High Germany

This song is often cited as a date of c. 1780. The Hanoverian Succession of 1714 seated a German prince on the British throne, and this meant that English troops might be sent to intervene in German affairs. However when Napoleon re-established the Holy Roman Empire as he imagined it, British interest in Germany ceased and war with the French began anew. High Germany is a dated phrase referring to a mountainous location in the southern part of Germany.

The song is really the telling by a woman of the loss of her man to the waste of war – I see this as a complaint song rather than an intentional protest song; the timbre is different.  These kind of songs of venting sorrow and tragedy run hand in hand with intentional protest songs, though, being a more acceptable way to complain than standing up in futile efforts against privileged establishment. The reference to bringing Polly along – It was not altogether uncommon for foot soldiers to bring along their women for long campaigns who would also act as “camp follower” servants – providing the cleaning, the cooking, the comforting.  Not practical, I grant you, but there is sufficient evidence of this practice, if not “officially sanctioned”.

The version below is as sung by Cliff which he in turn had learned from the singing of Martin Carthy.  Cliff capos up two frets when he does this, playing the chords as seen, while Joseph prefers to play it open – Joseph also is the one who sings the verse “The drums beat in the morning…” while Cliff and Martin do not.

 

      Am                    C              G                           Am
Oh Polly, love, oh Polly, the rout has now begun,
Am                    C                          G            G7    Am
We must go a-marching to the beating of a drum.
       C                                                            G
Go dress your self all in your best and come along with me
             Am                      C                            G                   Am
And I’ll take you to the wars, me love, in High Germany.

Oh Willie, love, oh Willie come list what I do say
My feet they are so tender I cannot go away
Besides my dearest Willie I am with child by thee
Not fitting for the cruel wars in High Germany.

I’ll buy for you a horse, my love, and on it you will ride
And all of my delight will be in riding by your side
We’ll stop at every ale-house, and drink when we are dry
Be true to one another; get married by and by.

The drums beat in the morning before the break of day
Sound the shrill fifes loud and clear while yet the morn was gray;
Lo, the battle flag unfurled, a gallant sight to see,
And woe to me, my love was sent to High Germany.

Oh cursed be those cruel wars that ever did they rise
And out of merry England pressed many a man likewise;
They pressed my true-love from me, likewise my brothers three
And sent them to the wars m’love in High Germany.

My friends I do not value and my foes I do not fear
Now my love has left me, I wander far and near
But when my baby it is born and smiling on my knee
I’ll think of lovely Willie in High Germany.

Oh Polly, love, oh Polly, the rout has now begun,
We must go a-marching to the beating of a drum.
Go, dress your self all in your best and come along with me
And I’ll take you to the wars, me love, in High Germany.

 

 

 

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