“For My Heart’s a Boat in Tow”

July 19, 2007 @ 8:27 pm | Filed under: Poetry, Scottish folksongs

Of all the haunting, achingly beautiful Scottish ballads, this one may be the most aching and the most beautiful. The melody is gorgeously poignant in its own right, but add the words, the raw, profoundly moving outcry of a sailor spurned by his nighean ruadh—his red-haired girl—and your heart just might break along with his. Oh I cannot live without her…for my heart’s a boat in tow…This is one of the loveliest bits of poetry ever uttered.

Loch Tay Boat Song

When I’ve done my work of day,
And I row my boat away,
Doon the waters of Loch Tay,
As the evening light is fading
And I look upon Ben Lawers
Where the afterglory glows;
And I think on two bright eyes
And the melting mouth below.

She’s my beauteous nighean ruadh,
She’s my joy and sorrow too;
And although she is untrue,
Well I cannot live without her,
For my heart’s a boat in tow,
And I’d give the world to know
Why she means to let me go,
As I sing horee horo.

Nighean ruadh, your lovely hair
Has more glamour I declare
Than all the tresses rare
‘tween Killin and Aberfeldy.
Be they lint white, brown or gold,
Be they blacker than the sloe,
They are worth no more to me
Than the melting flake of snow.


Her eyes are like the gleam
O’ the sunlight on the stream;
And the songs the fairies sing
Seem like songs she sings at milking.
But my heart is full of woe,
For last night she bade me go
And the tears begin to flow,
As I sing horee, horo.

Today’s Poetry Friday roundup can be found at Mentor Texts & More.

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2 Responses | | Comments Feed

  1. We’ve listened to “Silly Wizard’s” version of this for some 20 years now; the tape is one that always goes along on long car trips. I think it even went along on a trip or two across the Scottish Highlands. Thanks so much for the words, and the translation from the Gaelic. Beautiful.

  2. […] I love these old songs so very much. This one goes way, way back, and has many variations, some Scottish, some English. The most common version, the one I’ve quoted above, goes on to tell a very sad tale of love lost, betrayal, faithlessness. But I like the song best just like this: these two simple verses, which by themselves seem to me to speak to a true love, a real love, the kind between two people who, pulling together, can navigate stormy waters no matter how burdened the boat. […]