My Bonnie lies over the ocean

‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’ is a popular nursery rhyme. It may refer to Bonnie Prince Charlie, or Charles Edward Stuart. 

My Bonnie lies over the ocean Visual Representation

My Bonnie lies over the ocean‘ may or may not have been written after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden in 1746. Some scholars believe that Jacobite supporters could’ve written and sung this song in his honor, pining for the ideals he represented. today, the song is commonly sung about and for someone that the singer loves or cares for. The word “Bonnie” can be used to refer to a man, woman, or a child.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea.
My Bonnie lies over the ocean.
So bring back my Bonnie to me.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea.
My Bonnie lies over the ocean.
So bring back my Bonnie to me.

Bring back, bring back,
Bring back my Bonnie to me. to me
Bring back, bring back,
Bring back my Bonnie to me. 

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,
My Bonnie lies over the sea.
My Bonnie lies over the ocean.
So bring back my Bonnie to me.

Bring back, bring back,
Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me.
Bring back, bring back,
Bring back my Bonnie to me.


Summary

‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’ is a well-loved rhyme that uses repetition to express a speaker’s desire to be reunited with someone they love.

The poem uses the same few lines to describe how they’re separated from their “Bonnie” and how they want to be together again. This may refer to Bonnie Prince Charlie and date back to the mid-1700s or it may have different origins. Either way, the lines are commonly interpreted as love-related. The speaker is pining for this unspecified person and needs them to come back as soon as they can. 

Structure and Form 

‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’ is a five-stanza nursery rhyme that is separated out into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD. Sometimes, the same end words and sounds are repeated between stanzas. For example, “me” is used in every stanza at least once. There are also many other examples of exact rhymes in which the same words are used. The first and second stanzas uses “ocean” at the end of the odd-numbered lines. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this short rhyme, there are several literary devices at work. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Refrain: the repetition of an entire phrase without changing any of the words. For example, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” and “So bring back my Bonnie to me.” Repetition is the most important literary device at work in this nursery rhyme. 
  • Anaphora: the repetition of the same words at the beginning of lines. For example, “My Bonnie” which starts nine of the lines and “Bring back” which starts eight of the lines, including all of stanzas three and five. 
  • Epistrophe: can be seen when the same word or words are used at the end of multiple lines. For example, “over the ocean” and “to me.” 
  • Alliteration: occurs when the same consonant sound is used at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “bring back” and “Bonnie” in the refrain. 


Detailed Analysis 

Stanzas One and Two 

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,

My Bonnie lies over the sea.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean.

So bring back my Bonnie to me.

 My Bonnie lies over the ocean,

My Bonnie lies over the sea.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean.

So bring back my Bonnie to me.

In the first stanzas of the song, the same three lines are repeated. They are: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean,” “My Bonnie lies over the sea,” and “So bring back my Bonnie to me.” They use the same end sounds, and sometimes the same end words. This creates a perfect rhyme scheme that’s quite easy to remember. Repetition is incredibly important here and this is not the last time that readers are going to see these same lines. 

Because there is so much repetition in this song, often, the stanzas are rearranged and used in different orders. This doesn’t affect the song that much considering how similar they are. Plus, it also means that the song can go on as long as someone singing it wants it to. 

Stanzas Three, Four, and Five

Bring back, bring back,

Bring back my Bonnie to me. to me

Bring back, bring back,

Bring back my Bonnie to me.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean,

My Bonnie lies over the sea.

My Bonnie lies over the ocean.

So bring back my Bonnie to me.

Bring back, bring back,

Bring back my Bonnie to me, to me.

Bring back, bring back,

Bring back my Bonnie to me.

The third stanza is different than the first two. It uses examples of caesura in the first and third lines and a different kind of repetition throughout. Phrases like “to me” are repeated one after another. But, the song continues on the same path, asking that someone’s “Bonnie” be returned to them. 

Depending on one’s interpretation of this song (see above) this might refer to a historical figure or simply to someone’s loved one. The word “Bonnie” is used as a descriptor, usually for a woman, who someone else loves and believes is beautiful. But, it could also be used to describe anyone the speaker is attached to. They’re asking to be reunited with this person. 

The poem ends with a repetition of the first stanza and a repetition of the third stanza. This rounds the entire song out with a predictable ending but no conclusion to the conflict. It’s never revealed whether or not the speaker’s “Bonnie” was returned to them. This suggests that the problem extends beyond the limits of the song. 

In other versions of the song, readers might encounter the following stanza: 

The winds have blown over the ocean

The winds have blown over the sea

The winds have blown over the ocean

And brought back my Bonnie to me

Others still include stanzas like: 

Last night as I lay on my pillow

Last night as I lay on my bed

Last night as I lay on my pillow

I dreamt that my Bonnie was dead


FAQs 

What is ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’ about? 

