> Brass Monkey > Songs > Flame of Fire

The Sailor’s Tragedy / A Sailor By My Right / Flame of Fire / The Dreadful Ghost

[ Roud 568 ; Master title: The Sailor’s Tragedy ; Laws P34 ; G/D 2:341 ; Ballad Index LP34 ; Bodleian Roud 568 ; Wiltshire 1068 ; DT DREDGHOS ; Mudcat 127864 ; trad.]

John Roberts and Tony Barrand sang The Dreadful Ghost in 1977 on their Folk-Legacy album of ballads of the supernatural, Dark Ships in the Forest. They noted:

In a number of songs, a ship refuses to sail because of the presence of a Jonah, an evil-doer who must be sacrificed before the vessel can proceed. Our version of this one is Canadian, collected by Helen Creighton in the Maritimes, collated with Newfoundland texts gathered by Kenneth Peacock. Jean Ritchie, on hearing it sung, remarked that it must have been written by a woman.

Debra Cowan sang The Dreadful Ghost in 2002 at the 23rd Annual Sea Music Festival at Mystic Seaport.

Martin Carthy sang Flame of Fire in 2004 on Brass Monkey’s fifth album, Flame of Fire. He noted:

I’ve changed a couple of details in Flame of Fire and am happy to have done so. I thought it extremely unfair that one of the beguiled women has to come back from Hell with Imps to get at her betrayer so I substituted Heaven and Angels who do the same. Then they send him to hell. The song comes from Maud Karpeles’ two-volume edition of Cecil Sharp’s songs.


John Roberts and Tony Barrand sing The Dreadful Ghost

It’s of a sailor of whom I write,
Unto the seas he took great delight,
Two maidens fair he did beguile
And those two maidens he had with child.

Oh, one of them, for public shame,
Unto some handsome grove she came,
And there, at length, for to end all strife.
She cut it there, the thread of life.

She hung herself down from a tree,
Where two men a-hunting did her see.
They got a knife and cut her down,
And on her bosom a note was found.

And this was writ in letters large:
“Don’t bury me, I do you charge,
But on the ground there let me lie,
That maids may see me as they pass by.

“Let them take warning by my fate,
And quit this folly before it’s too late.”
And while on land she plagued him so,
To the seas at length he was forced to go.

One morning on the topmast high,
A little boat he chanced to spy,
A little boat with a large crew of men,
And a female ghost who stood up then.

Down decks, down decks this young man goes,
To greet the captain in his morning clothes,
He says, “Captain, captain, stand my defence,
For I see a spirit a-coming hence.”

So up on deck this captain goes,
And there he spies this dreadful ghost,
She says, “Captain, Captain, come tell me true,
Does such a man sail among your crew?”

“It was in St. Taliens this young man died,
And in St. Taliens his body lies.”
She says, “Captain, Captain, don’t tell me so,
For he’s sailing down in your ship below.

“And if you don’t bring him up to me,
A mighty storm you soon shall see,
Which will cause both you and your gallant men to weep,
And leave you slumbering in the deep.”

Down decks, down decks this captain goes,
And brings this young man up to his foes,
And when she fixed her grim eyes on him,
It made him tremble in every limb.

“Oh, don’t you remember when I was a maid,
You caused my poor trembling heart to bleed;
Now I’m a spirit come for thou,
You baulked me once but I’ve got you now.”

Down in her boat she forced him,
Down in her boat he was forced for to go,
And as he did, we all did admire,
For the boat went down in a flame of fire.

And as she sank, she rose again,
And aye she sang this mournful strain:
“You sailors all who are left behind,
Never prove false to young womankind.”

Martin Carthy sings Flame of Fire

I am a sailor by my right,
On the seas I took great delight.
Of two girls I did recall
And both of them I got with child.

I promised I would be true to both,
Promised them on my solemn oath.
One of them became my wife
And the other took her own sweet life.

For she hanged herself all on a tree.
Two men out hunting her did see,
Ran with speed and they cut her down
And on her body a note they found.

“If on the earth just let me lie.
Everyone that do pass by,
Everyone a warning take
And see what folly this young man made.”

“While he’s on earth will I be just,
While he’s on earth shall he take no rest.”
What she said played the young man’s scorn
That on the sea he was forced to go.

One day he stood on the main mast high,
A little boat he chanced to spy.
Saw his true love draw to the side,
Two angel babies all by her side.

His true love all on the deck did stand,
Enquiring for this wicked man.
In some little town this young man died
And in that town his body lied.

“Oh captain, captain, can you say so,
For he is down in the hold below.
And if you stand in his defense,
Here is the spirit will take you hence.”

Down from the deck then the captain goes,
Brought up this young man to face his foes.
She fixed her eyes on him so grim,
It made him tremble in every limb.

“I am the spirit sent for you,
You deceived me once, but I have you now.”
And to protect both ship and men,
Into her boat they all forced him then.

Into her boat they all forced him then
All to protect both ship and men.
The boat sank in a flame of fire,
It caused the sailors all to admire.