Billy in the Darbies

"Billy in the Darbies," for baritone and piano, sets the poem found at the end of Melville's Billy-Budd, published posthumously in 1924. Bacon dedicated the song to William Parker. Some of the text is spoken over piano accompaniment instead of sung.

Darbies is British slang for handcuffs.

The piece was first published in 2001 by Classical Vocal Reprints.

Date: 1976Composer: Ernst BaconText: Herman Melville

Print vitals & song text


Billy in the Darbies
by Herman Melville

Good of the Chaplain to enter Lone Bay
And down on his marrow-bones here and pray
For the likes just o’ me, Billy Budd.–But look:
Through the port comes the moonshine astray!
It tips the guard’s cutlas and silvers this nook;
But ’twill die in the dawning of Billy’s last day.
A jewel-block they’ll make of me tomorrow,
Pendant pearl from the yard-arm-end
Like the ear-drop I gave to Bristol Molly–
O, ’tis me, not the sentence they’ll suspend.
Ay, Ay, all is up; and I must up too
Early in the morning, aloft from alow.
On an empty stomache, now, never it would do.
They’ll give me a nibble–bit o’ biscuit ere I go.
Sure, a messmate will reach me the last parting cup;
But, turning heads away from the hoist and the belay,
Heaven knows who will have the running of me up!
No pipe to those halyards.–But aren’t it all sham?
A blur’s in my eyes; it is dreaming that I am.
A hatchet to my hawser? all adrift to go?
The drum roll to grog, and Billy never know?
But Donald he has promised to stand by the plank;
So I’ll shake a friendly hand ere I sink.
But–no! It is dead then I’ll be, come to think.–
I remember Taff the Welshman when he sank.
And his cheek it was like the budding pink.
But me they’ll lash me in hammock, drop me deep.
Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep.
I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there?
Just ease this darbies at the wrist,
And roll me over fair,
I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.


The Listeners

(Ernst Bacon, Theodore Chanler, Lee Hoiby, John Jacob Niles and Ned Rorem)


Sheet Music

Billy in the Darbies

Composer(s): Ernst Bacon

Song(s): Billy in the Darbies

Buy via Classical Vocal Reprints

Support us and help us grow

Dear friends, Thank you for helping us build a comprehensive online archive of American song. Your gift is greatly appreciated.