A farmer there lived in the north country,
a hey ho and me bonny o
And he had daughters one, two, three,
The swans swim so bonny o
These daughters they walked by the river's brim
a hey ho and me bonny o
The eldest pushed the youngest in
The swans swim so bonny o.

Oh sister, oh sister, pray lend me your hand
a hey ho and me bonny o
and I will give you house and land
The swans swim so bonny o
I'll give you neither hand nor glove
a hey ho and me bonny o
Unless you give me your own true love
The swans swim so bonny o.

Sometimes she sank, sometimes she swam
a hey ho and me bonny o
Until she came to a miller's dam
The swans swim so bonny o
The miller's daughter, dressed in red
a hey ho and me bonny o
She went for some water to make her bread
The swans swim so bonny o.

O father, o daddy, here swims a swan
a hey ho and me bonny o
It's very like a gentle woman
The swans swim so bonny o
They laid her on the bank to dry
a hey ho and me bonny o
There came a harper passing by
The swans swim so bonny o.

He made harp pins of her fingers fair
a hey ho and me bonny o
He made harp strings of her golden hair
The swans swim so bonny o
He made a harp of her breast bone
a hey ho and me bonny o
And straight it began to play alone
The swans swim so bonny o.

He brought it to her father's hall
a hey ho and me bonny o
And there was the court assembled all
The swans swim so bonny o
He laid the harp upon the stone
a hey ho and me bonny o
And straight it began to play alone
The swans swim so bonny o.

There does sit my father, the King
a hey ho and me bonny o
And yonder sits my mother the Queen
The swans swim so bonny o
And there does sit my brother Hugh
a hey ho and me bonny o
And by him William, sweet and true
The swans swim so bonny o.

And there does sit my false sister Anne
a hey ho and me bonny o
Who drowned me for the sake of a man
The swans swim so bonny o.


Lyrics submitted by ruben

The Bonny Swans song meanings
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5 Comments

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  • 0
    General CommentI love this song, it is so dark and beautiful. A young woman is drowned by her older sister, pushed into the water where she is weighted down by her heavy gown. Younger asks older to help, but older says she'll only do it if she can have the youngers true love. The girl dies, and becomes a swan, a common symbol of death in those times. The swan/girl is then made into a harp, which is taken into her father's hall, where it sings alone to tell her family how she died.
    I love the sound of the guitars in this, it just adds a little extra intensity somehow.
    Skybluepoeton March 16, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love the harp's sound
    isacon February 17, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhile the older sister does murder the younger, she does not literally turn into a swan. Instead her body floats downstream sometimes floating, sometimes submerged to where the miller's daughter fishes her out. The harper then uses her bones to make a harp and strings it with her hair. This is pretty creepy but apparently he's doing it so her ghost can accuse her killer. Incidentally this is a classic fairy tale though little known these days. Too gruesome for the kiddies
    Letmeinon May 18, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love this song, but I never understood why her father is a farmer in the beginning, and then a king in the end.
    jltc008on August 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    QuestionThe story is inconsistent start to finish.

    The farmer has daughters... "one two three"... but where's the third daughter? She doesn't appear relevant to the story either at the beginning, or at the end when the farmer, now inexplicably a king, holds court with a brother (Hugh) and a "false sister" (Anne), and presumably the stolen lover, William. So where's the third daughter, and how did the farmer become a king?
    iamveredon October 25, 2017   Link

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