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The Cold Coast of Greenland / The Spermwhale Fishery

[ Roud 484 ; G/D 6:1116 ; Ballad Index R083 ; trad.]

Ewan MacColl sang The Cold Coast of Greenland in 1956 on his and A.L. Lloyd's Riverside album Thar She Blows! (reissued in the 1960s on the Washington label as Whaling Ballads). A.L. Lloyd commented in the album's sleeve notes:

This dramatic ballad of a young couple torn apart on their wedding night, and the young man lost off the Greenland coast and the demented girl vowing that she will turn her back on life, is a variant of the mid-seventeenth century naval ballad, The Lowlands of Holland. Its final stanza, with the formalized description of Greenland, appears in several whaling songs (see also The Sperm Whale Fishery. [the first track on this album]).

Shirley Collins sang a shortened three-verse variant of The Cold Coast of Greenland under the title The Spermwhale Fishery on her 1960 LP False True Lovers and on her 1964 EP English Songs Vol. 2. The lyrics are much closer to The Cold Coast of Greenland than to Lloyd's The Sperm Whale Fishery, though. She and Alan Lomax commented in the LP notes:

The Spermwhale Fishery is a variant of the widely-sung broadside ballad, The Lowlands of Holland, which was published in 1776 in Herd's Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs as well as in the Roxburghe broadside collection. A L Lloyd printed this Lancashire variant in The Singing Englishman and it is surely one of the most beautiful of the love songs of the sea.

Lyrics

Ewan MacColl sings The Cold Coast of Greenland

Last night I was a-married and on my marriage bed
There came a bold sea captain and he stood at my bed's head
Saying, “Arise, arise, you bonny brisk lad and come along with me,
To the cold, cold coast of Greenland and the sperm whale fishery.”

She held her love all in her arms, a-thinking he might stay
Till the cruel captain came again; he was forced to go away.
“It's many a bright and bold young man must sail this night with me
To the cold, cold coast of Greenland and the sperm whale fishery.”

Her love he went on shipboard and a lofty ship was she,
With a score of bold young whalermen to bear him company,
But the mainmast and the rigging they lie buried in the sea
Off the cold, cold coast of Greenland in the sperm whale fishery.

Said the father to the daughter, “What makes you so lament?
There's many a lad in our town can give your heart content.”
“There is no lad in our town, no lord nor duke,” said she,
“Can ease my mind now the stormy wind has twined my love from me.”

“No shoe nor stocking I'll put on nor comb go in my hair,
Nor broad daylight nor candlelight shall in my room appear
Nor shall I wed with any young man until the day I die,
Now the cold, cold coast of Greenland has parted my love and I.

Oh, Greenland is a dreadful place, a place that's never green,
It's a wild inhabitation for a lover to be in,
Where the icebergs grow and the whales do blow and the sunset's never seen,
And the cold, cold coast of Greenland lies between my love and me.”

Shirley Collins sings The Spermwhale Fishery

Last night I was a-married and on my marriage bed;
There came a bold sea-captain and he stood at my bedhead,
Crying, “Arise, arise, you married man, and come along with me
To the cold, cold coast of Greenland to the spermwhale fishery.”

Now Greenland is a dreadful place, a land that's never green;
It's a wild inhabitation for a lover to be in.
Where the keen winds blow and the whalefish go and daylight's seldom seen;
And the cold, cold coast of Greenland lies between my love and me.

No shoes nor stockings I'll put on, no comb go in my hair;
Nor any lamp or candle burn in my chamber bare.
Nor shall I lie with any young man until the day I die
Now the cold, cold coast of Greenland lies between my love and me.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Charles Ipcar for help.

Ewan MacColl's lyrics were copied from the Digital Tradition.