Four Salt-Water Ballads

Song Cycle by J. Frederick Keel (1871 - 1954)

Word count: 731

1. Hell's pavement [sung text checked 1 time]

"When I'm discharged at Liverpool 'n' draws my bit o' pay,
I won't come to sea no more;
I'll court a pretty little lass 'n' have a weddin' day,
'N' settle somewhere down shore;
I'll never fare to sea again a-temptin' Davy Jones,
A-hearkening to the cruel sharks a-hungerin' for my bones;
I'll run a blushin' dairy-farm or go a-crackin' stones,
Or buy 'n' keep a little liquor-store."
                                        So he said.

They towed her in to Liverpool, we made the hooker fast,
And the copper-bound [official]1 paid the crew,
And Billy drew his money, but the money didn't last,
For he painted the alongshore blue,
It was rum for Poll, and rum for Nan, and gin for Jolly Jack;
He shipped a week later in the clothes upon his back;
He had to pinch a little straw, he had to beg a sack
To sleep on, when his watch was through,
                                        So he did.

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First published in Speaker, September 1902
1 Keel: "officials"

Research team for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator] , Mike Pearson

2. A wanderer's song [sung text checked 1 time]

A wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels,
I am tired of brick and stone and rumbling wagon-wheels;
I hunger for the sea's edge, the [limit]1 of the land,
Where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.

Oh I'll be going, leaving the noises of the street,
To where a lifting foresail-foot is yanking at the sheet;
To a windy, tossing anchorage where yawls and ketches ride,
Oh I'll be going, going, until I meet the tide.

And first I'll hear the sea-wind, the mewing of the gulls,
The clucking, sucking of the sea about the rusty hulls,
The songs at the capstan [at]2 the hooker warping out,
And then the heart of me'll know I'm there or thereabout.

Oh I am sick of brick and stone, the heart of me is sick,
For windy green, unquiet sea, the realm of Moby Dick;
And I'll be going, going, from the roaring of the wheels,
For a wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels.

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First published in Speaker (July 1902)
1 Keel: "limits"
2 Keel: "in"

Research team for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator] , Mike Pearson

3. A sailor's prayer [sung text checked 1 time]

When the last sea is sailed and the last shallow charted, 
When the last field is reaped and the last harvest stored, 
When the last fire is out and the last guest departed, 
Grant the last prayer that I shall pray, Be good to me, O Lord! 

And let me pass in a night at sea, a night of storm and thunder, 
In the loud crying of the wind through sail and rope and spar; 
Send me a ninth great peaceful wave to drown and roll me under 
To the cold tunny-fishes' home where the drowned galleons are. 

And in the dim green quiet place far out of sight and hearing, 
Grant I may hear at whiles the wash and thresh of the sea-foam 
About the fine keen bows of the stately clippers steering 
Towards the lone northern star and the fair ports of home. 

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First published as "A last prayer" in Broad Sheet, October 1902

Researcher for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator]

4. Cape Horn Gospel [sung text checked 1 time]

"I was in a hooker once," said Karlssen,
"And Bill, as was a seaman, died,
So we lashed him in an old tarpaulin
And tumbled him across the side;
And the fun of it was that all his gear was
Divided up among the crew
Before that blushing human error
Our crawling little captain, knew.

"On the passage home one morning
(As certain as I prays for grace)
There was old Bill's shadder a-hauling
At the [mizzen weather]1 topsail brace.
He was all grown green with seaweed
He was all lashed up and shored;
So I says to him, I says, 'Why, Billy!
What's a-bringin' of you back aboard?'

"'I'm a-weary of them there mermaids,'
Says old Bill's ghost to me;
'It ain't no place for a Christian
Below there -- under sea.
For it's all blown sand and shipwrecks
And old bones eaten bare,
And them cold fishy females
With long green weeds for hair.

"'And there ain't no dances shuffled,
And no old yarns is spun,
And there ain't no stars but starfish,
And never any moon or sun.
I heard your keel a-passing
And the running rattle of the brace,
And I says, "Stand by,"' says William,
'"For a shift towards a better place."'

"Well, he sogered about decks till sunrise,
When a rooster in the hen-coop crowed,
And as so much smoke he faded,
And as so much smoke he goed;
And I've often wondered since, Jan,
How his old ghost stands to fare
Long o' them cold fishy females
With long green weeds for hair."

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1 Keel: "weather mizzen"

Research team for this text: Emily Ezust [Administrator] , Mike Pearson