(Mer)Maid on the Shore

Leggi in italiano

A fertile vein of the European balladry tradition that has its roots in the Middle Ages, is the so-called “girl on the beach”; Riccardo Venturi summarizes the commonplace “solitary girl who walks on the shores of the sea – coming ship – commander or sailor who calls her on board – girl who embarks on her own will – rethinking and remorse – thoughts at the maternal / conjugal house – drama that takes place (in various ways)
In the “warning ballads” the good girls are warned not to fantasise, to stay in their place (next to the fireplace to crank out delicious treats and children) and not to venture into “male roles”, otherwise they will end dishonored or raped or killed. Better then the more or less golden cage that is already known, rather than free flight.
Every now and then, however, the girl manages to triumph with cunning, over the male cravings, so in the “(Fair) Maid on the Shore” she turns herself into a predator!

Mermaid
Rebecca Guay: Mermaid

MAIDEN IN THE SHORE

It is a mermaid, which the captain sees on a moonlit night, who is walking along the beach (it is well known that selkies and sirens can walk with human feet on full moon nights). Immediately he falls in love and sends a boat to carry her on his ship (by hook or by crook), but as soon as she sings, she casts a spell on the whole crew.
And here the fantastic and magical theme ends: the girl takes all gold and silver and returns to her beach, far from being a fragile and helpless creature, so also her looting the treasures recalls the topos of the siren that collects the glistening things from ships (after having caused shipwreck and death) to “furnish” his cave!
(mer)maid on the shoreBertrand Bronson in his “Tunes of the Child Ballads” classifies “Fair Maid on the Shore” as a variant of Broomfield Hill (Child # 43), the ballad was found more rarely in Ireland (where it is assumed to be original) and more widely in America (and in particular in Canada). Thus reports Ewan MacCall (The Long Harvest, Volume 3) “More commonly found in the North-eastern United States, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland is a curious marine adaptation of the story in which the knight of the Broomfield Hill is transformed into an amorous sea-captain. The young woman on whom he has designs succeeds in preserving her chastity by singing her would-be lover to sleep.”

A.L. Lloyd sang The Maid on the Shore in his album The Foggy Dew and Other Traditional English Love Songs (1956) and commented in the notes “As the song comes to us, it is the bouncing ballad of a girl too smart for a lecherous sea captain. But a scrap of the ballad as sung in Ireland hints at something sinister behind the gay recital. For there, the girl is a mermaid or siren.

I
It’s of a sea captain that sailed the salt sea
the seas they were fine, calm and clear-o (1)
And a beautiful damsel he changed for to spy
walking alone on the shore, shore
walking alone on the shore
II
What I’ll give to you me sailors boys
and …  costly ware-o (2).
if you’ll fleach me that girl aboard of my ship
who walks all alone on the shore, shore
walks all alone on the shore
III
So the sailors they got them a very long boat
And off for the shore they did steer-o,
Saying, “Ma’am if you please will you enter on board
To view a fine cargo of ware (3), ware
To view a fine cargo of ware.”
IV
With much persuasion they got her on board
the seas they were fine, calm and clear-o,
she sat herself down in the stern of the boat
off for the ship they did steer, steer
off for the ship they did steer.
V
And when they’ve arrived alongside of the ship
the captain he order his chew-o,
Saying, “First you should lie in my arms all this night
and may be I’ll marry you dear, dear
may be I’ll marry you dear(4)
VI (5)
She sat herself down in the stern of the ship
the seas they were fine, calm and clear-o,
She sang so neat, so sweet and complete,
She sang sailors and captain to sleep, sleep
sang sailors and captain to sleep.
VII
She’s robbed them of silver, she’s robbed them of gold,
she’s robbed their costly ware-o.
And the captain’s bright sword she’s took for an oar
And she’s paddled away for the shore, shore/ paddled away for the shore.
VIII
And when he awaken he find she was gone
he would like a man in despair-o
… she deluded both captain and crew
“I’m a maid once more on the shore, shore
I’m a maid once more on the shore”

NOTES
having transcribed the text directly from listening, there are some words that escape me (and that for a mother-tongue are very clear!) Any additions are welcome !
1)  the verse is used as a refrain on the call and response scheme typical of the sea shanty
2) the captain promises a substantial reward to his sailors
3) in other more explicit versions the cabin boy is sent to show rings and other precious jewels, asking her to get on board to admiring ones more beautiful
4) in a more cruel version the captain threatens to give the girl to his crew, if she will not be nice to him
First you will lie in my arms all this night
And then I’ll give you to me jolly young crew,
5) It is missing
“Oh thank you, oh thank you,” this young girl she cried,
“It’s just what I’ve been waiting for-o:
For I’ve grown so weary of my maidenhead
As I walked all alone on the shore.”

In the Scandinavian versions of the story the girl is first enticed with flattery on board the ship and then kidnapped, in the French version L ‘Epee Liberatrice she is a princess who gets on the ship because she wants to learn the song sung by the young cabin boy: she falls asleep and when she wakes up she discovers to be on the high seas, she asks a sailor for a sword and kills herself, the Italian version (Il corsaro -Costantino Nigra) follows a similar story, but it is only the Irish version that dwells on the magic song of the siren.

