Robin Gray is a good old man who marries a young woman already in love with a man named Jamie. Jamie goes away to sea in order to earn money so that the couple can marry. The woman, who narrates the ballad, tells the story of being compelled by her parents' misfortune to marry Robin Gray while her lover is away. Robin promises to maintain her and her parents in return for her hand. Jamie returns a few weeks after the marriage, looking like a ghost. They have a sad reunion, kiss and tear themselves away from each other. The woman resolves to do her best to be a good wife to Robin, though she is extremely sad at the loss of her true love.
The original tune was composed by the Rev. William Leeves. George Thomson commissioned Joseph Haydn to arrange the ballad for piano and soprano, as well as for piano, violin, cello, and soprano.
Lady Anne Barnard (née Lindsay; 12 December 1750 – 6 May 1825) was a Scottish travel writer, artist and socialite, born at Balcarres House in Fife, the ninth child and first daughter of Anne Lindsay, and James, Earl of Balcarres.
Young Jamie lo'ed me weel, and sought me for his bride;
But saving a croun he had naething else beside:
Tae make the croun a pund, young Jamie gaed tae sea;
And the croun and the pund were baith for me.
He hadna been awa' a week but only twa,
When my father brak his arm, and the cow was stown awa;
My mother she fell sick,-and my Jamie at the sea-
And auld Robin Gray came a-courtin' me.
My father couldna work, and my mother couldna spin;
I toil't day and night, but their bread I couldna win;
Auld Rob maintain'd them baith, and wi' tears in his e'e
Said, 'Jennie, for their sakes, O, marry me!'
My heart it said nay; I look'd for Jamie back;
But the wind it blew high, and the ship it was a wrack;
His ship it was a wrack-Why didna Jamie dee?
Or why do I live tae cry, Wae 's me?
My father urged me sair: my mother didna speak;
But she look'd in my face till my heart was like tae break:
They gi'ed him my hand, tho' my heart was in the sea;
Sae auld Robin Gray he was gudeman tae me.
I hadna been a wife a week but only four,
When mournfu' as I sat on the stane at the door,
I saw my Jamie's wraith,-for I couldna think it he,
Till he said, 'I'm come hame tae marry thee.'
O sair, sair did we greet, and muckle did we say;
We took but ae kiss, and we tore ourselves away:
I wish that I were dead, but I'm no like tae dee;
And why was I born tae say, Wae 's me!
I gang like a ghaist, and I carena tae spin;
I daurna think on Jamie, for that wad be a sin;
But I'll do my best a gude wife aye tae be,
For auld Robin Gray he is kind untae me.