by John Gay

All in the Downs the fleet was moored,
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 sails among your crew.

William, who high upon the yard,
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sighed, and cast his eyes below;-
The cord glides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And quick as lightning on the deck, he stands.

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

O 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 still points to thee.
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 wheresoever I go.
If to fair India's coast we sail, 
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright;
Thy breath is Africa's spicy gale,
Thy skin is ivory so white.

Thus, every beauteous object that I view,
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.
Though battle calls me from thy arms,
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms.
William shall to his dear return.

Love turns aside the balls 'that round me fly;
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan's eye. I
The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosoms spread.

No longer must she stay aboard
They kissed. She sighed; he hung his head
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land;
Adieu! She cried and waved her lily hand.

 

 

 

Note: Before the Black-Eyed Susan received its popular common name, there was a song by John Gay called Black-Eyed Susan. The song was quite popular in British maritime novels tells of a love story between Susan and her Sweet William. As the two say their final farewells before his departure on a long sea voyage, Susan was crying and had black circles around her eyes.

Today, the story of Susan and William continues to be passed on. Folklore perpetuates that Black-Eyed Susans and Sweet William share the same bloom time to celebrate their undying love for each other.


As featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

Words inspired by the garden are the sweetest, most beautiful words of all.
John Gay
John Gay
Black-Eyed Susan
Black-Eyed Susan