Three angelic women in sailing shipsI Saw Three Ships by Walter Crane, courtesy of The Victorian Internet

I Saw Three Ships

introduced by Dave Para

Like John Roberts & Tony Barrand, Dave Para loves this "Crawn" version of the widespread carol “I Saw Three Ships.” It was collected in 1895 from a Humber estuary boatman on the east coast of England, and ultimately published by Baring-Gould in his Garland of Country Songs in the same year.

It finally makes sense out of the puzzle of why three ships appear in the Christmas narrative at all. Legend has it that the skulls ("crawns" = "craniums" = "crowns"?) of the "Kings" or "Wise Men" were taken and lodged in the cathedral at Cologne.

Dave thinks of this more as a pilgrim carol than a Christmas song, so here it is in March.

Listen to Nowell Sing We Clear perform "I Saw Three Ships," from their Hail Smiling Morn album:

"I Saw Three Ships" sheet musicClick here to download a PDF of the sheet music.

Lyrics

Traditional English

I saw three ships come sailing by,

I saw three ships come sailing by,

By, by, by,

I saw three ships come sailing by.

I asked them what they'd got on board,
I asked them what they'd got on board,
Board, board, board,

I asked them what they'd got on board.

They said that they had got three crawns,
They said that they had got three crawns,
Crawns, crawns, crawns,
They said that they had got three crawns.

I asked them where they was taking them to,
I asked them where they was taking them to,
To, to, to,
I asked them where they was taking them to.

They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine,
They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine,
Koln, Koln upon Rhine,
They said they was going to Koln upon Rhine.

I asked them where they was bringing them from,
I asked them where they was bringing them from,
From, from, from,
I asked them where they was bringing them from.

They said they was coming from Bethlehem.
They said they was coming from Bethlehem.
Beth, Beth-e-le-hem.
They said they was coming from Bethlehem.

I saw three ships come sailing by,

I saw three ships come sailing by,

By, by, by,

I saw three ships come sailing by.

I saw three ships come sailing by.

Dave Para and his late wife Cathy Barton played and sang a lot of traditional music from Missouri and the Ozarks and did a couple of albums of Civil War music from Missouri with Bob Dyer. They were members of the Missouri Folklore Society since its revival 40 years ago. Loman Cansler often attended and sang at MFS events, and Becky Schroeder helped him put his collection at Western Historical Manuscripts, State Historical Society of Missouri. Dave continues to play throughout the US.

     
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