Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Simply Selkie!

I received an extensive comment on one of my recent postings. Knowing that many skip the comments (or perhaps, do not even know they are there to read), I am taking the liberty of reposting it and adding in a few links.

Thank you "anonymous"!

Simply Selkie


I found some copy about the great Selkie on Orkneyjar, and several other blogs. Judy Collins sang it, and Jean Ritchie, and several other wonderful folksingers who love ballads. It's in Child's Ballads, which I have here somewhere in my overcrowded messy room we call an office.

The copy below I took directly from the Orkneyjar site. There's a great discussion of the sealskin myth called "Sealskin, Soulskin" in Women who Run with the Wolves. I also checked some of the links on the Orkneyjar site; it turns out that the selkie myth comes from north of Norway, the Saami folk, the Finn folk--my people. How about that? The sealskin myth is all about homecoming--it would seem following links on a website sometimes takes you home, too. For all you seal-loving folks out there.

The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry

The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry - or Grey Selkie of Suleskerry, as it is also known - is one of Orkney's best-known and most haunting ballads.

It was first written down in 1938 by one Dr Otto Andersson, who had heard the song sung on the island of Flotta.

It recounts the tale of a young Orcadian maiden who falls in love with an elusive selkie-man. She has a child by him but, shortly after, the selkie-man disappears, leaving her alone with her baby son.

Some years later the maiden comes across a grey seal by the shore. The seal says to her:

"I'm a man upon the land, I'm a selkie in the sea; and when I'm far frae every stand, my dwelling is in Suleskerry."

She realises the creature before her is none other than her selkie lover, but he once again vanishes beneath the waves, only to return again seven years later. After giving his son a golden chain, the boy leaves his mother and goes with father to the sea.

The woman marries and some time later, when her husband is out hunting, he shoots two seals - one old and grey, the other younger. Around the neck of the young seal was a gold chain, which the hunter takes home to give his wife.

Upon receiving the gift she realises her son is dead.

Some of the verses of the ballad are still remembered in the islands but the tune was very nearly lost. As with all folk ballads there are various versions.

The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry

Version 1

I heard a mother lull her bairn,
and aye she rocked, and aye she sang.
She took so hard upon the verse
that the heart within her body rang.

"O, cradle row, and cradle go,
and aye sleep well, my bairn within;
I ken not who thy father is,
nor yet the land that he dwells in."

And up then spake a grey selchie
as aye he woke her from her sleep,
"I'll tell where thy bairn's father is:
he's sittin' close by thy bed feet.

"I am a man upon the land;
I am a selchie on the sea,
and when I'm far frae ev'ry strand,
my dwelling is in Sule Skerry.

"And foster well my wee young son,
aye for a twal'month and a day,
and when that twal'month's fairly done,
I'll come and pay the nourice fee."

And when that weary twal'month gaed,
he's come tae pay the nourice fee;
he had ae coffer fu' o' gowd,
and anither fu' o'the white money.

"Upon the skerry is thy son;
upon the skerry lieth he.
Sin thou would see thine ain young son,
now is the time tae speak wi' he."

"But how shall I my young son know
when thou ha' ta'en him far frae me?"
"The one who wears the chain o' gowd,
`mang a' the selchies shall be he.

"And thou will get a hunter good,
and a richt fine hunter I'm sure he'll be;
and the first ae shot that e'er he shoots
will kill baith my young son and me."

The Great Selkie o' Suleskerry

Version 2

In Norway land there lived a maid,
'Hush bee loo lillie' this maid began;
'I know not where my baby's father is,
Whether by land or sea he does travel in.'

It happened on a certain day
When this fair lady fell fast asleep,
That in cam' a good greay selchie
And set him down at her bed feet,

Sayin' 'Awak, awak, my pretty maid,
For oh, how sound as thou dost sleep!
An' I'll tell thee where thy baby's father is-
He's sittin' close at thy bed feet!'

'I pray, come tell to me thy name,
Oh, tell me where does thy dwelling be?'
'My name it is good Hein Mailer
An' I earn my livin' oot o' the sea.

I am a man upo' the land,
I am a selchie in the sea,
And when I'm far frae every strand
My dwellin' is in Sule Skerrie.'

'Alas, alas, this woeful fate!-
This weary fate that's been laid for me,
That a man should come from the Wast o' Hoy
To the Norway lands to have a bairn wi' me!'

'My dear, I'll wed thee with a ring,
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee.'
'Thoo may go wed thee weddens wi' whom thoo wilt,
For I'm sure thoo'll never wed none wi' me!'

'Thoo wilt nurse my little wee son
For seven long years upo' thy knee,
An' at the end o' seven long years
I'll come back and pay the norish fee.'

Now he had ta'en a purse of guld
And he has put it upon her knee,
Saying 'Gi'e to me my little young son,
And take thee up thy nourrice fee.'

She says 'My dear, I'll wed thee wi' a ring,
Wi' a ring, my dear, I'll wed wi' thee!'
Thoo may go wed these [thee's] weddens wi' whom thoo wilt,
For I'm sure thoo'll never wed none wi' me!

But I'll put a gold chain around his neck
An' a gey good gold chain it'll be,
That if ever he comes to the Norway lands
Thoo may have a gey good guess on he,

An' thoo will get a gunner good,
An' a gey good gunner it will be,
An' he'll gae oot on a May mornin'
An' shoot the son an' the grey selchie.'

Oh, she has got a gunner good,
An' a gey good gunner it was he,
An' he went out on a May mornin'
An' he shot the son and the grey selchie.

(When the gunner returned from his expedition he showed the Norway woman the gold chain he had found round the neck of a young seal, and a final verse expresses her grief):

Alas, alas this woeful fate
This weary fate that's been laid for me.'
And once or twice she sobbed and sighed,
An' her tender heart did brak' in three.

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