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With a Strong Rudder, by an Inly Rose
– June 27, 2013

The origin of this work lies in the tune by which it goes. Last winter, something (I don't remember what) prompted me to compose a shanty-like tune whose verse worked in odd numbers rather than even. I came up with the tune and a first verse and some moments for later (most none of which survived the day but for the first four lines of stanza i). To my chagrin, the melody turned into something of a tormenting yellow submarine. To get it out of my head, I sat down and spent the next months writing the shanty in full.

An interesting point on the writing side: when I had complete a full draft, I found that it was extremely difficult for me to edit the work according to how it would be read by people who did not know the melody, because I could not read it without slipping into the rhythms of the melody. The effort it took to read the work as verse was quite a bit, and a fascinating experience to go through. But worth it, for there were many a point of rhythmic stumbling hidden by that melody. In fact, if you find any still extant, let me know.

— page added June 27, 2013 (some typos corrected on the page since being added)
— work ©2013
— .wav file and score file added June, 2014


One of these days I'll work up a nice printout for this.

I have rather been in a long debate as to whether to put up the melody as first intended. For the longest time I refused to just to let it get out of my head so I could read the poem without the melody. It was for me one of the worst ear worms I have ever endured . . . but then I had something I was making out of it, so perhaps it is not so surprising. It has been a year now, though; and, the poem was originally written with the melody in my head; so, here it is.



Here is a .wav. (Careful, it comes through rather loud. I have not figured out how to decrease the volume.)



(This is a link to the .wav file.) Both the .wav and image were made with MuseScore.

