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Personal Choice 23

Mr McCleod was one of my early primary school teachers. He was a returned soldier and like so many men who had some education turned to teaching. A lot of my teachers were very damaged men who hated children and treated us very badly and severely with daily corporal punishment for the slightest of misdemeanours. Mr McCleod was not among them. A genial and passionate cricket coach he was also one of my favourite teachers. One morning in Grade 4 he read us Sir Patrick Spens in his rich broad and booming Scots accent and we were all that morning thrust into the exhilarating excitement of the narrative and thrilled with the magnificent misadventure of the ship lost in a storm and sad beyond measure at its fate. What a gift Mr McCleod gave us that day and what wonderful memories we have of an inspired teacher who cared about his craft and his class of children.

Sir Patrick Spens

The King sits in Dunfermline town, Drinking the blood-red wine; "O where shall I get a skeely skipper To sail this ship or mine?"

Then up and spake an eldern knight, Sat at the King's right knee: "Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor That ever sailed the sea."

The King has written a broad letter, And sealed it with his hand, And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens, Was walking on the strand.

"To Noroway, to Noroway, To Noroway o'er the foam; The King's daughter of Noroway, 'Tis thou must fetch her home."

The first line that Sir Patrick read, A loud laugh laughed he; The next line that Sir Patrick read, The tear blinded his ee.

"O who is this has done this deed, Has told the King of me, To send us out at this time of the year,

To sail upon the sea?

"Be it wind, be it wet, be it hail, be it sleet, Our ship must sail the foam; The king's daughter of Noroway, 'Tis we must fetch her home."

They hoisted their sails on Monenday morn, With all the speed they may; And they have landed in Noroway Upon a Wodensday

They had not been a week, a week, In Noroway but twae, When that the lords of Noroway Began aloud to say, -

"Ye Scottishmen spend all our King's gowd, And all our Queenis fee." "Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud! So loud I hear ye lie.

"For I brought as much of the white monie As gane my men and me, And a half-fou of the good red gowd Out o'er the sea with me.

"Make ready, make ready, my merry men all, Our good ship sails the morn." "Now, ever alack, my master dear I fear a deadly storm.

"I saw the new moon late yestreen With the old moon in her arm; And if we go to sea, master, I fear we'll come to harm."

They had not sailed a league, a league, A league but barely three, When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud, And gurly grew the sea.

The ankers brake and the top-masts lap, It was such a deadly storm; And the waves came o'er the broken ship Till all her sides were torn.

"O where will I get a good sailor Will 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 good, Will take the helm in hand, Till you go up to the tall top-mast, But I fear you'll ne'er spy land."

He had not gone a step, a step, A step but barely ane, When a bolt flew out of the good ship's side, And the salt sea came in.

"Go fetch a web of the silken cloth, Another of the twine, And wap them into our good ship's side, And let not the sea come in."

They fetched a web of the silken cloth, Another of the twine, And they wapp'd them into the good ship's side, But still the sea came in.

O loth, both, were our good Scots lords To wet their cork-heel'd shoon, But long ere all the play was play'd They wet their hats aboon.

And many was the feather-bed That fluttered on the foam; And many was the good lord's son

That never more came home.

The ladies wrang their fingers white, The maidens tore their heair, All for the sake of their true loves, For them they'll see nae mair.

O lang, lang may the maidens sit With their gold combs in their hair, All waiting for their own dear loves, For them they'll see nae mair.

O forty miles of Aberdeen,

'Tis fifty fathoms deep; And there lies good Sir Patrick Spens, With the Scots lords at his feet.


Sir Patrick Spens is one of the most popular of the Child Ballads (No. 58) (Roud 41) and is of Scottish origin. It is a maritime ballad about a disaster at sea. Sir Patrick Spens remains one of the most anthologized of British popular ballads, partly because it exemplifies the traditional ballad form. The strength of this ballad, its emotional force, lies in its unadorned narrative which progresses rapidly to a tragic end that has been foreshadowed almost from the beginning. It was first published in eleven stanzas in 1765 in Bishop Thomas Percy's ‘Reliques of Ancient English Poetry’. In the reign of Alexander III of Scotland, his daughter Margaret was escorted by a large party of nobles to Norway for her marriage to King Eric; on the return journey many of them were drowned. Twenty years later, after Alexander's death, his grand-daughter Margaret, the Maid of Norway, was heiress to the Scottish throne, and on the voyage to Scotland she died. The ballad; which exists in several versions, combines these two incidents.


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