The iconic Carter Family of Country Music origins (A. P., Sarah, and “Mother” Maybelle) were known for their classic songs. “The Storms are on the Ocean” is one of them. I have been dabbling in autoharp playing for a while and as I sang this one, homesickness flew all through me. I miss my Virginia Mountains of home. The Clinch Mountain was easily viewed from the front porch of my boyhood home, and it ran all the way up the Poor Valley to the site where the Carters were from, just 10 or so miles from my home. I’ve lived in several places, and for some reason I get the feelings of homesickness from time to time when I’ve not been able to touch home and see my beautiful mountains.
The song is the story of two lovers parting when one of them has to go to war (the “Storms” on the ocean). They promise to be true to each other, but the one left behind questions who will take care of her when the soldier is gone away. In the chorus the promise is made “This world will lose it’s motion, love, if I prove false to thee.” The last verse about the “mournful dove” mourning for “his own true love, like I have mourned for mine” gives a clue that the soldier never returned, having died in battle.
I think this song is a metaphor for all of us who have left home and gone in the wider world to fight the storms on life’s oceans. The promise to be true is a promise to remain loyal to home and hearth and heritage. At least for me it is. But, alas, as Thomas Wolfe has suggested, “we can’t go home again.” And if we could, we would find it a very different home than the one we left, making the mourning even more acute.
It isn’t the best version, but it’s my version. I share it for you to contemplate your own sense of home.