The Schooner Ellenmore

1992 Gordon Bok

This is a true story, told to me by an old shipmate. She didn't know that I knew both the people involved, which made it all the sadder. So I changed the location and the schooner's name and made it into a song, to remind myself not to be doing the same. Ellenmore, but the way, is from the Gaelic words: Ellean Mor the big island.

(I finished the song in Scotland in 1990.)

 

The first time I saw Ellenmore, it was on a southeast wind

Against the loom of the coming storm I saw her topsail gleam

Her lines were long and lovely as she stood in from the bay

And I stood on the dragger's deck and gave my heart away.

 

She rounded up and ran her chain, her gear was stowed and furled

I saw but two upon her deck, an old man and a girl

As I rowed by they hailed me, and we passed the time of day

And spoke of the wind and the holding ground, and how their schooner lay.

The next day blowing cold and grey, they hailed me once again;

I went on board to drink their tea and talk and watch the rain.

The schooner old and graceful, and built for any weather

And they were kind and gentle folks, the young girl and her father.

 

I walked the island with the girl, I watched it take her heart;

This land is kind in the summertime, tho summer months are short:

The sudden hill, the quiet coves, the meadows in the rain

The gentle grace of fir and spruce when snow and wind are gone.

 

Her hair was brown, her hands were brown, her face was brown and wise,

I watched her place her quiet feet and felt her quiet eyes,

For I had been a lonely man with neither laugh nor song

And each year since my Janey died was twelve Novembers long.

 

Back on board that evening, in the schooner's warm saloon

We spoke of boats and harbors and the islands we had known.

They said they'd searched for years to find a place to spend their days

And here they'd found their paradise the island and its ways.

 

The wind was in the mastheads and the seas were hissing by

And oh. the wine and song that night will hold me till I die

And as I stepped o'er the schooner's rail she took me by the hand

And I told her I would bless the tide that brought her here again.

 

But oh, the months that followed were a weary weight to bear

For I knew I'd been above myself when the wine was flowing fair

To think she'd ever want a man who made a pauper's wage

Much less a simple fisherman, and half again her age.

 

The next time I saw Ellenmore it was Autumn, cold and wet;

She come swinging up the outer bay with just her lowers set,

But I couldn't bear their kindness, nor could I forget my shame,

And I hope the wine had been so kind they'd not recall my name.

 

So I swung out past the harbor ledge and drove on down the sound

And hoped they'd never know me from the other boats around,

But as I passed, I saw the girl come out on deck to stand

And across the moving water she lifted up her hand.

The next time I saw Ellenmore, it was in the early May

And four long years had hauled their tides since she had passed this way

I saw the old man on her deck, and he sailed her all alone

As past the island's shoulder her threadbare mainsail swing.

 

He rounded up and ran his chain, his movements slow and spare

And late that day I rowed across, another meal to share.

The boat was old, the man was old, the years had had their way;

He asked me if I liked my life, and I had naught to say.

I asked him of his daughter, but he only shook his head:

"She wed a Corporation-Man; she chose her life," he said,

"She might have had a simple man, her simple love to share.

She saw you go out by the ledge: that broke her heart for fair."

 

The last time I saw Ellenmore, she was standing out to sea,

All plain sail on a Northeast wind, her mainsheet running free.

The old man stood beside her wheel, to me he raised his hand,

And I stood on the dragger's deck and watch the day go down.

 

 

The Schooner Ellenmore is recorded on the album Schooners