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.

 

 

The Sea Wife is recorded on the Bok, Muir, & Trickett albums First Fifteen Years Vol II and Minneapolis Concert, and is also in the songbook One to Sing, One to Haul.