With a Strong Rudder, by an Inly Rose


Being the last battle of the H.M.S. Provident, before
she turned away to explore the islands in the East
I'll sing you a tale like you never did hear
     Of the ocean, the ocean
I'll sing you a tale, and poison your ear
The sordid deeds of an evil career
The crookedest soul that ever did steer
     O'er the ocean, the ocean
The carrick bend of Formorus Stound
     A dastard, a bastard
A story, a legend, a hangman's round
A homily writ upon sin's resound
Never a soul was as hellward bound
     Than that devil's own bastard
No watery grave would ever be found
     For that seaman, that seaman
No ocean's crypt, no depth without sound
Thrice he was sunk and thrice he had drowned
And thrice Dark Davey threw him aground
     Thrice cursèd seaman
A knife was raised at the bloody birth
     Of that child of boding waters
Black magics wrought on a blighted firth
Never to die if never to earth
So ever he slept in a rolling berth
     That son of churning waters
But dark deeds draw a darker course
     And the waves will claim their ransoms
Dark deeds bear a corrupted corpse
And the darkest call to a pale white horse
A rot that bores with a fateful force
     And the waves will claim their ransoms
His ship was manned by a ghoulish crew
     The damned of the ocean
He filled his pot with Hell's own brew
Out prisons and chains and Ketch's noose
And some say he plundered a graveyard or two
     The damned of the ocean
He killed for money, he murdered for spite
     And his ship churned a red wake
His path was a looting, butchering blight
He left hundreds dead and thousands to die
A black-baned hoard but caught in the eye
     Of that dire ship and its red wake
Now Captain Horne did sail for the Crown
     On the ocean, the ocean
And Captain Horne loved Haydenstown
A peasant's village on Andros found
'Til Formorus Stound came and burned it down
     Like a storm off the ocean
There was no bounty to be found
     In that town on the island
He came with spite and Hell unbound
When the Captain arrived there was nothing found
Not a breathing soul, just a smoldering ground
     And a pall on the island
Then Captain Horne had heard his last
     Of the cries in the dark night
Said Captain Horne, "The die is cast
I'll have no more, I'm standing fast
That damnèd monster has had his last
     With the fires in the dark night"
The first mate cried, "There's naught a chance
     We're damned upon the ocean
The seven seas are that bastard's manse
He makes the rules, he calls the dance
I'll say it again, there's naught a chance
     And we're damned upon the ocean"
The first mate cried, "He cannot die
     While he stands upon the ocean
Though "God's right hand!" be our battle cry
He'll stare us down with his evil eye
He'll drink from our skulls and make kidney pie               
     Of us men of the ocean"
But Captain Horne would not be swayed
     "He'll swing from our yardarm
We'll hunt him from Tunis to Biscayne Bay
That tyrant's death is now our crusade
The lot's been drawn, there must be a way
     He'll swing 'til his neck's drawn"
Three days, three nights, he pondered their plight
     As they sailed upon the ocean
Three days, three nights, the fated fight
His crew was brave and of tested might
But how to slay that shadowed wight
     Who can't die upon the ocean?
The Captain's boy when no one was near
     Asked a word of his Captain
Said the Captain's boy when none else could hear
"You loved that town these many years
How came it that you held it so dear?
     What loved you, my captain?
"Was it you'd bought up the fertile fields
     That lay 'round that small town?
Or had you thought your pow'r to wield
Or did you flaunt your English weal
That wine and women to you would steal
     And you'd reign o'er that small town?"
"T'was happenstance and that alone
     I found peace in that hamlet
By sudden storm my skiff hard blown
They welcomed me in as though their own
I brought linen and rum, they built me a home
     There was peace found in that hamlet
"The women there my sisters were
     My home was that hamlet
The men my kin, saints will aver
Now vengeance calls, naught shall deter
By any means I'll hang that cur
     My soul burned with that hamlet"
"By any means?" the ship's boy asked
     "Do you know what you're saying?
Would you dare a devil's masque?"
"If it's fire it takes to meet this task
Then it's fire I'll use to build his cask'
     What is it you are asking?"
"There's told a woman, in Port-au-Prince,
     Of unworldly talents
Go none to her in innocence
Look in her eyes, you'll be convinced
She'll name a price – do not mince
     She'll avail you of her talents"
Fair Seribeth Whist was nursed on the spume
     Of the ocean, the ocean
It is said she was plucked from a drowning womb
By a vodun hag under blood red moon
Who taught her the words to the rolling doom
     Of the ocean, the ocean
Captain Horne found Seribeth's home
     In the cackling woods of Ayiti
She said, "'T's not I what throws these bones
And years I've waited and years I've known
But the finding is yours, you must search alone
     Through the churning dark of Ayiti"
Three days, three nights, he brought his might
     'Gainst the eerie wild of Ayiti
He dared not sleep, he dared not lie
He trudged through the day and fought through the night
Taunted and haunted by spirits and wights
     In the weirdly wild of Ayiti
Then Captain Horne saw the orange glow
     Of a fire in the dark night
'Round naked flame danced a naked roe
She fit, "Your spirit through me will flow
You've wracked your body now bare your soul
     To the fires of the dark night"
Some fires can only by fire be met
     And the fates will throw their bones
And fire can also by fire be whet
And fire can speak through a carnal planchette
And by charting a body a course is set
     And the fates will hold their bones
When Captain Horne returned to ship
     He came back not alone
"Are the stores o'erflowin'?"
                                   "Aye, Captain, sir!"
"Are the winds hard blowin'?"
                                   "Aye, Captain, sir!"
"The let's get goin', and be there no stir
     That I've come back not alone"
Not alone and not unweighed
     Came the Captain to the harbor
Not alone and with no small freight
A dozen, heavy, new-wrought crates
And a great chest held by a velvet braid
     Brought the Captain to the harbor
The first mate asked, "Who be she then?
     That you've come back not alone?"
"A woman of unworldly ken
Beyond, I know not where t'begin
Yet we were bound this last matin
     In a willing not ours alone"
Now the Provident was a frigate razee
     A strong ship, a proud ship
Her name was known 'cross the seven seas
She trusted her crew just as they did she
But now Seribeth stood raising points to the lee
     Bringing whispers to that proud ship
The wary crew were slight afraid
     Of this roe in the moonlight
A witch beside the ship's wheel staid
To the Captain's boy they begged, "Persuade
Us the Captain has not been unmade
     By a roe a-dance in the moonlight"
"This all is strange, I will not lie"
     Said the sailor to the proud crew
"He sets our course by her circling thighs
But reflected in her midnight eyes
I've seen the fires that will be the demise
     Of that demon and his foul crew"
The astrolabe's of no avail
     With the soul of the ocean
You can't hunt the wind from a treaded trail
But loose the wheel and trust the sail
And coax a nymph at dance unveil
     The soul of the ocean
Three weeks at sea, no whither no why
     Not a spot upon the horizon
Still by the breast the captain scried
Then from the nest the awaited cry
"A black-hulled ship with a blood-red eye!"
     And a storm upon the horizon
The Cap'n stood taut at the Provident's wheel
     Giving chase to the black ship
The crew were eager, their will made steel
Fair Seribeth snapped a sorcerous seal
And gave godspeed to a vengeful keel
     And they closed upon the black ship
The canons fired their iron hate
     At the Stygian barque of the demon
The crew begged Fury not abate
And Seribeth Whist and the Bos'n and Mate
With harpoons in hand were perched on crates
     With eyes but for the demon
A ship that fights for their captain's pride
     Is a ship to be dreaded
But when gentlemen sailors loose their Hydes
When it's Death's own lust that pulls broadside
When "Leave none alive!" is their boarding cry
     Is when dreading's taught the dreaded
By havoc's cry they slew the hounds
     Of the lord of Hellgate's towers
The Captain's blade in blood was drowned
And set beside the main mast, Stound
Refused to yield his claimèd ground
     At the gates of Hell's dark towers
The Mate's harpoon did grip the skin
     Of the laughing fiend of the ocean
The Bos'n threw and the first was twinned
Then Seribeth called upon the wind
And to the mast grave Stound was pinned
     Yet he grinned, that fiend of the ocean
The sky was writhing, dark and chill
     And Seribeth heard the sounding
And with each death it grew darker still
And blood into the ocean trilled
And shadows rose to have their fill
     And Seribeth knew the sounding
"Be quick, my love," fair Seribeth urged
     As the Captain faced his captive
"Untempered is the ocean's surge
Don't wait, don't tarry here at the verge
Or these coupled ships will be submerged
     And free will be your captive"
"It's over now; there'll be no more"
     Said the Captain to his captive
The dozen were brought from out the stores
And all about Stound's feet was poured
The eerie earth of Ayiti's shores
     As the Captain faced his captive
The lances to the mast did stake
     That demon of the ocean
The mound was raised past half his shanks
His boots were lifted off the planks
And Stound stood crouched upon the bank
     Of an island on the ocean
They piled up drywood 'bout the mast
     As lighting ripped the dark sky
"Away, in flames, your reign will pass
What words you might will be your last
There's but one question to be asked"
     And the Captain met Stound's dark eyes
"I knew you once, we've met before
     A lad, I could but whisper
By England's grace you sailed our shores
Your honor like a lion roared
What led you to bed with Hell's own whores?"
     Stound answered with a whisper
A couple of words, and that was all
     'Til the Captain broke the silence
"What grace is due you I here call"
And as the match to oil did fall
The ocean ceased its raging squall
     And the seas reclaimed their silence
Three days, three nights, the body burned
     Smoke carried to the four winds
That dead he'd stay was their one concern
So they sealed his ash in an iron urn
And divvied his bones that each in turn
     Could spread them to the four winds
So the Provident turned to Dover's cliffs
     With the quiet of a tern's breath
The crew's thoughts turned from the sea's abyss
In the Captain's berth fair Seribeth Whist
Asked, "What did he say in that officer's kiss
     In the quiet of his last breath?"
"Formorus Stound once commanded the tides
     I knew well all the stories
His ship was known as His Majesty's Pride
In battle his sword was brilliant and wry
Then came the day when his luck was tried
     Or so go all the stories
The Pride got caught in a brigand's lie
     Ships sailing under false colors
And a musket's round tore through his thigh
In a villain's grasp he went over the side
And what he said when I asked him, 'Why?'
     Was, 'I did not die'"
"Then what grace is due him I too call"
     And she drew down the lantern
"I know too well of hex and caul
But let it pass with this night's fall
And let our bed now be our all"
     And he drew down the lantern