Sir Patrick Spens

I think this is just stunning:

Here are the lyrics:

SIR PATRICK SPENS (Child Ballad #58)

 The king sits in Dumfermline town
Drinking the blood red wine
Where can I get a good captain
To sail this ship of mine?

Then up and spoke a sailor boy
Sitting at the king’s right knee
“Sir Patrick Spens is the best captain
That ever sailed to sea”

The king he wrote a broad letter
And he sealed it with his hand
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens
Walking out on the strand

“To Norroway, to Norroway
To Norway o’er the foam
With all my lords in finery
To bring my new bride home”

The first line that Sir Patrick read
He gave a weary sigh
The next line that Sir Patrick read
The salt tear blinds his eye

“Oh, who was it? Oh, who was it?
Who told the king of me
To set us out this time of year
To sail across the sea”

“But rest you well, my good men all
Our ship must sail the morn
With four and twenty noble lords
Dressed up in silk so fine”

“And four and twenty feather beds
To lay their heads upon
Away, away, we’ll all away
To bring the king’s bride home”

“I fear, I fear, my captain dear
I fear we’ll come to harm
Last night I saw the new moon clear
The old moon in her arm”

“Oh be it fair or be it foul
Or be it deadly storm
Or blow the wind where e’er it will
Our ship must sail the morn”

They hadn’t sailed a day, a day
A day but only one
When loud and boisterous blew the wind
And made the good ship moan

They hadn’t sailed a day, a day
A day but only three
When oh, the waves came o’er the sides
And rolled around their knees

They hadn’t sailed a league, a league
A league but only five
When the anchor broke and the sails were torn
And the ship began to rive

They hadn’t sailed a league, a league
A league but only nine
When oh, the waves came o’er the sides
Driving to their chins

“Who will climb the topmast high
While I take helm in hand?
Who will climb the topmast high
To see if there be dry land?”

“No shore, no shore, my captain dear
I haven’t seen dry land
But I have seen a lady fair
With a comb and a glass in her hand”

“Come down, come down, you sailor boy
I think you tarry long
The salt sea’s in at my coat neck
And out at my left arm”

“Come down, come down, you sailor boy
It’s here that we must die
The ship is torn at every side
And now the sea comes in”

Loathe, loathe were those noble lords
To wet their high heeled shoes
But long before the day was o’er
Their hats they swam above

And many were the feather beds
That fluttered on the foam
And many were those noble lords
That never did come home

It’s fifty miles from shore to shore
And fifty fathoms deep
And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens
The lords all at his feet

Long, long may his lady look
With a lantern in her hand
Before she sees her Patrick Spens
Come sailing home again

Most modern versions of this old ballad (June Tabor says it first appeared in Percy’s Reliques in 1765) follow the tune used by Nic Jones, but there are several other tunes too. I have no idea where Anais and Jefferson got their tune from – perhaps Anais wrote it – but I think it’s glorious! As are their harmonies! This is taken from a new album of songs from the Child Ballads; Anais and Jefferson say that the songs on this album have been ‘carefully re-imagined to reflect an American sensibility as well as a deep respect for the tradition’. Good for them, I say; this is what the folk process has always done (and I’ve done a fair bit of it myself!).

Anais’ website is here. There are some interesting notes about the various versions of this song here. I want this album!!!


Published by

Tim Chesterton

Family man; pastor of St. Margaret's Anglican Church on Ellerslie Road, Edmonton; storyteller; traditional folk musician and occasional songwriter. Email me at timchesterton at outlook dot com.

One thought on “Sir Patrick Spens”

  1. Oh, it is stunning, Tim. When I commented about the video on Facebook, I was listening on my laptop, which has pretty crap sound. The performance is lovely, lovely, lovely.

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