Appalachia Appalachia Through My Eyes

Appalachia Through My Eyes – Black Eyed Susans

My life in appalachia - Black Eyed Susans

Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan written by John Gay (1685-1732), British poet.

ALL in the Downs the fleet was moor’d,
The streamers waving in the wind,
When black-eyed Susan came aboard,
‘Oh! where shall I my true love find!
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William sails among the crew.’

William, who high upon the yard
Rock’d with the billow to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh’d and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly through his glowing hands,
And (quick as lightning) on the deck he stands.

So the sweet lark, high-poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast
(If, chance, his mate’s shrill call he hear)
And drops at once into her nest.
The noblest captain in the British fleet,
Might envy William’s lip those kisses sweet.

‘O Susan, Susan, lovely dear,
My vows shall ever true remain;
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again.
Change, as ye list, ye winds; my heart shall be
The faithful compass that still points to thee.

‘Believe not what the landsmen say,
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind:
They’ll tell thee, sailors, when away,
In every port a mistress find.
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present wheresoe’er I go.

‘If to far India’s coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright,
Thy breath is Afric’s spicy gale,
Thy skin is ivory, so white.
Thus every beauteous object that I view,
Wakes in my soul some charm of lovely Sue.

‘Though battle call me from thy arms,
Let not my pretty Susan mourn;
Though cannons roar, yet safe from harms,
William shall to his dear return.
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly,
Lest precious tears should drop from Susan’s eye.’

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
The sails their swelling bosom spread,
No longer must she stay aboard:
They kiss’d, she sigh’d, he hung his head;
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land:
‘Adieu!’ she cries; and waved her lily hand.



The other evening when I was snapping my Phlox photo I noticed a bunch of Black-eyed Susans growing near by.

Legend says Black-eyed Susan’s name came from the poem above. I don’t know about that, but I love the poem. I can just see sweet William sliding down that rope to see his beloved before he shipped out to sea.

I believe I shall speak as though I am a British Poet from the 18th century for the rest of the day. I’ll let you know how that plan works out.


Appalachia Through My Eyes – A series of photographs from my life in Southern Appalachia.



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  • Reply
    July 1, 2012 at 7:13 am

    Okay, I just imagined you speaking with a British accent and I can’t help but giggle because I can hear a mountain “twang” in that British accent. LOL

  • Reply
    June 17, 2012 at 1:50 am

    In the Cambridgeshire village of Reach there used to be a pub called “Black Susan Of The Evil Eye” which perhaps hints of an earlier origin – though I can’t trace where the name came from. The building is now a house called – you’ve guessed it – “Black Eyed Susan”.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    June 16, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    This Black-Eyed(& big eyed-lol)Suzi thanks you!

  • Reply
    susie swanson
    June 16, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    Beautiful poem for a beautiful flower..We’ve always called them Black Eyed Susie’ name, wouldn’t you agree…I haven’t seen any this year yet or the Sweet Williams..They are beautiful too..

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 16, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Oh, mercy!!!
    (Yes, Jim, I do know the double entendre).
    Inspired by Ammons (I mean Ed)
    Here is what old Donald said:
    Black-eyed Susan went a’cruisin
    Searching for Sweet William dear.
    But when she found him,
    Oh! All around him,
    Were blue-eyed maidens, blond and fair.
    Now Willie’s slick,
    And Willie’s quick,
    But Susan’s blade was quicker.
    Willie wasn’t right,
    Now Willie’s left
    Without a thing to dicker.

  • Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm

    That is a lovely poem, though Ed’s was funnier! 🙂
    Our Black-eyed Susans aren’t blooming yet, but just starting to come into bud.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I have plenty of Black-eyed Susans…But, I wonder if any of the NC folks have any seed that will be available for the ole fashion Sweet William..It stands straight and high with clusters of bloom on top of the stem..It has a strong clove like spicy smell…I am not interested in the new hybrid mounds, etc. but the old variety..
    Don, I thought stinking willie was a ragwort and Sweet William was named after William Shakespere, a contemparary of his that wrote one of the first
    botantist books…in the 1500’s’. Of course “a rose by any other name could smell as sweet” I think or not..LOL
    thanks Tipper, I would purchase those ole timey Sweet Williams seeds if someone has them…I know there were plants in Canton, Asheville and my Mothers came from her Mother in Marshall, N.C. When Mom got in her late years hers had died out of row…thanks

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    Ed is so funny. A poet, who would have thought Ed a poet!
    And Bradley took his words straight from my mind. When I think of Black Eyed Susan’s, I think of you and the girls and your chinquapin eyes.
    The poem is nice but what I’d really like is to be there as you are a British poet for the day. lol

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 16, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Tipper–Ed’s quatrains inspired me (well, maybe tempted me) to offer a limerick of my own.
    Alack and alas poor John Gay,
    Known as a mighty poet in his day.
    Was betrayed by his name,
    With hints of sexual shame.
    It now means to go the other way.
    (Sorry, like Ed, I couldn’t resist the temptation). Nice post and I have to wonder if brother Don knows that there is a double entendre in Stinking Willie. He probably does, so I’ll leave it to you and others to figure it out or maybe to bone up a bit on Scottish dialect and colloquialisms. Note: Over the course of my life I’ve lived in Scotland for perhaps 18 months, back in the days before I saw the error of my academic ways and turned from scholar into lowly sporting scribe. Rural Scots and rural Scotland offer much which makes one think of the Smokies, and even for all its nickname (Auld Reeky) and the fact it is a city, Edinburgh is a beautiful place in summer.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 16, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Later the same day: Read the posts and enjoyed all but especially admired those who wrote lines (in John Gay style) about the lovers with flowers named for them. Here’s yet another quatrain:
    Black-eyed Susan blowing fair
    In springs fair breezes warm;
    Near Sweet William’s nodding head
    Ye both do yield such charm!

  • Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    In a flower bed at one of my favorite places on earth – beautiful Brookgreen Gardens near Surfside Beach, SC, there is a plaque that reads:
    “I use to love my Garden
    But now my love is dead:
    I found a Bachelor’s Button
    In Black-eyed Susan’s Bed.”
    I bought a refrigerator magnet there that says that which I’ve had on my fridge for years. Guess it could well have been a Sweet William as a Bachelor’s Button, cause Black Eyed Susan seems to really get around. ;o)
    God bless.

  • Reply
    dolores barton
    June 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I really enjoyed the poem and the picture of the Black Eyed Susan. I just love spring.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 16, 2012 at 11:08 am

    I don’t know about the legend either, Tipper, but there are also Sweet William flowers which aren’t (at least to my knowledge) native to North America. They’re known as Stinking Willie by the Scots (I’ll leave it to your curiosity to find out why)
    Red trilliums, which ARE native to our mountains, are also sometimes called Stinking Willie or Stinking Benjamin. Take a sniff of them sometime, and you’ll learn why – sort of a wet dog smell. But their beauty more than makes up for it –

  • Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 10:43 am

    A big Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. You are the
    other heart of our American

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 16, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Perhaps fair Sue had she returned
    to board the vessel again,
    Would have found Sweet William
    in the embrace
    Of her nautical rival, Sthweet Ben!
    Sorry, I just can’t help it!

  • Reply
    Lisa @ Two Bears Farm
    June 16, 2012 at 10:09 am

    What a neat legend. I’ve never heard that before.

  • Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 9:51 am

    When I first saw the topic this
    morning, I thought you were going
    to talk about Black eyed Susie’s.
    You know, those things that taste
    like dirt. But then I read the
    poem (very good), but just can’t
    picture you talking that ‘bloody’
    talk ole chap. Anyway, I bet the
    Deer Hunter wouldn’t put up with
    that very long…nice post…Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 16, 2012 at 9:46 am

    What hath thou done to me this day!
    That I wasteth all my time.
    I sit and stare and rack my brain
    find to more words that rhyme.

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    June 16, 2012 at 8:47 am

    The Black-eyed Susan’s are a’bloomin here as well…That is a wonderful poem..Thanks for sharing…I do believe that sweet
    William will not forget his true love for everywhere you roam it seems Black-eyed Susan’s grow..
    Now then, it could be fittin’ that the old fashioned, Granma type Sweet Williams could be named for the poem as well…Since they stand straight and high, looking like they are in bright British colors. A biennial, leaving to return bloom their second year..
    If they self seed then you should always have some coming back, and in bloom…Whoops, that would mean a sailor in every port, so to speak…Better stop right here…LOL
    Thanks Tipper, for a wonderful post…

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 16, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Oh, to be near thy abode this day
    and hear the words thy lips do tender.
    To see the countenance’s of thy kin
    reflect the expressions thy utterances engender.

  • Reply
    June 16, 2012 at 7:52 am

    You know what? I’ll bet that Black- Eyed Susan would would have born a striking resemblance to The Angel of Brasstown.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 16, 2012 at 7:48 am

    Har! Har! me matey fair.
    If words in jest shall pass
    o’er thy lovely lips beware.
    Lest they bite thee in thy nether regions.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    June 16, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Tipper, Since you like John Gay’s “Sweet William’s Farewell to Black-eyed Susan,” you would like the ballads of Georgia Mountain poet Byron Herbert Reece. On June 2, 2012, the Byron Herbert Reece Society saw a 10-year dream fulfilled as we cut the ribbon and dedicated the Byron Herbert Reece Farm and Heritage Center near Vogel State Park, Blairsville, Ga, where the poet/novelist “grew potatoes and poems.” Readers might like to access the Byron Herbert Reece Society blogspot to read about him, and if any are in the Blairsville, Union County area, go by the Farm and Heritage Center and check it out (open Thursdays through Saturdays, 10-5, and Sundays, 1-5). I think you will be glad you did! And yes! I like John Gay’s poem, too!

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    June 16, 2012 at 7:20 am

    I love black eyed susans!I always have them coming up on their own every year somewhere in our yard. They have even come up by the burn pile.Now I have quite a few coming up down where my ferns are, they haven’t bloomed yet, but I am looking forward to when they show their colors.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 16, 2012 at 7:13 am

    A beautiful poem. How romantic to have this beautiful flower take it’s name from the verses.

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