Sweet Polly Oliver
"Sweet Polly Oliver" is an English broadside ballad (Roud #367), traceable from 1840 or earlier. It is also known as "Pretty Polly Oliver" and has several variant sets of lyrics, set to a single anonymous melody.
It is one of the best known of a number of folk songs describing women disguising themselves as men to join the army to be with their lovers.
- As sweet Polly Oliver lay musing in bed,
- A sudden strange fancy came into her head.
- "Nor father nor mother shall make me false prove,
- I'll 'list as a soldier, and follow my love."
- So early next morning she softly arose,
- And dressed herself up in her dead brother's clothes.
- She cut her hair close, and she stained her face brown,
- And went for a soldier to fair London Town.
- Then up spoke the sergeant one day at his drill,
- "Now who's good for nursing? A captain, he's ill."
- "I'm ready," said Polly. To nurse him she's gone,
- And finds it's her true love all wasted and wan.
- The first week the doctor kept shaking his head,
- "No nursing, young fellow, can save him," he said.
- But when Polly Oliver had nursed him back to life
- He cried, "You have cherished him as if you were his wife".
- O then Polly Oliver, she burst into tears
- And told the good doctor her hopes and her fears,
- And very shortly after, for better or for worse,
- The captain took joyfully his pretty soldier nurse.
The main theme of Terry Pratchett’s book, Monstrous Regiment, in which a young woman named Polly, who has heard the song sung in her father's inn, joins the army, as a man, to find her brother, taking the name Oliver.
Several versions of "Polly Oliver" survive as undated broadside ballad sheets in the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford.