The Grey Selkie

Leggi in italiano

The best known of the ballads of the Orkney Islands, also as The Gray Silkie of Sule Skerry, tells of a selkie living on the rocky cliff of Sule. The ballad was collected by professor Child  ( # 113).

The legend says that to reproduce the selkie-male must be in human form and transmit his power to descendants: when his child is weaned on dry land, the selkie will return from the sea.

TRADITIONAL VERSION: The Gray Silkie

From Sailormen & Servingmaids 1961, a songs collection on field recordings from England, Scotland and Ireland with John Sinclair of the Fleet island, (melody collected in 1938 by Otto Anderson and transcribed in notation with text by Annie G. Gilchrist.)

John G. Halcro 
in Orkney, Land, Sea & Community, Scottish Tradition vol 21, recordings from the archives of the Scottish School of Studies of the University of Edinburgh (fragment recorded in 1973): “A brief version of it appears as no. 113 in Child without a tune, but this is no match for the variant which old John Sinclair of Flotta in the Orkney Isles turned up with in January 1934. He has since been visited by Swedish folklorists [i.e. Otto Andersson] and recorded for the BBC. Bronson remarks that his tune is a variant of the air often associated with Hind Horn, another ballad of traffic between spirits and mortals. Sinclair (who learned the song from his mother), worked all his life as a seaman, and a farmer-fisherman until his retirement. He now lives in a cottage by the sea where Silkies perhaps may still appear.”

Alison McMorland from Rowan in the Rock 2001

June Tabor from Ashore 2011

I
In Norway’s Land there lived a maid
“Hush ba-loo-lilly”. this maid began,
“I know not where my babe’s father is
Whether by land or sea does he travel in”
II
It happened on a certain day
When this fair lady fell fast asleep
That in came a good grey silkie
And set him down at her bed feet
III
Saying, “Awak’, awak’, my pretty fair maid,
For oh, how sound as thou dost sleep,
And I’ll tell thee where thy babe’s father is,
He’s sitting close at thy bed feet.”
IV
“I pray thee tell to me thy name,
Oh, tell me where does thy dwelling be?”
“My name is good Hill Marliner,
And I earn my living oot o’er the sea.
V
I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I’m far from every strand
My dwelling it’s in Sule Skerry”
VI
“Alas, alas, that’s woeful fate,
That’s weary fate that’s been laid on me,
That a man should come from the West o’ Hoy
To the Norway Lands to have a bairn wi’ me.”
VII (1)
“My dear, I’ll wed thee with a ring,
With a ring, my dear, will I wed with thee.”
“Thee may go to thee weddings with whom thou wilt,
For I’m sure thou never will wed wi’ me.”
VIII
She has nursed his little wee son
For seven long years upon her knee
And at the end of seven long years
He came back with gowd and white monie (2)
IX
For she has got the gunner good
And a gay good gunner it was he,
He gaed oot on a May morning
And he shot the son and the grey silkie.
X
“Alas, alas, that’s woeful fate,
That’s weary fate that’s been laid on me.”
And eenst or twice she sobbed and sighed
And her tender hairt did break in three.(3)

NOTES
1) she asks silkie to marry her, but he refuses, telling her that she will marry another.
2) silkie pays the Norse tribute for his child
3) in another version, however, the woman decides to follow selkie and son throwing herself into the sea to prevent the prophecy from coming true

But the most widespread melody that became standard it is that of the American James Waters  (see first part)

LINK
http://ontanomagico.altervista.org/sule-skerry.htm

https://terreceltiche.altervista.org/the-great-selkie-of-sule-skerry/
https://mainlynorfolk.info/steeleye.span/songs/greatsilkieofsuleskerry.html
https://www.scotslanguage.com/articles/view/id/4882

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