Black-Eyed Susan
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Lesley Nelson-Burns

The words were written by John Gay and were written no later than 1723. The lyrics were very popular and appeared in several ballad operas of the time. The words were set to various scores by different composers, including Carey, Leveridge, Haydon and Sandonis. This was the most popular of those tunes. It was written by Richard Leveridge (1670-1758).

Richard Leveridge is known primarily for his bass singing. He appeared in the English theatre for over thirty years. At the age of sixty his voice was still strong enough (as was his pride) that he issued a challenge to any bass singers for a prize of one hundred guineas. In 1699 he composed the music for The Island Princess, or the Generous Portuguese and in 1716 he composed the music for Pyramus and Thisbe (which was based on A Midsummer Night's Dream). In 1726 he opened a coffee house in Covent Garden. In 1727 he published two volumes of songs. In his last years he was supported by a subscription raised by his friends. Leveridge also wrote The Roast Beef of Old England.

All in the dawn the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving to the wind,
When Black-eyed Susan came on board,
Oh where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William, if my sweet William
Sails among your crew?

Oh William, who high upon the yard,
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly thro' his glowing hands
And as quick as lightning, and as quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.

So sweet the lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
If, chance, his mate's shrill voice he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William, might envy William's
Lip those kisses sweet.

'Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear!
My vows shall ever true remain,
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again:
Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass, the faithful compass
That still points to thee.

'Oh, believe not what the landsmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind,
They'll tell thee sailors when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present
Wheresoe'er I go.

If to fair India's coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright:
Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
Thy skin as ivory so white:
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul, wakes in my soul
Some charm of lovely Sue.'

Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn:
Though cannon roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his dear return:
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly
Lest precious tears, lest precious tears
Should drop from Susan's eye.

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
Her sails their swelling bosom spread:
No longer can she stay on board -
They kissed, she sighed, he hung his head:
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land,
'Adieu,' she cries, 'Adieu,' she cries
And waved her lily hand.
Related Links
From One Hundred Songs of England
See Bibliography for full information.