Roots of Bob

Ballad of Donald White

(Released on "Broadside Reunion", November 1971 (performed 1962 for the unbroadcast "Broadside Radio Show". Dylan is credited under the pseudonym "Blind Boy Grunt").

The folksong source for Dylan's "Ballad of Donald White", can be found as No. 27 in the late Edith Fowke's "Penguin Book of Canadian Folk Songs" (1973), pp. 72-73, and in Digital Tradition (filename PTRMBRLY; play.exe PTRMBRLY):


My name 'tis Peter Emberley, as you may understand.
I was born on Prince Edward's lsland near by the ocean strand.
ln eighteen hundred and eighty-four when the flowers were a brilliant
I left my native counterie my fortune to pursue.

I landed in New Brunswick in a lumbering counterie,
I hired to work in the lumber woods on the Sou-West Miramichi.
I hired to work in the lumber woods where they cut the tall spruce
While loading teams with yarded logs I received a deadly wound.

There's danger on the ocean where the waves roll mountain high,
There's danger on the battlefield where the angry bullets fly.
There's danger in the lumber woods, for death lurks sullen there,
And I have fell a victim into that monstrous snare.

I know my luck seems very hard since fate has proved severe,
But victor death is the worst can come and I have no more to fear.
And he'll allay those deadly pains and liberate me soon.
And I'll sleep the long and lonely sleep called slumber in the tomb.

Here's adieu to Prince Edward's lsland, that garden in the seas,
No more I'll walk its flowery banks to enjoy a summer's breeze.
No more I'll view those gallant ships as they go swimming by,
With their streamers floating on the breeze above the canvas high.

Here's adieu unto my father, it was him who drove me here.
I thought he used me cruelly, his treatments were unfair.
For 'tis not right to oppress a boy or try to keep him down.
'Twill oft repulse him from his home whcn he is far too young.

Here's adieu unto my greatest friend, I mean my mother dear,
She raised a son who fell as soon as he left her tender care.
'Twas little did my mother know when she sang lullaby,
What country I might travel in or what death I might die.

Here's adieu unto my youngest friend, those island girls so true.
Long may they bloom to grace that isle where first my breath I drew.
For the world will roll on just the same when I have passed away,
What signifies a mortal man whose origin is clay?

But there's a world beyond the tomb, to it I'm nearing on.
Where man is more than mortal, and death can never come.
The mist of death it glares my eyes and I'm no longer here,
My spirit takes its final flight unto another sphere.

And now before I pass away there is one more thing I crave,
That some good holy father will bless my mouldering grave.
Near by the city of Boiestown where my mouldering bones do lay.
A-waiting for my saviour's call on that great Judgement Day.

Edith Fowke remarks:

"This tale of the young man from Prince Edward Island who was fatally injured in the Miramichi woods when a log rolled on him is the favourite ballad of New Brunswick. John Calhoun, one of the men who drove the injured lad down to his employer's home, described his fate in these verses, and a local singer, Abraham Munn, set them to and old Irish tune that has served for many songs both in Ireland and North America... The song is well known along the east coast... and it has also spread to Ontario." (p. 200)

Not only Dylan seems to have been inspired by this song (most notably by the third verse "There's danger..."). Gil Turner, in his song "Benny 'Kid' Paret" (also included on the complete May 1962 WBAI-FM Broadside show tape) also quotes and paraphrases the same stanza:

"There's danger on the ocean where the waves roll mountain high
There's danger on the battlefield where angry bullets fly.
There's danger in the boxing ring for death is waiting there
Watching for a killing through the hot and smoky air"
(BROADSIDE No. 4, Mid-April 1962, reprinted in liner-notes for
"Broadside", BR 301, 1963).

The topic of the song (the death of Cuban boxer Benny 'Kid' Paret) is obviously related to that of Dylan's "Who Killed Davey Moore?" (Apr 1963; Heylin, "Stolen Moments") and Gil Turner's imagery and choice of words in one stanza is, in my opinion, rather close to that of Dylan's "Long Ago, Far Away" (copyrighted Dec 4, 1962; Heylin, "Stolen Moments"):

"You've heard about our Romans, long many years ago
Crowding big arenas just to see the slaves' blood flow
There's been lots of changes since those days and now we're civilized
Our gladiators kill with gloves instead of swords and knives."

Thanks to : Man of Peace

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