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Harp Song of the Dane Women

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy]

Harp Song of the Dane Women is a poem from Rudyard Kipling's book Puck of Pook's Hill. Peter Bellamy set it to his own music and sang it on his second album of songs set to Kipling's poems, Merlin's Isle of Gramarye. He noted:

The Harp Song of the Dane Women is the ritual lamentation of the women who waited through the long months for the return of their men who went a-viking. The setting is guesswork, but derived conceptually from the style of The Lyke Wake Dirge, a north-country funeral song of reputedly Norse origins. The harp found in the Sutton Hoo ship burial was a very rudimentary instrument, capabale of little more than a rhythmic strumming to accompany a chant, and the guitar part here is intended to evoke such a sound.

Wendy Stewart sang Harp Song of the Dane Women, set to music by Paul Guppy, in 1992 on her Greentrax album About Time. She noted:

This poem from Puck of Pook's Hill expresses the feelings of those left behind when a loved one heads off to unknown parts—something my husband Alan knows all too well! Paul Guppy, another citizen of Lancaster, is a harpmaker, player and lorist extraordinaire, and fellow Scandiphile, so had obvious affinities with this poem.

Lyrics

Harp Song of the Dane Women

Ah, what is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
For to go with the old grey Widow-maker?

She has no house to lay a guest in—
But one chill bed for all to rest in,
That the pale suns and the stray bergs nest in.

She has no strong white arms to fold you,
But the ten-times-fingering weed to hold you
Bound on the rocks where the tide has rolled you.

Yet, when the signs of summer thicken,
And the ice breaks, and the birch-buds quicken,
Then yearly you turn from our side, and sicken—

Sicken again for the shouts and the slaughters,—
You steal away to the lapping waters,
And you look at your ship in her winter quarters.

You forget our mirth, and our talk at the tables,
The kine in the shed and the horse in the stables—
For to pitch her sides and go over her cables!

Then you drive out where the storm-clouds swallow:
And the sound of your oar-blades falling hollow
Is all we have left through the months to follow.

Ah, ah, what is a woman that you forsake her,
And the hearth-fire and the home-acre,
For to go with the old grey Widow-maker?