The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #128220   Message #2896768
Posted By: Lighter
29-Apr-10 - 01:45 PM
Thread Name: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Subject: RE: The Advent and Development of Chanties
Unprovable hypothesis alert.

John Masefield was confident that "Haul on the bowline" must go back to the 16th C. because the bowline, by the 19th, was no longer a rope that needed a shanty. Other writers have rightly criticized Masefield for his assumption. However...

It does seem unlikely that a shanty would arise telling the crew specifically to "Haul on the bowline" (and only the bowline) at a time when the labor would be unecessary. Sure, it could have started as a joke, but here's another theory.

Maybe the shanty developed from a "bowline singout" that really does go back centuries. Consider the tune of the words: "Haul on the bowline" - three close notes for five syllables. If the final syllable of "bowline" is shouted higher rather than sung lower, it becomes indistinguishable from a singout. The shanty may have developed from a repetitive singout: "Haul on the bowline!" (They haul.) "Haul on the bowline!" (They haul.)

Then one day, the proto-shantyman gets tired of "Haul on the bowline!" and follows it up with a second, more tuneful "verse," "So early in the morning!" Later, maybe years later, some crew adapts the first verse as a chorus. Ad lib to suit and voila! a shanty (maybe the earliest indeed).

No early writer would have noticed, because there's nothing interesting about sailors hauling on a bowline while someone yells, "Haul on the bowline!"

Just speculating.