fly.

Give me a boat that can carry two,

And both shall row, my love and I.

And both shall row, my love and I.

Where does the “Waly, Waly” fit in?

The original Scottish words to the song can be read online (such as on Wikipedia), and they include these words of lament:

O Waly, waly up the bank,
And waly, waly doun the brae,
And waly, waly, yon burn-side,
Where I and my love wont to gae.
I lean'd my back into an aik,
I thocht it was a trusty tree;
But first it bow'd, and syne it brak,
Sae my true love did lightly me.

But modern English versions do not include them.

Other Video Links

Advisory member Donna-Jean Breckenridge likes this version by James Taylor.

Donna-Jean also likes this recording by Joan Baez, from the album Farewell Angelina. 

Here is Pete Seeger's recording, from the album Pete Seeger Now. This is a good one for singing (and humming) along. 

Finally, one that’s a bit more upbeat: Bob Dylan with Joan Baez, recorded in 1975.

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.
These affiliate links help support AmblesideOnline.