The song was perhaps inspired by the defeat of Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. But, today it’s regarded as a love song in which someone pines for someone they care about to return. 

What is the tone of ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean?’ 

The tone is mournful and longing. The speaker needs their love or Bonnie to come back to them and the repetition asserts that this is something that’s been in the works for a long time. 

Who is the speaker in ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’

The speaker is someone who is separated from their loved one. Or, perhaps someone (or a group) mourning the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in the mid-1700s. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed ‘My Bonnie lies over the ocean’ should also consider reading some other nursery rhymes. For example: 

  • Foxy’s Hole’ – a nursery rhyme that talks about putting a finger in the fox’s hole to find if it’s there or not.
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a fly’ – a funny children’s rhyme. It describes an old lady who swallows everything from a fly to a cat to a horse.
  • As I Was Going by Charing Cross– was first recorded in the 1840s. But, it likely dates to an early decade. It’s thought that this nursery rhyme was likely shared through street cries or chants.

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My Bonnie lies over the ocean Visual Representation
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
  • Andrew Wigglesworth says:

    Sorry, but the Jacobite connexion is pure romancing, as is a Scottish one.

    Look up the song “Bring back my Barney to me”, published in c. 1860 by the great music hall performer and song writer Harry Clifton.

    ———-
    Send back my Barney to me.

    He is gone and I’m now sad and lonely,
    He has left me to cross the wide sea,
    But I know that he thinks of me only,
    And will soon be returning to me.

    His eyes they were fill’d with devotion
    As my husband he said he’d soon be
    Then blow gently ye winds of the ocean
    And send back my Barney to me.

    If at night as I rest on my pillow,
    The wind heaves a moan and a sigh,
    I think of each angry billow,
    And watch ev’ry cloud o’er the sky.

    My bosom it fills with emotion,
    As I pray for one over the sea,
    Then blow gently ye winds of the ocean
    And send back my Barney to me.

    He has left me his fortune to better,
    I know that he went for my sake,
    Soon I’ll be receiving a letter,
    If not sure my poor heart will break.

    To say that he’ll soon be returning,
    To his dear native Ireland and me,
    The blow gently ye winds of the ocean
    And send back my Barney to me.

    http://monologues.co.uk/musichall/Songs-S/Send-Back-My-Barney-To-Me.htm
    ——-

    The song has had many parodies and adaptions with choruses etc. It became popular in US student “Glee Clubs” which produced various parodies/adaptations of the song.

    What you have here is a very distilled version, possibly from people half-remembering the song or just wanting this part of the parodied song.

    “What I am writing here is not my personal revelation, but open to anyone who delves into the origins of this song. It is well summarised by Malcolm Douglas on a Mudcat Cafe discussion thread:

    ——
    ” c.1860: ‘Send Back My Barney to Me’ written and published by Harry Clifton.

    “The song is quickly taken up by other performers in Britain and America. In the USA in particular it is ‘favoured by Irish comedians’ and is printed on broadsides and in songsters, frequently uncredited to Clifton and instead assumed to be, or claimed as, Irish.

    “By 1881 an adaptation or parody, with the tune a bit changed, begins to appear in print as ‘My Bonnie’. It seems to have started out as a student song, most likely in America; a song-sheet issued in 1882 by Harms of New York as ‘Bring Back My Bonnie to Me’ credits it to H J Fulmer (Charles E Pratt) and J T Woods, but the text is reputedly rather different and no conclusions can be drawn without seeing both words and music. Evidently ‘Barney’ and ‘Bonnie’ continue alongside each other for a time, with other songs being written that appear to have been inspired by them; or at any rate by the former.

    “By the early C20, ‘My Bonnie’ has eclipsed its parent, which is largely forgotten. The song’s enormous popularity leads to further parodies and to the tune being adopted for other songs in the same metre like ‘My father was hung for sheep-stealing’. This leads even some scholars to assume that the tune is Scottish.

    “The general public don’t need to ‘deduce’, of course; to them it is not only patently obvious that any song with the word ‘bonnie’ in it must be Scottish, but also that, if the sea is mentioned as well, it must be about ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’. The more inventive may go for a less hackneyed option like ‘Bonnie George Campbell’, but with an equal lack of backup.”

    ———–
    This is the Mudcat thread, though you have to dig deep into it to start finding the answers posed.

    https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=21476

    All in all, as I wrote at the beginning, the Jacobite (and Scottish) attributions are modern assumptions, back-formations and romancing.

    • Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you so much for this. This really does help to enhance the article and add a far more informed view on the piece.

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