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Portent of Doom

by Frank Coffman

THEN up an cam a mermaid,
Wi a siller cup in her han:
‘Sail on, sail on, my gude Scotch lords,
For ye sune will see dry lan.’
‘Awa, awa, ye wind woman,
An let your fleechin be;
For sen your face we’ve seen the day,
Dry lan we’ll never see.’

— from Finlay’s Scottish Ballads,
I, iv from a recited copy
(Child #58-Sir Patrick Spens)

Sir Patrick knew the voyage was likely cursed.
For the king had sent a broad letter that asked
For a sailor good, and Spens was sorely tasked.
Of all stout captains, he was thought the first.
But the weather was foul, the waves were monstrous high.
Ill omens portended a journey fraught with harms:
The new moon cradled the old moon in her arms,
But the surest sign to say the end was nigh
Was the sighting of a mermaid who said, “The land
Is close. Sail on, sail on, ye Scottish Lords.
And the oldest sailors knew well that her words
Meant ocean’s bottom, the sea floor’s endless sand.
Since then ’tis ages, and the Sea’s deeps keep
Sir Patrick and the Scots lords long in sleep.

Copyright © 2018 by Frank Coffman

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