There lived a maid in the Norway lands;
"Hush ba loo lil-ly", she did sing:
I dinna ken where my babe's father is
Or what land he travels in.
Now it happened one night
As this fair maid lay fast asleep
That in there came a grey selkie
And laid himself down at her bed feet,
Crying "Awake, awake, my pretty maid
For thy babe's father's sitting at the bed feet.
"For I'm a man upon the land
A selkie in the sea,
And I do come from the Wast'ard o' Hoy,
Which wise men do call Sule Skerrie.
"My name it is good Hyne Malair;
I earn my livin' by the sea,
An' when I'm far from ev'ry shore
It's then I am in Sule Skerrie."
"Oh, what a fate, what a weary fate
What a weary fate's been laid for me,
That a selkie should come from the Wast'ard o' Hoy
To the Norway lands to have a babe with me."
"Oh, I will wed thee with a ring,
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed with thee."
"Thou may wed thu's weds with whom thou wilt,
But I'm sure thou'll ne'er wed none wi' me."
"Then thou shalt nurse thy little wee son
For seven long years upon thy knee;
And at the end of seven years
I'll come an' pay thy nurse's fee."
It's, oh, she's nursed her little wee son
For seven years upon her knee
And he's come back a gay gentleman
With a coffer of gold and white monie.
She says, "I'll wed thee with a ring
With a ring, my dear, I'll wed wi' thee."
"Thou may wed thee's weds with whom thou wilt,
I'm sure thou'll ne'er wed none wi' me.
"But you will get a gunner good,
And aye a good gunner he'll be,
And he'll gaeng out on a May morning
And he'll shoot the son and the grey selkie."
(So he took the son away and ...)
"I'll put a gold chain about his neck,
[An' a gey good gold chain it'll be]
That is ever he comes to the Norway lands,
it's, oh, well know-ed he may be."
And, oh, she got a gunner good,
And aye a good gunner was he
And he gaed out one May morning
An' he shot the son and the grey selkie.
(Then he returned and showed her this wonderful thing that he'd found, the gold chain on the selkie's neck ...)
"Oh you have shot good Hyne Malair,
And oh, he was right kind to me."
She gied a sigh, sobbed aince or twice,
And then her tender heart did brak in three.
abc | midi | pdf
Source: Palmer, Roy, 1998, A Book of British Ballads, Llanerch
Roy Palmer wrote:
Sung by James Henderson (b 1903), South Ronaldsay; collected by Alan Bruford, 170-2 (Tocher, no 26, 1977, pp 97-9) Verse 14 is a combination of the last two verses of the original, omitting the prefactory words "... you've done..."
There are many traditional tales, especially in northern latititudes, about seals assuming human form. Here a seal ('selkie') who is 'a man upon the land' fathers a child, but both father and son are subsequently shot, while in their seal guise. This version of the ballad was collected as recently as 1970-2 by Alan Bruford, who comments that it 'may have been based on a tale that had been told in Norse, even on a Norse ballad, but as we have it it was lauched into and carried down on a Scots stream of tradition', starting in Orkney 'probably not much before the beginning of the seventeenth century."
Roud: 197 (Search Roud index at VWML)
Related Songs: The Grey Silkie (2) (thematic)