The Sea Wife
poem: Rudyard Kipling
music © 1987 Gordon Bok , BMI
My father once sang me a song with words by Rudyard Kipling. He had met Kipling (perhaps even learned the song from him) and gave me the impression that Kipling would rather have had his words sung or recited than just read from the printed page. I'm not surprised, then, that so many musicians over the years have set his words to music (most notable, recently, the late Peter Bellamy), as his verses so often seem to be shouting a tune at you. Kipling was born in Bombay, 1865 and died in 1936.
There dwells a wife by the Northern gate
And a wealthy wife is she.
She breeds a breed o' roving men
And sends them over the sea.
And some are drowned in deep water
And some in sight of shore,
And the word goes back to the weary wife,
And ever she sends more.
For since the wife had gate or gear
Or Hearth or garth and bield [shelter]
She willed her sons to the white harvest
And that is a bitter yield.
She wills her sons to the wet ploughing
To ride the horse of tree.
And syne her sons come back again
Far-spent from out the sea.
Rich are they, in wonders seen
But poor in the goods o' men
For what they have got for the skin of their teeth
They sell for their teeth again.
And whether they lose the naked skin
Or win their heart's desire
They tell it all to the weary wife
That nods beside the fire.
Her hearth is wide to every wind
That makes the white ash spin
And tide and tide, and tween the tides
Her sons go out and in,
And out with mirth that do desire
The hazard of trackless ways
And in with content to wait their watch
And warm before the blaze.
And some return by failing light
And some in waking dream,
For she hears the heels of the dripping ghosts
That ride the rough roof beam.
Home they come from all the ports,
The living and the dead;
The good wife's sons come home again
For her blessings on their head.