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poesy

Walrus Boy

O walrus boy, o walrus boy!

Alack, and wae is me –

If I hadna wed a walrus

My strange son widna be.

 

It fell about the Martinmas

When mists lie on the land

I stumbled on a walrus

Was lyin on the strand

 

It didna look tae left nor richt

But fixed me wi its e’e

An said “My man, ere it is nicht

I doot ye’ll lie wi me!”

 

O it isna for your rare moustache

Or tusks sae fine tae see

But cause ye spak me soft an fair

That I will lie wi thee.

 

Then aff he did his blue blue coat

An on the sand he sat

An aff he did his velvet trews

But ay kep on his hat.

 

O it will na be in winter time

When fields are white wi snow

Nor will it be in springtime

When the green shoots do grow

 

Nor yet in shining summer

When the leaves are on the tree

But just about the harvest time

I’ll bear a son to thee.

 

He’s drawn his boat upon the shore

An tied her tae a tree

Wi half the summer gone, an more

He hasna pit tae sea

 

Wi half the summer gone an mair

His boat lay on the loam;

But when the sheaves were in the barn

He wat her keel wi foam

 

He hadna sailed a league, a league

A league but barely twa

When in amang the green green wave

A mighty shape he saw

 

He hadna sailed a league, a league

A league but barely nine

When he has speared that mighty shape

An held it wi his line.

 

O wae tae ye, ma bonny man!

What is this deed ye’ve done?

Your cruel spear has slaughtered

The mother o your son

 

O walrus boy, come hame wi me

Together we must bide

For I have slain my own true love

Wi’ a harpoon in her side.

This is a ballad I wrote some time ago, during a fine weekend in Cromarty, under the auspices of Hi-Arts: for a brief note on it, see here.

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Walrus Boy and the Ballad Form

Walrus Boy‘ was written during a writers’ weekend at Cromarty, some years ago. One of the talks we had was on the Ballad form and its characteristics.

Ballads are an ancient and popular form yet they have a freshness and directness about them that never seems to wane: they may appear naive and unsophisticated on first reading, but there is an economy and urgency about them that I find very pleasing. In particular, there are sudden unheralded transitions of time, place and speaker which have much in common with good film editing – in one of my favourites, The Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens, we start with the King’s court in Dunfermline then cut rapidly to Sir Patrick walking on the beach and he speaks directly to us; and in the next verse, they’re off across the sea:

They hoysed their sails on Monenday morn

Wi’ a’ the speed they may;

They hae landed in Noroway

Upon a Wodensday.

No time wasted there!

Though my own ‘walrus boy’ has a touch of parody about it, I hope it is a fond mocking.

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