Peggy Gordon features a man lamenting over the fact that the woman he loves has slighted him.
The lyrics are a little unclear in explaining the storyline, and may have been altered and adapted by different singers over the years, as happens to so many folk songs.
Although the song has become widely associated with both Irish and Scottish singers, it’s thought to have originated in Canada or Nova Scotia.
Lyrics develop quickly from flirtation to despair
The song begins in a flirtatious way with the singer describing Peggy Gordon as his darling and inviting her to sit down upon his knee.
But this is not to be a happy celebration for the two lovers. The carefree approach of the first two lines is quickly abandoned as the singer asks his lover why she has slighted him.
Troubled mind knows no rest
We are not told in what way the singer has been slighted but in the second verse, we get a clue that Peggy may have been speaking out of turn.
The singer tells us that he is totally in love but then he says: “my heart lies smothered in my breast.” This may mean that he has to suppress his love because Peggy does not return his feelings.
Then he chastises Peggy, suggesting that she has no right to tell people that he loves her, particularly as she doesn’t seem to feel the same way.
I did put my head to a cask of brandy
At this point, the difference between them may be no more than a lover’s tiff. Even when he turns to drink in the form of a cask of brandy, it appears to be just a way of drowning his sorrows after an argument.
While he drinks, he thinks constantly about her and keeps “wishing Peggy Gordon was here”.
The next two verses suggest that the relationship has broken up, although it is not certain.
Where womankind cannot be found
The singer wishes that he were far away across the sea, or in some lonesome valley “where womankind cannot be found”.
It’s not clear whether this is just a temporary over-reaction from a man in the middle of a frustrating argument with his lover or whether the couple have actually broken up.
It can be taken either way: the fact that there are two verses wanting to get away from his troubles strongly suggests the relationship is over, but then most singers repeat the first verse, inviting Peggy to sit on the knee and discuss the problem, suggesting perhaps that we are simply walking in during the middle of a lovers’ fight.
The singer mentions that he wishes he was “away in Ingo”. There is no such place but it’s thought the word may be a corruption of England.