Sule Skerry

Sule Skerry  Trad/ Marc Block © 2010 Glasspool Music

A young woman walks on the barren sea strand
Softly keening to her baby
Your daddy is far away, my little man
He lives on the island of Sule Skerry

‘Twas a wild wailing night when he came back to me
Bearing news of my lord from away across the sea
He showed me the ring from my husband’s right hand
“We were comrades in arms in the Holy Land”

So a fine feast was laid and a great fire burned
Many stories he told of Sir Odivere
“His knight’s degree it was ruthlessly earned
Many brave men he slew, or they fled him in fear

And when the crusade it was over and won
With his spoils to Byzantium Odivere’s gone
He lives in a palace of lazuli blue
And he’s taken him wives and mistresses too”

Then your Pa took my hand and said “come lie with me”
And the years had been long since I’d had company
Oh, and had I refused him, child, you would not be
I might rue that night, but how I love thee

He said “I am a man when I walk on the land
When I swim in the sea a selkie I am
When he’s seven years old our son will be mine
And like father, like son, I’ll teach him the brine

“I give him before I return to the sea
This necklace in silver of high filigree
And this purse of gold coins is your nourish-fee
That always well clothed and well-fed he be”

“Oh why won’t you stay if my husband is gone?”
He answered “I cannot, though I’ve loved you long.
Odivere took his oath by Odin’s oak tree
Thus he won your hand, your love’s too late for me”

Well the boy he grew strong as the years passed the door
At the window she’d wait and watch the seas wild
But neither lover nor lord came and her heart was sore
And her only companion the selkie-sired child

Seven years, seven streams, and the selkie has come
On a day when the rocks are beat by the sun
And there on the shore the boy plays alone
His father beckons him into the foam

He said “I am a man when I walk on the land
When I swim in the sea a selkie I am
Now you in your turn have mastered the tide
Like father, like son, you’ll swim at my side”

The very same day the message was heard
Odivere’s but half a day’s sail from the coast
And she wept tears of joy for her husband returned
And of grief for the now-secret son that she’d lost

Odivere is the lord of his wide lands once more
Where the otters he’d hunt down on the shore
From a crag in a rock a young seal shows his head
One single shot, the young selkie lay dead

“But what wonder is this?” the man called to his wife
As he bore to the hall the creature he’d slain
“Such a thing I never did see in my life
Round the neck of a seal, there’s a fine silver chain”

She fell down and cried out, “oh what have you done?
My husband has murdered my only born son!”
“What son? Not of mine, as he’s son of the sea
With the wild selkie beast you have cuckolded me!”

She said, “he was more man than you, and less beast
And you, ten years gone, were you faithful to me?
How many of your bastards did you leave in the east
Then expect me your snow-white lady to be?”

At this into such a great rage he did fly
Condemned her to burn, and then locked her away
Then up from the shore the men gave the cry
“There are whales for the taking in each cove and bay!”

But not one whale they caught, though they hunted all day
While the great selkie came in and broke down the door
The lady he freed and he led her away
And never was she seen by human eyes more

He said “I am a man when I walk on the land
When I swim in the sea a selkie I am
Come ride on my back away over the sea
And we’ll live on the island of Sule Skerry”

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