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Sealskin Jacket, The


Garraed Galbraith            


The Sealskin Jacket
By Garraed Galbraith (aka Tim Jennings) Copywright 2004
Note: This piece is an example of the ballad form, and varies little from the traditional style of ballad found in the pre-1600 period of English folk ballads. The Selkie is a well known Scottish and North sea mythological creature. A woman or man who can become a seal by wearing a sealskin. The jacket is my own variation. It is the source of several stories, none of which end very happily. ‘An Aba’ is an island just off the coast of Gigha, an Island in the southern Hebrides, and means ‘The Cell’.
 

Come gather and listen O’ friends and companions
Come listen and gather to me
I’ll sing of a lady with eyes like the ocean
As deep and as black as the sea
As deep and as black as the sea
 
When I was a young man I used to go fishing
For fishing’s the way that I live
I’d take from the Sea all the bounty she offered
Though she had but little to give
Though she had but little to give
 
A poor man was I, but I loved well the ocean
And sailed her from ‘morn unto night
Alone I would sail her and sing to her softly
Beneath a moon shining so bright
 
‘Twas there on the rocks by the pool of ‘An Aba’
I first glimpsed her beauty so rare
She swam in the moonlight, with grace of an otter
The starshine a crown in her hair
The starshine a crown in her hair
 
I watched as she swam in the light of a moonbeam
Her skin soft and white as the snow
She turned as she heard the soft splash of my paddle
Her eyes filled with wonder and woe
Her eyes filled with wonder and woe
 
‘Young man, you have caught me’ she sang to me sofly
Her voice like the song of the sea
“And now that you’ve seen me in naught but the moonlight
You now must be married to me”.
 
She climbed to the rocks and she fetched there a jacket
A wondrous jacket indeed
‘Twas made of black Sealskin, with fine silver buttons
All trimmed in bright coral and bead
All trimmed in bright coral and bead
 
She walked to me slowly. Her eyes never wavered
“Wear this when you go out to sea.
For the day that you do not, that day I will leave you!”
Said I “Then it never shall be.”
Said I “Then it never shall be.”
 
We married that evening, out there on the ocean
My boat was our soft bridal bed
The waves sang so sweetly as we travelled homeward.
For I, and the woman I’d wed.
 
Each day on the ocean, I wore the fine jacket
And great was the luck that I knew
Each night on returning, she’d kiss me so sweetly
We swore that we’d always be true.
We swore that we’d always be true.
 
She bore me two sons and a beautiful daughter
And happy and joyous were we
The girl was a beauty, with eyes like her mothers
The boys were both fishers like me
The boys were both fishers like me
 
The years passed us by and my sons grew to manhood
And they had the luck just like me
We sailed on the ocean and sang to her softly
And brought home the gifts of the sea
 
But fate can be cruel and the waters are fickle
And storms are the sailor-man’s bane
For out on the ocean, a tempest engulfed us
My mast, it was snapped by the strain
My mast, it was snapped by the strain
 
It dashed out our hull on the rocks by “An Aba”
‘Twas there I was thrown overboard.
The lightning was flashing. The thunder was blasting.
About us the waves and winds roared.
About us the waves and winds roared.
 
I swam to the rocks in my fine sealskin jacket
That jacket it weighted me down
‘But never’ I thought ‘Can I be parted from her!
O’ surely ‘tis better to drown’
 
I do not remember just how they did save me
Those strapping and brave boys of mine
For when I awoke, at the dawn of a new day
Gone was my jacket so fine
Gone was my jacket so fine
 
I ran to our homestead to stop her from leaving
To beg her and make her to stay
But late in that evening she left me forever
And black was the dawn of that day
And black was the dawn of that day
 
Beware all ye young men who love well the ocean
Who sing to the waves and the tide
Or else you may meet a maid, there on the water,
Or else she may come home your bride
 
…For I have a daughter who look like her mother
With eyes deep and black as the sea
And she’s making a jacket. A fine sealskin jacket
And soon she will go far from me
And soon she will go far from me
 
…And soon she will go to the sea.





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