My Billy is Gone

Tune: "When the Wind Begins to Sing", adapted by John Renbourn from a Northumbrian small pipes melody

My Billy is gone, away 'cross the sea,
I'll never know now if he spake truth to me.
I'll never know now if he meant what he said,
For my Billy is gone, and I wish I were dead.

Oh happy were we, though it was but a while,
I traveled a thousand long miles for his smile!
I traveled a thousand, ten mountains I climbed,
And happy were we, for that short space of time.

His eye was a wonder, his hair bright as gold,
His heart always merry, in sun or in cold.
His heart always merry, though now cold to me,
But his eye was the wonder my mind e'er shall see.

I never shall know why he left my two arms.
But remember I will all his words and his charms,
Yes, remember I will how he murmured "My dear",
Though I never shall know what made him disappear.

Oh dig my grave deeply, in cover of night,
And line it with moss that my sleep may be tight,
And line it with moss that my sleep never ends,
Oh dig my grave deeply, and tell all my friends.

My Billy is gone, I will see him no more,
I never will know why he made my heart sore.
I never will know where his travels have led,
For my Billy is gone, and I wish I were dead.

Lyrics copyright 12/10/99, J. Friedman (Eliane Halevy).

This is the first SCA song I have written to commemorate something personal in my life. There was a Billy (actually he preferred Bill or Will), I did travel very far to meet him, he had wonderful eyes, he left to take a job in France, and when he broke up with me, I cried for days.

What was harder (and my reason for writing this song) was that after we talked and agreed that we would stay together and work towards a way to be closer geographically, and he continued to e-mail me, one day in December 1998 he just stopped. Just like that. I never heard from him again. The hardest thing has been not knowing what happened to him, why he felt it was necessary to cut off contact with me, whether something bad had happened to him, or even if he had been lying to me all along. So I wrote this song, just about a year to the day after I last heard from him, to express some of my pain.

Let me just emphasize, as I do before I sing this song, that I was never suicidal. That part is taken from post-period English folksongs (the staple of most of the bardic circles I go to, most people figuring if it sounds old, it is probably pre-1600), where it seems everyone is always dying for love, or wishing they would. Witness Barbara Allen: "Oh mother, oh mother, dig my grave/Oh, make it soft and narrow/Sweet William died for me tonight/ I'll die for him tomorrow", the obvious inspiration for the grave-digging verse.

I used the unusual repetition scheme not for historical reasons, but because it sounds to me like someone trying to talk out something that she feels she will never truly understand, haltingly, correcting herself, then reiterating the points that are truly important. If anyone knows of a period poetic precedent for the repetition of the first half of the lines, do e-mail me and let me know...I don't seem to do any forwards documentation for my songs, just backwards. ;)

I actually wrote the lyrics first, then shopped around for a tune--not sure whether the definition of filk includes pieces where the tune was picked after all the words were in place? There's one for the bardic laurels to debate (those who will even sing filk, that is...;) ) The tune grabbed me when I first heard it. I have no idea whether it falls in SCA period, John Renbourn not being famous for putting full documentation in his liner notes, but I love its urgent yet melancholy tone.

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Last modified: 04/11/00