The ballad has many interpreters mostly in the folk or folk-rock field.

Stan Rogers from Fogarty’s Cove (1976)
John Renbourn group from The Enchanted Garden, 1980 (strofe I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII)

Eliza Carthy from Rough Music, 2005

The Once from The Once 2009

I (1)
There is a young maiden,
she lives all a-lone
She lived all a-lone on the shore-o
There’s nothing she can find
to comfort her mind
But to roam all a-lone on the shore, shore, shore
But to roam all a-lone on the shore
II
‘Twas of the young (2) Captain
who sailed the salt sea
Let the wind blow high, blow low
I will die, I will die,
the young Captain did cry
If I don’t have that maid on the shore, shore, shore…
III (3)
I have lots of silver,
I have lots of gold
I have lots of costly ware-o
I’ll divide, I’ll divide,
with my jolly ship’s cres
If they row me that maid on the shore, shore, shore…
IV (4)
After much persuasion,
they got her aboard
Let the wind blow high, blow low
They replaced her away
in his cabin below
Here’s adieu (5) to all sorrow and care, care, care…
V  (6)
They replaced her away
in his cabin below
Let the wind blow high, blow low
She’s so pretty and neat,
she’s so sweet and complete
She’s sung Captain and sailors to sleep, sleep, sleep…
VI (7)
Then she robbed him of silver,
she robbed him of gold
She robbed him of costly ware-o
Then took his broadsword
instead of an oar
And paddled her way to the shore, shore, shore…
VII
Me men must be crazy,
me men must be mad
Me men must be deep in despair-o
For to let you away from my cabin so gay
And to paddle your way to the shore, shore, shore…
VIII (8)
Your men was not crazy,
your men was not mad
Your men was not deep in despair-o
I deluded your sailors as well as yourself
I’m a maiden again on the shore, shore, shore

NOTES
The textual version of the John Renbourn group differs slightly from Stan’s version
1) There was a young maiden, who lives by the shore
Let the wind blow high, blow low
no one could she find to comfort her mind
and she set all a-lone on the shore,
she set all a-lone on the shore
2) or Sea
3) The captain had silver, the captain had gold
And captain had costly ware-o
All these he’ll give to his jolly ship crew
to bring him that maid on the shore
4) And slowly slowly she came upon board
the captain gave her a chair-o
he sited her down in the cabin below
adieu to all sorrow and care
5) in the version of Renbourn the sentence is clearer, it is the pains of love that the captain tries to alleviate by rape the girl!
6) She sited herself in the bow of the ship
she sang so loud and sweet-o
She sang so sweet, gentle and complete
She sang all the seamen to sleep
7) She part took of his silver, part took of his gold
part took of his costly ware-o
she took his broadsword to make an oar
to paddle her back to the shore,
8) Your men must be crazy, your men must be mad
your men must be deep in despair-o
I deluded at them all as has yourself
again I’m a maiden on the shore,

 Solas from “Sunny Spells And Scattered Showers” (1997)

I
There was a fair maid
and she lived all alone
She lived all alone on the shore
No one could she find for to calm her sweet mind (1)
But to wander alone on the shore, shore, shore
To wander alond on the shore
II
There was a brave captain
who sailed a fine ship
And the weather being steady and fair (2)/”I shall die, I shall die,”
this dear captain did cry
“If I can’t have that maid on the shore, shore, shore
If I can’t have that maid on the shore”
III
After many persuasions
they brought her on board
He seated her down on his chair
He invited her down to his cabin below
Farewell to all sorrow and care
Farewell to all sorrow and care (3).
IV
“I’ll sing you a song,”
this fair maid did cry
This captain was weeping for joy
She sang it so sweetly, so soft and completely
She sang the captain and sailors to sleep
Captain and sailors to sleep
V
She robbed them of jewels,
she robbed them of wealth (4)
She robbed them of costly fine fare
The captain’s broadsword she used as an oar
She rowed her way back to the shore, shore, shore
She rowed her way back to the shore
VI
Oh the men, they were mad and the men, they were sad
They were deeply sunk down in despair
To see her go away with her booty so gay
The rings and her things and her fine fare
The rings and her things and her fine fare
VII
“Well, don’t be so sad and sunk down in despair
And you should have known me before
I sang you to sleep and I robbed you of wealth
Well, again I’m a maid on the shore, shore, shore
Again I’m a maid on the shore”

NOTES
1) the sentence would make more sense if it were instead “to calm his restless mind”
2) the reference to the good weather is not accidental, in fact the sighting of a siren was synonymous with the approach of a storm
3) that is having a good time with a presumably virgin
4) the woman is not just a thief but a fairy creature that steals the health of the sailors

LINK
Folk Songs of the Catskills (Norman Cazden, Herbert Haufrecht, Norman Studer)
http://home.olemiss.edu/~mudws/reviews/catskill.html
https://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/dung24.htm

https://www.antiwarsongs.org/canzone.php?lang=it&id=50848
http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/s/stan_rogers/the_maid_on_the_shore.html https://mainlynorfolk.info/lloyd/songs/themaidontheshore.html

https://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=35649
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=51828 http://www.celticlyricscorner.net/solas/maid.htm http://www.8notes.com/scores/5463.asp

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