‘Half-caste woman’ is a song by Noel Coward, an English playwright, composer, director, actor and singer, known for his wit and flamboyance.
With its reference to ‘something tragic’ and ‘slanting eyes’, ‘Half-Caste Woman’ evokes stereotypes of ‘the tragic Eurasian’, a popular figure in the colonial English imagination. Little is known about the song itself though it has been claimed that it is about prostitution, a rather risky topic for the conservative attitudes of the 1930s. Cole Porter wrote “Love for Sale” on the same theme and the lyrics were promptly banned. The greater obscurity in Coward’s lyrics, however, meant it got past the censors.
Down along the river
The sky is a quiver
And dawn is beginning to rake.
Hear the sirens wailing
Some big ship is sailing.
I’m losing my dreams in its wake.
Why should I remember the things that are past
Moments so softly gone.
Why worry for the Lord knows
Time goes on.
Go to bed in daylight.
Try to sleep in vain.
Get up in the evening.
Work begins again.
Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief
Questioning the same refrain.
Half-caste woman, living a life apart.
Where did your story begin?
Half-caste woman, have you a secret heart
Waiting for someone to win?
Were you born of some queer magic
In your shimmering gown?
Is there something strange and tragic
Deep, deep down?
Half-caste woman, what are your slanting eyes
Waiting and hoping to see?
Scanning the far horizon
Wondering what the end will be.