As I roved out one evening fair
It bein' the summertime to take the air
I spied a sailor and a lady gay
And I stood to listen
And I stood to listen to hear what they would say.
He said "Fair lady, why do you roam
For the day is spent and the night is on."
She heaved a sigh while the tears did roll
"For my dark-eyed sailor
For my dark-eyed sailor, so young and stout and bold."
" 'Tis seven long years since he left this land
A ring he took from off his lily-white hand
One half of the ring is still here with me
But the other's rollin'
But the other's rollin' at the bottom of the sea."
He said "You may drive him out of your mind
Some other young man you will surely find
Love turns aside and soon cold has grown
Like the winter's morning
Like the winter's morning, the hills are white with snow."
She said "I'll never forsake my dear
Although we're parted this many a year
Genteel he was and a rake like you
To induce a maiden
To induce a maiden to slight the jacket blue."
One half of the ring did young William show
She ran distracted in grief and woe
Sayin' "William, William, I have gold in store
For my dark-eyed sailor
For my dark-eyed sailor has proved his honour long"
And there is a cottage by yonder lea
This couple's married and does agree.
So maids be loyal when your love's at sea
For a cloudy morning
For a cloudy morning brings in a sunny day.
I know this ballad from the version sung on the Steeleye Span album Hark! The Village Wait, which is simply sublime:
But the words alone illustrate for me the tremendous power of stock phrases in poetry, specifically oral poetry. Pretty much the whole ballad consists of stock phrases, yet it has immense elegiac strength.
This has a 'eucatastrophe' at "One half of the ring did young William show/
She ran distracted in grief and woe" which produces that 'lift' of the spirit from which we gain such inspiration.