Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. I. Chaucer to Donne
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. I. Early Poetry: Chaucer to Donne
 
Ballads: Historical
Sir Patrick Spens
 
          [This ballad is a confused echo of the Scotch expedition which should have brought the Maid of Norway to Scotland, about 1285. While Dunfermline is still spoken of as the favourite Royal residence, the Scotch nobles wear the cork-heeled shoon of a later century, a curious example of the medley common in traditional poetry.]

THE KING sits in Dunfermline town,
  Drinking the blude-red wine;
‘O whare will I get a skeely skipper,
  To sail this new ship of mine!’
 
O up and spake an eldern knight,        5
  Sat at the king’s right knee,—
‘Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor,
  That ever sail’d the sea.’
 
Our king has written a braid letter,
  And seal’d it with his hand,        10
And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,
  Was walking on the strand.
 
‘To Noroway, to Noroway,
  To Noroway o’er the faem;
The king’s daughter of Noroway,        15
  ’Tis thou maun bring her hame.’
 
The first word that Sir Patrick read,
  Sae loud loud laughed he;
The neist word that Sir Patrick read,
  The tear blinded his e’e.        20
 
‘O wha is this has done this deed,
  And tauld the king o’ me,
To send us out, at this time of the year,
  To sail upon the sea?
 
‘Be it wind, be it weet, be it hail, be it sleet, 1        25
  Our ship must sail the faem;
The king’s daughter of Noroway,
  ’Tis we must fetch her hame.’
 
They hoysed their sails on Monenday morn,
  Wi’ a’ the speed they may;        30
They hae landed in Noroway,
  Upon a Wodensday.
 
They hadna been a week, a week,
  In Noroway, but twae,
When that the lords o’ Noroway        35
  Began aloud to say,—
 
‘Ye Scottishmen spend a’ our king’s goud,
  And a’ our queenis fee.’
‘Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud!
  Fu’ loud I hear ye lie.        40
 
‘For I brought as much white monie,
  As gane 2 my men and me,
And I brought a half-fou 3 o’ gude red goud,
  Out o’er the sea wi’ me.
 
‘Make ready, make ready, my merrymen a’!        45
  Our gude ship sails the morn.’
‘Now, ever alake, my master dear,
  I fear a deadly storm!
 
‘I saw the new moon, late yestreen,
  Wi’ the auld moon in her arm;        50
And, if we gang to sea, master,
  I fear we ’ll come to harm.’
 
They hadna sailed a league, a league,
  A league but barely three,
When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,        55
  And gurly grew the sea.
 
The ankers brak, and the topmasts lap,
  It was sic a deadly storm;
And the waves cam o’er the broken ship,
  Till a’ her sides were torn.        60
 
‘O where will I get a gude sailor,
  To take my helm in hand,
Till I get up to the tall top-mast,
  To see if I can spy land?’
 
‘O here am I, a sailor gude,        65
  To take the helm in hand,
Till you go up to the tall top-mast;
  But I fear you ’ll ne’er spy land.’
 
He hadna gane a step, a step,
  A step but barely ane,        70
When a bout flew out of our goodly ship,
  And the salt sea it came in.
 
‘Gae, fetch a web o’ the silken claith,
  Another o’ the twine,
And wap them into our ship’s side,        75
  And let na the sea come in.’
 
They fetched a web o’ the silken claith,
  Another of the twine,
And they wapped them round that gude ship’s side,
  But still the sea came in.        80
 
O laith, laith, were our gude Scots lords
  To weet their cork-heel’d shoon!
But lang or a’ the play was play’d,
  They wat their hats aboon.
 
And mony was the feather-bed,        85
  That flattered on the faem;
And mony was the gude lord’s son,
  That never mair cam hame.
 
The ladyes wrang their fingers white,
  The maidens tore their hair,        90
A’ for the sake of their true loves;
  For them they ’ll see na mair.
 
O lang, lang, may the ladyes sit,
  Wi’ their fans into their hand,
Before they see Sir Patrick Spens        95
  Come sailing to the strand!
 
And lang, lang, may the maidens sit,
  Wi’ their goud kaims in their hair,
A’ waiting for their ain dear loves!
  For them they ’ll see na mair.        100
 
O forty miles off Aberdeen,
  ’Tis fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
  Wi’ the Scots lords at his feet.
 
Note 1. A line adapted in Kinmont Willie, as the formulae of the Iliad recur in the Odyssey. [back]
Note 2. suffice. [back]
Note 3. the eighth part of a peck. [back]
 
 
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