minstrel: An early naval ballad

Greg Lindahl lindahl at pbm.com
Wed Apr 23 15:01:12 PDT 2008

After being disappointed to learn that there aren't any early
surviving Dutch sea shanties, on a lark I looked at this book:

The early naval ballads of England by Halliwell-Phillipps,
J. O. (James Orchard), 1820-1889

... and found that he had one pre-1600 English naval ballad.

The primary source is "in a manuscript of the time of Henry VI. in the
library of Trinity College, Cambridge, R. iii. 19."

It'd probably take a fair amount of work to figure out what all the
words mean, much less mutate it to a form that could be understood by
the modern ear, so if you work on it, please report back.

-- Gregory

Men may leve all gamys, 
That saylen to Seynt Jamys;  [ St. James == the shrine of St. James of Compostella ]
For many a man hit gramys; 
   When they begyn to sayle. 

For when they have take the see, 
At Sandwyche, or at Wynchylsee, [ these are place names ]
At Brystow, or where that hit bee, 
   Theyr herts begyn to fayle. 

Anone the mastyr commaundeth fast 
To hys shyp-men in all the hast, 
To dresse hem sone about the mast, 
   Theyr takelyng to make. 

With "howe! hissa!" then they cry, 
"What, howte! mate, thow stondyst to ny, 
Thy felow may nat hale the by;" 
   Thus they begyn to crake. 

A boy or tweyne anone up-styen, 
And overthwarte the sayle-yerde lyen;-- 
"Y how! taylia!" the remenaunte cryen, 
   And pull with all theyr myght. 

"Bestowe the boote, bote-swayne, anon,
That our pylgryms may pley thereon;
For som ar lyke to cowgh and grone, 
   Or hit be full mydnyght." 

"Hale the bowelyne! now, vere the shete!--
Cooke, make redy anoone our mete, 
Our pylgryms have no lust to ete, 
   I pray God yeve him rest." 

"Go to the helm! what, howe! no nere? 
Steward, felow! a pot of bere!" 
"Ye shall have, sir, with good chere, 
   Anone all of the best." 

"Y howe! trussa! hale in the brayles!
Thow halyst nat, be God, thow fayles,
O se howe well owre good shyp sayles!" 
   And thus they say among. 

"Hale in the wartake!" "Hit shall be done." 
"Steward! cover the boorde anone, 
And set bred and salt thereone, 
   And tarry nat to long." 

Then cometh oone and seyth, "be mery; 
Ye shall have a storme or a pery." 
"Holde thow thy pese! thow canst no whery, 
   Thow medlyst wondyr sore." 

Thys menewhyle the pylgryms ly, 
And have theyr bowlys fast theym by, 
And cry afthyr hote malvesy, 
   "Thow helpe for to restore." 

And som wold have a saltyd tost, 
For they myght ete neyther sode ne rost; 
A man myght sone pay for theyr cost, 
   As for oo day or twayne. 

Som layde theyr bookys on theyr kne, 
And rad so long they myght nat se,--
"Allas! myne hede woll cleve on thre!" 
   Thus seyth another certayne. 

Then commeth owre owner lyke a lorde,
And speketh many a royall worde, 
And dresseth hym to the hygh borde, 
   To see all thyng be well. 

Anone he calleth a carpentere, 
And biddyth hym bryng with hym hys gere, 
To make the cabans here and there, 
   With many a febyl cell. 

A sak of strawe were there ryght good, 
For som must lyg theym in theyr hood; 
I had as lefe be in the wood, 
   Without mete or drynk. 

For when that we shall go to bedde, 
The pumpe was nygh our bedde hede, 
A man were as good to be dede, 
   As smell thereof the stynk. 

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