The dancing seal
When we were building Skua Light
The first men who had lived a night
Upon that deep-sea Isle
As soon as chisel touched the stone,
The friendly seals would come ashore ;
And sit and watch us all the while,
As though they'd not seen men before ;
And so, poor beasts, had never known
Men had the heart to do them harm.
They'd little cause to feel alarm
With us, for we were glad to find
Some friendliness in that strange sea ;
Only too pleased to let them be
And sit as long as they'd a mind
To watch us : for their eyes were kind
Like women's eyes, it seemed to me.
So, hour on hour, they sat : I think
They liked to hear the chisels' clink :
And when the boy sang loud and clear,
They scrambled closer in to hear ;
And if he whistled sweet and shrill,
The queer beasts shuffled nearer still :
But every sleek and sheeny skin
Was mad to hear his violin.
When, work all over for the day,
He'd take his fiddle down and play
His merry tunes beside the sea,
Their eyes grew brighter and more bright,
And burned and twinkled merrily :
And as I watched them one still night,
And saw their eager sparkling eyes,
I felt those lively seals would rise
Some shiny night ere he could know,
And dance about him, heel and toe,
Unto the fiddle's heady tune.
And at the rising of the moon,
Half-daft, I took my stand before
A young seal lying on the shore ;
And called on her to dance with me.
And it seemed hardly strange when she
Stood up before me suddenly,
And shed her black and sheeny skin ;
And smiled, all eager to begin . . .
And I was dancing, heel and toe,
With a young maiden white as snow,
Unto a crazy violin.
We danced beneath the dancing moon,
All night, beside the dancing sea,
With tripping toes and skipping heels :
And all about us friendly seals
Like Christian folk were dancing reels
Unto the fiddle's endless tune
That kept on spinning merrily
As though it never meant to stop.
And never once the snow-white maid
A moment stayed
To take a breath,
Though I was fit to drop :
And while those wild eyes challenged me,
I knew as well as well could be
I must keep step with that young girl,
Though we should dance to death.
Then with a skirl
The fiddle broke :
The moon went out :
The sea stopped dead :
And, in a twinkling, all the rout
Of dancing folk had fled . . .
And in the chill bleak dawn I woke
Upon the naked rock, alone.
They've brought me far from Skua Isle . .
I laugh to think they do not know
That as, all day, I chip the stone,
Among my fellows here inland,
I smell the sea-wrack on the shore . . .
And see her snowy-tossing hand,
And meet again her merry smile . . .
And dream I'm dancing all the while,
I'm dancing ever, heel and toe,
With a seal-maiden, white as snow,
On that moonshiny Island-strand,
For ever and for evermore.
Musical settings (art songs, Lieder, mélodies, (etc.), choral pieces, and other vocal works set to this text),
listed by composer (not necessarily exhaustive)
Text added to the website: 2009-01-30.
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