An Old Song Resung

(1918)

“An Old Song Resung” is the first of Two Poems by John Masefield composed by Charles Griffes in July 1918 but published posthumously by G. Schirmer in 1920. It is a rhythmic piece very much in the spirit of a sea-shanty.

The second song in the group is "Sorrow o' Mydath."

An Old Song Resung

The text of “An Old Song Resung” is by John Masefield (1878-1967), the British poet laureate known as "the Poet of the Sea." It recounts a dramatic tale of the pilfered treasures that are lost, along with the pirates' lives, when catastrophe befalls a ship.


Organized in three verses, Griffes's song opens in a cheerful and energetic fashion. The jovial mood is short-lived and deceptive, as the final verse describes the sinking of the ship and the deaths of the drunken seamen. Griffes musically depicts this tragedy with an agitated accompaniment featuring movement by a semitone in the left-hand at the work's conclusion, thereby sealing the sailors' doom.


The Music Division at the Library of Congress houses the published edition of the song, and is also the repository of the holograph version, acquired from Griffes's family in 1923. By studying the manuscript in the composer's hand, scholars and musicians can appreciate Griffes's penmanship as well as his attention to detail.


--Library of Congress


I saw a ship a-sailing, a-sailing, a-sailing,
With emeralds and rubies and sapphires in her hold;
And a bosun in a blue coat bawling at the railing,
Piping a silver call that had a chain of gold;
The summer wind was failing and the tall ship rolled.


I saw a ship a-steering, a-steering, a-steering,
With roses in red thread worked upon her sails;
With sacks of purple amethysts, the spoils of buccaneering,
Skins of musky yellow wine, and silks in bales,
Her merry men were cheering, hauling on the brails.


I saw a ship a-sinking, a-sinking, a-sinking,
With glittering sea-water splashing on her decks,
With seamen in her spirit-room singing songs and drinking,
Pulling claret bottles down, and knocking off the necks,
The broken glass was chinking as she sank among the wrecks.


Photo: The American tar: "don't give up the ship." Currier and Ives, 1845. Prints and Photographs Reading Room, Library of Congress.


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