During this time of the year, carols are everywhere. You are only safe in your car, where your music choices are entirely your own. Even at home, the TV or radio may hit you with a “Fa la la la la” when you least expect it (and usually when you can’t do anything about it). This time of year always makes me long for an hour or two of old sea chanties.
So I thought I’d share “The Pirate’s Song” from our old mate Charles Ellms’ familiar book. The chanty is the final entry in the book and Ellms does not give the origin of the ditty or even the tune to which it should be sung. Most probably, in all fairness, it is an original poem by Ellms. The words are worth pondering either way and the sentiment is very piratical indeed; at least in the form that the idea of “piratical” has come down to modern culture filtered through the lens of Victorian imagination. Enjoy!
To the mast nail our flag it is dark as the grave,
Or the death which it bears while it sweeps o’er the wave;
Let our deck clear for action, our guns be prepared;
Be the boarding-axe sharpened, the scimitar bared;
Set the canisters ready, and then bring to me,
For the last of my duties, the powder-room key,
It shall never be lowered, the black flag we bear;
If the sea be denied us, we sweep through the air.
Unshared have we left our last victory’s prey;
It is mine to divide it, and yours to obey;
There are shawls that might suit a sultana’s white neck,
And pearls that are fair as the arms they will deck;
There are flasks which, unseal them, the air will disclose
Diametta’s fair summers, the home of the rose.
I claim not a portion: I ask but as mine –
‘Tis to drink to our victory – one cup of red wine.
Some fight, ‘tis for riches – some fight, ‘tis for fame:
The first I despise, and the last is a name.
I fight, ‘tis for vengeance! I love to see flow,
At the stroke of my sabre, the life of my foe.
I strike for the memory of long-vanished years;
I only shed blood where another shed tears.
I come, as the lightning comes red from above,
O’er the race that I loathe, to the battle I love.
Header: Pirate Captain on Deck by Howard Pyle c 1909