Water is Wide, The - Chords, Lyrics and Origins


The nicest version of 'The Water is Wide' that I have heard is by John Kirkpatrick. But the beautiful tune and poetic lyrics give it a widespread appeal. In fact it has been recorded by a whole host of musicians, including artists as diverse as Eva CasiddyThe Indigo Girls and Kathleen Ferrier. 'The Water is Wide' has been arranged by the classical composer,Benjamin Britten, and the tune is sometimes (though not always) used for the hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Although commonly thought of as an English song, apparently the earliest version of 'The Water is Wide' (unpromisingly called 'O Waly, Waly') originated in Scotland. You can find an interesting article about the origins of 'The Water is Wide', including the lyrics to 'O Waly Waly', in this Wikipedia article. There is more information about the song at the Contemplator's web site. There are lots of versions of the lyrics. The verses below are simply my personal favourites.

The chord structure is very much the vehicle that carries the beautiful melody.  My favourite apporach is to fingerpick the chords gently, but the song will also work if you strum the chords, although this changes the feel somewhat.


Capo at 4th Fret

  A E     
Andbothshallrow -      


The water is wide

And I cannot get o'er;

Nor yet have I

The wings to fly;

Bring me a boat

That can carry two

And both shall row -

My love and I.


Down in the meadow

The other day,

Gathering flowers

Both bright and gay,

Gathering flowers,

Both red and blue,

I little thought

What love can do.


I leaned my back

Against an oak,

Thinking it was

A trusty tree,

But first it bent

And then it broke,

Just like my own

False loving be.


Oh love is gentle

And love is kind,

Bright as a jewell

When first it's new,

But love grows old

And waxes cold

And fades away

Like the morning dew.


There is a ship

And it sails the sea;

It's loaded deep

As deep can be,

But not so deep

As this love I'm in.

I know not if

I sink or swim.


The water is wide

And I cannot get o'er,

Nor yet have I

The wings to fly;

Bring me a boat

That can carry two

And both shall row -

My love and I.


Traditional, arranged by Peter Webster.

Other Scottish Folk Songs
Other Traditional Folk Songs