John Riley (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

"John Riley" is a traditional English folk song (Roud #264, Laws N42). It is also known as "Johnny Riley", "The Broken Token" and "A Fair Young Maid All in Her Garden", among other titles.


The song is derived from Homer's Odyssey, interpreted through the 17th century English folk ballad tradition, and tells the story of a prospective suitor who asks a woman if she will marry him.[1] She replies that she cannot because she is betrothed to John Riley, who has gone away over the seas.

The man persists, asking her whether Riley is worth waiting for and suggesting that he may have drowned, been killed in war, or married another woman. She steadfastly maintains that she will continue to wait for Riley, regardless of his possible fate. In the last stanza, the suitor reveals that he is in fact John Riley, returned from the seas, and has been testing his beloved.

The song's theme, that of the "disguised true lover", has long been a theme in traditional folk ballads and several variations of this song exist.

Versions in popular culture[edit]


A fair young maid all in her garden,
A strange young man comes passing by
Saying fair maid, will you marry me
And this answer was her reply

No kind sir, I cannot marry thee
For I've a love who sails all on the sea
He's been gone for seven years
But still no man will I marry

Well what if he's in some battle slain
Or drowned in the deep salt sea
Or what if he's found another love
And he and his love both married be?

If he's in some battle slain
I will die, when the moon doth wane
And if he's drowned in the deep salt sea
I'll be true to his memory

And if he's found another love
And he and his love both married be
Then I wish them health and happiness
Where they now dwell across the sea

He picked her up all in his arms
And kisses gave her one two and three
Saying weep no more my own true love
I am your long lost John Riley.


  1. ^ a b c Johnny Rogan (1998). The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (2nd ed.). Rogan House. p. 184. ISBN 0-9529540-1-X.
  2. ^ "Pete Seeger - Darling Corey". Allmusic. Retrieved December 11, 2018.
  3. ^ "Bob Gibson - The Riverside Folklore Series, Vol. 1: Joy Joy! The Young And Wonderful Bob Gibson". Allmusic. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  4. ^ "Song - John Riley". Bob Gibson Folk Legacy. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  5. ^ "Joan Baez album review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  6. ^ "Songs of Earth and Sky - Art & Paul". Retrieved January 8, 2018.
  7. ^ "Songs of Earth and Sky review". Allmusic. Archived from the original on February 24, 2005. Retrieved 2009-07-18.
  8. ^ "A Maid of Constant Sorrow review". Allmusic. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
  9. ^ The Byrds, The Byrds: Fifth Dimension, Columbia/Legacy CK 64847, © 1996
  10. ^ "William Pint - Round the Corner". Allmusic. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Steve Knightley, Phil Beer (1998). "Show of Hands - Folk Music". Retrieved March 8, 2018.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  12. ^ "Self Titled - Carol Noonan". Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  13. ^ "John Langstaff - John Langstaff Sings Archival Folk Collection". Allmusic. Retrieved October 13, 2018.
  14. ^ "Andromeda Season 5 Episode 22 script". Retrieved August 12, 2019.