The boatman agreed to ferry Lord Ullin’s daughter and her lover across Lochgyle for her sake, not for the lover’s.
The ballad tells the tale of a willful young lady who elopes with her lover, the chief of Ulva’s Isle. He explains to the boatman that they have to go out, even in the terrible storm, because her father is waiting to kill him. He does not approve of the elopement, because apparently Lord Ullin has a higher rank than the chief of Ulva’s Isle.
The boatman does not seem to care for the lover. He does seem to like the lady. He says that he will take them out in the storm, even though he is risking his own life, for her sake.
Out spoke the hardy Highland wight,--
``I'll go, my chief--I'm ready:--
It is not for your silver bright;
But for your winsome lady:
As a result, they all drown. The father regrets his choice of forcing his daughter to go out in the storm. He realizes that he should have found another solution, because her love for this man was so deep that she was willing to die with him rather than risk his certain death.
Ballads are a type of lyric poetry that tell a story, often a sad story, in verse. It is common for a ballad to focus on love, including the forbidden love of this poem.