The Master-Watch (Dan Carrol)

Three thousand men of the Viking breed
Will sail for the North today;
An eager throng fills the city streets,
And loud from the crowded quay
The answering cheer and the shrilly horn
Proclaim where the ships delay.

But back in a dingy street there lies,
Enfeebled, and faint, and poor,
Begrizzled, and gray, and weak, a man
Whose sealing for aye is o'er-
The master-watch of the fearless heart
Who shall tread the pans no more.

Eager, alert and brave was he,
And fleet of foot as the roe;
Through nights of stress
he has cheered his mates
When lost on the running floe,
And his eagle eye was the first to sight
His ship through the whirling snow.

The damp of death is upon his brow,
And his eyes with mist are dim;
But a passing smile plays for a while
On the old man's features grim;
He starts as a loud hurrah is borne
Clear over the eaves to him.

Then wakened memory paints the scenes
Of many a vanished year;
And he treads the quarter deck again-
He leads in the lusty cheer-
And lo! He speaks, and his furrowed cheeks
Are wet with the unchecked tear.

"Ah, yes! I can hear their cheering now,
They're off to the ice today;
Oh! I've been with them for forty years,
And know where the white-coats stray;
I know where the main-patch drifting goes,
Where the seals in thousands lay.

"I've watched the winds and the currents long
And studied the omens, too,
And none but the veteran sealer knows,
And none but an instinct true;
I've been in the seals- in my ship alone-
Alone with a stalwart crew.

"Today they sail, but I may not go,
Yet memory fondly sings,
Till in dreams I've found
where the harps abound,
Where the hunter's cheering rings;
My heart is away upon the floe
Where the blood-stained baton swings.

"I hear the cry of the young all night,
I long for the morn to shine;
Now I watch three hundred men away
Over the frozen brine-
I see afar 'gainst the sinking sun
The flagged-pans lift on the line.

"The crystal berg and the north-lights gleam,
And the lode star clear o'erhead
Breaks grandly bright on the northern night;
Our ship once more has led-
And, Captain- Lord, yes! Today-"
Then the master-watch lay dead.

####.... Dan Carrol [1865-1941] St John's wood carver and poet ....####
One of the best known Newfoundland sealing ballads, first published on p.12 of the Newfoundland Quarterly (Dec 1907), this is the story of a dying sealer who watches ships go out, leaving him to his memories.

This variant was printed on p.28 of the Atlantic Guardian, Vol 01, #03 (March 1945), and published by Atlantic Guardian Associates, Montreal, QC, Ewart Young, editor [1913-1968]

A variant was published on p.77 of Old Time Songs and Poetry of Newfoundland: Songs Of The People From The Days Of Our Forefathers, 2nd Ed, 1940, printed by the publishers of The Family Fireside For Gerald S Doyle, St John's.

Another variant was recorded by Omar Blondahl (A Visit To Newfoundland With Omar Blondahl, trk#12, 1958 LP, Rodeo International, distributed by London Records of Canada); and (The Great Seal Hunt Of Newfoundland - Songs Of The Sealers, trk#7, 1959 LP, Banff-Rodeo, ON, distributed by London Records of Canada).

See more songs by Omar Blondahl

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary:
Aye - always, forever, eternally.

From Wikipedia:
Roe - European roe deer (Capreolus capreolus), also known as the western roe deer, chevreuil, or roe deer, is a Eurasian species of deer. The male of the species is sometimes referred to as a roebuck. The roe deer is relatively small, reddish and grey-brown, and well-adapted to cold environments. The species is widespread in Europe, from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia and from Britain to the Caucasus. It is distinct from the somewhat larger Siberian roe deer.

From the Dictionary of Newfoundland English:
Running Floe - ice usually separated into fragments or pans, carried along by sea currents or wind.
Master-Watch - man placed in charge of one of the groups aboard a sealing vessel organized to hunt seals on the ice-floes.
Pan - floating field of Arctic ice.
Patch - concentration of harp or hood seals on the ice floes, usually for the purpose of breeding, whelping or moulting.
White Coat - young harp seal with white fur soon shed.


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