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Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'

GUEST,Dan Hungerford 08 Jun 17 - 02:27 PM
Steve Gardham 08 Jun 17 - 02:43 PM
GUEST,Wm 08 Jun 17 - 02:55 PM
GUEST,Dan Hungerford 08 Jun 17 - 04:43 PM
Steve Gardham 08 Jun 17 - 05:16 PM
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Subject: Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'
From: GUEST,Dan Hungerford
Date: 08 Jun 17 - 02:27 PM

Hi all,

I recently finished reading "Moby Dick". As, aside from the main plotline, this whale of a novel contains pretty much all there is to know about the Nantucket Fishery in the mid 19th Century, it shouldn't come as a surprise that it contains its fair share of songs and shanties. One in particular drew my attention.

Chapter 40 reads as a stage play, between the various sailors at the Pequod's forecastle. It begins with them singing the known and loved "Spanish Ladies". However, this song is quickly interrupted on the grounds that it is too sentimental. Instead, they continue with these lyrics:

"Our captain stood upon the deck,
A spy-glass in his hand,
A viewing of those gallant whales
That blew at every strand.
Oh, your tubs in your boats, my boys,
And by your braces stand,
And we'll have one of those fine whales,
Hand, boys, over hand!
So, be cheery, my lads! may your hearts never fail!
While the bold harpooneer is striking the whale!"

The same song is referenced again in the "extracts" section, with the final two lines being quoted. It is cited as a "Nantucket Song".

Now I haven't been able to find this particular song anywhere outside "Moby Dick". All quotes from it that I copy into Google lead me back to the novel. However, it bears some resemblance to "Greenland Whale Fishery", particularly the following lines (per Dubliners version):

"The lookout on the mainmast he stood
His spyglass in his hand
"There's a whale, there's a whale, there's a whalefish" he cried
"And she blows at every span, brave boys
And she blows at every span"

The captain stood on the quarter deck
The ice was in his eye
"Overhaul, overhaul, let your jib sheets fall
And go put your boats to sea, brave boys
And go put your boats to sea""

I assume that the two songs are related, but I wonder if anyone here has more knowledge. In particular, I wouldn't mind knowing if anyone has a full set of lyrics and/or melody, and whether there's a good recording available.


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Subject: RE: Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jun 17 - 02:43 PM

Here's my opinion on this.
Firstly it appears to be a pastiche composition possibly by Melville himself of bits and pieces he has heard/read.

The first quatrain is as you say. I would guess the next quatrain is Melville's, and the last couplet is a variant of a very old song represented on the folk scene by 'The Bonny Ship the Diamond' a Scots variant, (See DT) but there is a London antecedent from the 17th century if my memory serves me right.

I have opinions to offer on how the song evolved but they are only opinions.


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Subject: RE: Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'
From: GUEST,Wm
Date: 08 Jun 17 - 02:55 PM

There appears to be at least one other source. Jeff Warner writes in the liner notes to his album Long Time Travelling:

Stuart Frank, Curator at the New Bedford (Massachusetts) Whaling Museum, found this song in the papers of George Piper who sailed in the whaler Europa out of Martha's Vineyard in 1868. An almost identical chorus is quoted in Moby Dick, chapter 40:

"So be cheery my lads! Let your hearts never fail
While the bold harpooner is striking the whale!"


He uses the tune most commonly associated with "The Bonnie Ship The Diamond." [Link]

Warner takes after Frank in this regard, who combined the verse in Melville with Bert Lloyd's tune and text for The Bonnie Ship the Diamond, in his own 1978 recording for Smithsonian Folkways. He was apparently not yet aware of the Piper text. [Link]


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Subject: RE: Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'
From: GUEST,Dan Hungerford
Date: 08 Jun 17 - 04:43 PM

Thanks very much to both of you; that's very interesting. I have indeed heard "The Bonnie Ship the Diamond", and now that you mention it, the lyrics can be sung quite well to that melody. After a bit of looking, I found some versions with the Moby Dick verse added.

I for one would be fascinated to hear about your opinions on the song's evolution, Steve, if you'd like to share them.

Wm: Unfortunately, neither of the links you posted appear to work. In both cases, YouTube says that the video is unavailable.


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Subject: RE: Tune Req: From Moby Dick: 'The Bold Harpooneer'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 08 Jun 17 - 05:16 PM

Various versions of the 'Diamond' appeared in and around Peterhead and Aberdeen in the early 19th century. Ballad collector and broadside printer Peter Buchan had a press in Peterhead and then in Aberdeen at that time. Among his other specialities he was adept at taking English broadsides and localising them to his own area. (Another example is his adaptation of Peggy of Derby to become Bonny Lass of Fyvie). PB also had at one time a large collection of ballad books and broadsides from all over the country and he put them to good use before he had to sell them all when he overstretched himself. (Of course Peterhead and Aberdeen were big whaling ports in the early 19th century)

And as others here will tell you most of this is conjecture.


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