For anyone familiar with "Bell Bottom Trousers," popularized by Guy Lombardo ("written" by Moe Jaffe and recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, 1945) at the end of World War Two, the antiquity of earlier and related versions may come as quite a surprise. Not to college kids, naval men, and tavern carousers perhaps, for in their multiple off-color versions, they have kept alive familiar verses that achieved wide currency as "Home Dearie Home" in the nineteenth century. In this typical version, a girl lights a sailor to bed, spends the night with him, receives money to take care of any child they might have, and is deserted. A portion of Peggy's chorus for "Home Dearie Home:"
The oak and the ash and the bonnie willow tree
Are all growing greener in the North Americkee.
echoes a chorus found in the 17th- century broadside, "The Northern Lasses Lamentation," according to Bruce Olson's posted comments on Mudcat Café forum:
Oh, the Oak, the Ash, and the Bonny Ivy tree
Doth flourish at home in my own Country.
Some variant of the oak/ash choral fragment is a regular part not only of "Home Dearie Home," but of its cleaner, more sentimental cousin "Ambletown," modern versions of "The Northern Lasses Lamentation," and variants called "The Oak and The Ash."
"Home Dearie Home" has had a modest but decided impact on British poets: "O Falmouth Is a Fine Town," by William E. Henley (1878) has the following chorus:
For it's home, dearie home--it's home I want to be.
Our topsails are hoisted, and we'll away to sea.
O the oak and the ash and the bonnie birken tree,
They're all growing green in the old countrie.
Cicely Fox Smith, in her poem "The Long Road Home" (1914), has a sea voyager singing for joy when reaching home at last:
And it's "home, dearie, home" when the anchor rattles down,
In the reek of good old Mersey fog a-rolling rich and brown:
Round the world and back again is very far to roam
And all the way to England it's a long way home!
Peggy adds her own little twist to the chorus, momentarily taking on the voice of a watchful narrator:
Home, dearie, home its home you ought to be
Home, once again in your own country
But she sings it gaily with a couple of youthful female voices. Peggy says she sees her female chorus as:
sisters, not parents or advisers- sisters, who've all been through the same thing. I've noticed in 'girl left pregnant' songs that she's either drowning in self-pity or she's saying 'so what? I'm still me!'
Here the woman-to-woman chorus precedes a traditional verse common primarily to the older broadside version:
If I had a baby, what ill am I the worse?
I've gold in my pocket, I've silver in my purse
I'll buy me a nurse, and I'll pay the nurses fees
And I'll pass as a maiden in my own country.
Peggy is still singing from a female viewpoint, but in this case, it's the voice of the seduced girl, cheered by the money she has been given and assuming it will let her pass responsibility for a child onto someone else. The girl looks forward to resuming her life as a maiden all over again, but the listener wonders if she really understands the full consequences of one, brief night of pleasure.
For a broader range of versions of this song and its variants, consult the entry for "Rosemary Lane" at The Traditional Ballad Index (California State University at Fresno).
HOME, DEARIE, HOME
words, music: traditional USA
arrangement: Peggy Seeger, Cary Fridley, John Herrman, Rosemary Lackey, Vollie McKenzie
The sailor being weary, he hung down his head,
Called for a candle to light him to bed
She lit him to bed as a maiden ought to do
He vowed and declared she should come to him too.
And it's home, dearie, home, and it's home you ought to be
Home once again in your own country
Where the oak and the ash and the fine willow tree
Are all a-growing greener in the North Amerikee.
She jumped in beside him to keep herself warm
Thinking, now, a sailor couldn't do her any harm.
He hugged her and he kissed and he called her his dear
Till she wished the short night had been as long as a year. (Chorus)
Early next morning the sailor arose
Into her apron he put hands full of gold
Saying, 'Take this, my dear, it will pay for milk and bread,
It may pay for the lighting of a sailor to bed.' (Chorus)
If I have a baby, what am I the worse?
I've gold in my pocket, I've silver in my purse,
I'll buy me a nurse and I'll pay the nurse's fee
And I'll pass for a maiden in my own country. (Chorus)
If it be a girl, she can wear a gold ring
If it be a boy, he can fight for the king
With his little quartered shoes and the roundabout so blue
He can walk the quarterdeck the way his daddy used to do. (Chorus)
Born in 1935, Peggy is Pete Seeger’s half-sister and Ruth Crawford Seeger’s daughter; her first life partner was the English
songwriter Ewan MacColl, who wrote First Time Ever I Saw Your Face for her and to whom she bore three children. Her best-known pieces are Gonna Be an Engineer and The Ballad of Springhil. She tours extensively in the UK/USA and Australia & has made 22 solo recordings to date...more