Friday, August 28, 2009

Three Fishers

One of the ideas I'm entertaining for my dissertation has something to do with maritime cemeteries and death at sea. As part of the initial research, I'm looking at 19th-century songs about shipwrecks and listening to modern recordings of these songs when I can find them.

My most recent discovery is a poem/song called "Three Fishers," which was written by Charles Kingsley in 1851. It is truly the most depressing song I have ever heard.

Three fishers went sailing away to the West,
Away to the West as the sun went down;
Each thought on the woman who loved him the best,
And the children stood watching them out of the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And there's little to earn, and many to keep,
Though the harbour bar be moaning.

Three wives sat up in the lighthouse tower,
And they trimmed the lamps as the sun went down;
They looked at the squall, and they looked at the shower,
And the night-rack came rolling up ragged and brown.
But men must work, and women must weep,
Though storms be sudden, and waters deep,
And the harbour bar be moaning.

Three corpses lay out on the shining sands
In the morning gleam as the tide went down,
And the women are weeping and wringing their hands
For those who will never come home to the town;
For men must work, and women must weep,
And the sooner it's over, the sooner to sleep;
And good-bye to the bar and its moaning.

The first time I heard "Three Fishers" was on Stan Rogers' For the Family. I like Stan Rogers, but his version has an annoying fiddle interlude by Garnet Rogers. In hopes that I might avoid listening to this overwrought instrumental section ever again, I bought several other versions on iTunes.

Having listened to every available recording of "Three Fishers," I am ready to render my professional opinion:

If you are looking for a song about economic privation and drowning/freezing to death in the North Atlantic, you'll never do better than Stan Rogers.

1 comment:

Robert J. said...

Gordon Bok! (Listen with earphones to hear the detail.)

And of course Robert Lowell:

This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale
Who spewed Nantucket bones on the thrashed swell
And stirred the troubled waters to whirlpools
To send the Pequod packing off to hell:
This is the end of them, three-quarters fools,
Snatching at straws to sail
Seaward and seaward on the turntail whale,
Spouting out blood and water as it rolls,
Sick as a dog to these Atlantic shoals:
Clamavimus, O depths. Let the sea-gulls wail

For water, for the deep where the high tide
Mutters to its hurt self, mutters and ebbs.
Waves wallow in their wash, go out and out,
Leave only the death-rattle of the crabs,
The beach increasing, its enormous snout
Sucking the ocean's side.
This is the end of running on the waves;
We are poured out like water. Who will dance
The mast-lashed master of Leviathans
Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves?