Song of the seafarers (with thanks to the choir of San Vicente de la Barquera)

Once we were young and rose at dawn
to watch our fathers put to sea.
As jewelled boats merged into mist,
our grandmas sat us on their knee.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of their return,
and sang and sang to ease our way.

Then we were wed and rose at dawn
to kiss our young loves to their boats.
And walking slowly from the shore,
bright laughter echoed from our throats.

We threw our lines and scanned the waves –
your eyes shone out from every cloud –
we dreamed of home and planned new lives;
our sun-swept limbs stood tall and proud.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of your return,
and sang and sang to ease your way.

Our children played along the shore;
sailed past in toy ships made of shells.
You sang the slowing songs of whales;
we warmed calm village nights with tales.

Always our hearts yearned for your arms;
for children’s laughter warming hearths –
Far from the master’s urgent calls,
riding sharp spray through angry squalls.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of our return,
and sang and sang to ease our way.

And now our children set the sails –
We hold our grandsons on our knee.
The ebbing whitecaps in your hair
mirror the rhythms of the sea.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dream each night of our return,
and sing and sing to ease our way.

————

On the penultimate day of our holiday we went to a concert given by the local choirs in the 12th century church of San Vicente de la Barquera, a perfect and ancient natural harbour on the north coast of Spain. For their final piece, the conductor on impulse asked the choir to split into men and women and move out into either side of the nave, so that each half of the choir sang to the other over the top of the audience. I didn’t understand a word of the duet they sang, but it was the most moving and beautiful experience.

This poem is my re-imagining of the words of that duet. The women sing the verses on the left, the men on the right, and the ensemble sections are in the middle.

Posted on dVerse.