Widows on the Shore: Audio, Lyrics, Video, Back Story

If you think about it, the traditional sea shanties and songs that have survived to modern times are pretty exclusively man-centric. I got to wondering about the songs the women who stayed behind while their menfolk went to sea might have sung as they went about their work.

One of my favorite seafaring adventure novels is Rudyard Kipling's Captains Courageous. If you've read it, you may recall that in a late chapter, the fishing town of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is holding a fundraising event in support of the town's widows and orphans of that season's making. We learn that in that one town alone, the town lost over 100 men and boys to the sea every year. Multiply that by all the fishing and seafaring villages along the American and Canadian coasts. Go across the Atlantic to Scandinavia, France, England, and Ireland.

I got to thinking that the loss of so many beloved menfolk might well have been something that women of those days would have sung about. And so I tried to imagine a shanty from that point of view. The fourth verse (Jane's story) is very directly influenced by Kipling's depiction of the schooner captain's wife:

"My father—my own eldest brother—two nephews—an' my second sister's man," she said, dropping her head on her hand. "Would you care fer any one that took all those?"

Possibly there are some women's sea shanties squirreled away somewhere. But if not, well, ladies, there's one for you now.

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Original Song Lyrics

Song art imageYou’ve heard many a song of sailor men
Widows on the shore
Who sailed but never came home again
Widows on the shore
But never no songs about maids like Ye
Widows on the shore
Found in every town beside the sea
Widows on the shore

CHORUS:
Widows on the shore ye be
Your menfolk never more to see
This side of Eternity
Ye be widows on the shore

My name is Anne of Gloucester Bay
Widows on the shore
I remember well my wedding day
Widows on the shore
Five years as man and wife had we
Widows on the shore
Then my Edward was taken by the sea
Widows on the shore

CHORUS

I am sweet Peg of Portland town
Widows on the shore
My Jonathan with his ship went down
Widows on the shore
Honest and strong and brave was he
Widows on the shore
In a gale of George’s he were took from me
Widows on the shore

CHORUS

Jane am I of Prince Edward Isle
Widows on the shore
Little cause have I to smile
Widows on the shore
My father, my brother, and a son I bore
Widows on the shore
Who now I never shall see no more
Widows on the shore

CHORUS

When next in the tavern ye shall be
Widows on the shore
Singing songs of men who sail the sea
Widows on the shore
Remember the women now and then
Widows on the shore
Whose menfolk never sailed home again
Widows on the shore

CHORUS

TAG:
Ye be widows
On the shore


This song is dedicated to the memory of my paternal grandmother, Ruth Paige Palomo - linguist, scholar, children's poet, world traveler, and gourmet cook. In many ways she was 50 years ahead of her time. In other ways she was left behind on the shore. She quietly taught me to enjoy cooking good food, to speak Spanish, to respect other countries and cultures, and she encouraged me to explore music and be myself.


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Title image cropped from 'A Hopeless Dawn' by Frank Bramley, 1888.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
{{PD-US}} Public Domain in the United States (and other countries)