GREENLAND WHALE FISHERIES

Posted on Posted in Breedloves's Folk Songs
  • GREENLAND WHALE FISHERIES
    “Greenland Whale Fisheries” is a traditional sea shanty. In most of the versions collected
    from oral sources, the song opens up giving a date for the events that it describes (usually
    between 1823 and 1853). However, the song is actually older than this and a form of it
    was published as a ballad before 1725.
    The song tells of a whaling expedition that leaves for Greenland. The lookout spots a
    whalefish“, and harpoon boats are launched. However, the whale strikes the boat with its
    tail, capsizing it, and several men are killed. The captain grieves over losing his prey, but
    especially for having lost his men. He then orders the ship to sail for home, calling
    Greenland a “dreadful place.”
    Like most traditional songs, “Greenland Whale Fisheries” exists in different versions.
    Some change details (such as the date of the expedition), and others add or remove
    verses. Perhaps due to the wide influence of MobyDick, some modern versions,
    including the one recorded by The Pogues for their album Red Roses for Me”, flip the
    captain’s expression of grief to make him regret losing his catch even more than losing
    his crew. In the version popularized by The Weavers and Peter, Paul and Mary, a shanty
    recorded by Alan Lomax from a Barbadian fisherman is appended, which begins, “When
    the whale gets strike, and the line run down, and the whale makes a flunder with her tail”.
    When the whale get strike and the line runs out
    And the whale makes a flunder with its tail
    And the boat capsized and I lost my darlin’ man
    No more, no more Greenland for you, brave boys
    No more, no more Greenland for you
    Twas in eighteen hundred and fifty three,
    on June the thirteenth day
    That our gallant ship her anchor weighed
    And for Greenland sailed away, brave boys,
    And for Greenland sailed away.
    The lookout on the crosstree stood
    With a spyglass in his hand
    There’s a whale, there’s a whale, there’s a whalefish, he cried
    And she blows at every span, brave boys
    She blows at every span!
    Well we struck that whale and the line played out
    But she gave a flunder with her tail
    And the boat capsized and four men were drowned
    And we never caught that whale,
    We never caught that whale.
    Oh, to lose that whale, my captain cried,
    It grieves my heart full sore
    But to lose four of my gallant men
    It grieves me ten times more, brave boys,
    It grieves me ten times more!
    Oh, Greenland is a dreadful place
    It’s a land that’s never green
    Where there’s ice and snow and the whalefishes blow
    And daylight’s seldom seen, brave boys
    And daylight’s seldom seen
    When the whale gets strike, and the line runs out
    And the whale makes a flunder with its tail
    And the boat capsized and I lost my darlin’ man
    No more, no more Greenland for you, brave boys.
    No more, no more Greenland for you.