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Ballad of the White Seal Maid

Jane Yolen/Lui Collins

Vocal – Lui

Jane Yolen is a prolific writer of poetry, science fiction, and delightful children’s stories. She based this poem, from her book Neptune Rising, on the Silkie folklore which abounds in New England as well as Scotland. The Silkies, or Selchies, are seals in the ocean, taking human form on land. Thanks to Bill Kirsch for introducing Jane’s poem to me.

There’s a fisherman sitting alone on the land
His hands are his craft, his boat is his art
A fisherman sitting alone on the land
A rock, a hard rock in his heart.

There’s a selchie maid swimming alone in the bay
Her eyes are the seal’s, her heart is the sea
A selchie maid swimming alone in the bay
A pure white seal maiden is she

She comes to the shore and she sheds her seal skin
She dances on sand, dances under the moon
Her hair falls in waves down upon her white skin
And only the seals hear the tune.

Then standing, the fisherman takes her seal skin
Staking his claim to a wife from the sea
He raises his hand, holding up the white skin
Says, “Now you must come home with me.”

Oh, weeping she goes, and still weeping she stays
Her hands are her craft, her babes are her art
A year and a year and a year more she stays
A rock, a cold rock, in her heart.

But what is this hid in the fisherman’s bag?
It smells like the ocean, it feels like the sea!
A bonny white sealskin closed up in the bag
And “Never a tear more!” cries she.

“Goodbye to the house and goodbye to the shore
Goodbye to the babes that I never could claim
But never a thought to the man left on shore
For selchie’s my nature and name.”

She puts on the skin and dives back in the sea
The fisherman’s cry falls on water-deaf ears
She swims in her sealskin away out to sea
And the fisherman drowns in his tears.

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