The Water is Wide is the American version of the old traditional Irish song, Carrickfergus.
The theme of two lovers separated by an insurmountable obstacle such as a river, sea or lake is found in the traditional folklore of most English speaking countries.
But it’s through this haunting Irish melody that the story is best known.
The story within the Water is Wide
The song is told from the point of the singer who is unable to be with the person they love. The reason is put down to location – the singer cannot get to loved one because the water is too wide to cross.
This interpretation may be too literal, however, because the song also contain suggestions that all may not be well in the relationship.
A story of being apart
The Water is Wide lyrics tell the story of two lovers who are forced to live apart.
The reason is not clear but if you interpret the song literally then geography at least plays apart because “the water is wide” and the singer cannot get over.
It could be that the separation is to do with emigration which would explain the fact that the lovers are separated by the ocean. Or it could be that the singer has fallen for someone they can never have because of class or religion.
Is the lyric about unrequited love?
There is also the suggestion that the relationship may have cooled as the singers refers to how “love grows old and waxes cold”.
If this is the case then the “water is wide” may be just a metaphor to highlight the gulf between two people – one of whom loves but is not loved in return.
Is the water just a metaphor?
The real problem for the singer may be the fact that their love is not returned. Or it could be that the relationship is over and the singer cannot rekindle it.
There is certainly a strong suggestion that things may have cooled. The second verse talks about how love is fine when its new but it can grow cold and fade away like morning dew.
Performances of the Water is Wide
The Water is Wide has been a hugely popular traditional song, particularly in America, since the middle of the nineteenth century.
It has been performed by several of the world’s top artists including Joan Baez, James Taylor, Sheryl Crowe, Eva Cassidy, Pete Seeger, Liam Clancy and Charlotte Church.