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Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'

DigiTrad:
DANCING AT WHITSUN
FORLORN LOVER
I AINSE LOVED A LASS
I COURTED A WEE GIRL
I LOVED A LAD
IT'S ONLY MY AULD SHEEN (FALSE BRIDE)
LAMBS ON THE GREEN HILLS
THE FALSE BRIDE
THREE WEEKS BEFORE EASTER
WEEK BEFORE EASTER 2


Related threads:
Lyr Add: Dancing at Whitsun (59)
Chord Req: Lambs in the Greenfield (Emmylou Harris (17)
Lyr & Tune add: The False Bride (Penguin) (8)
(origins) Origin: I Loved a Lad (7)


GUEST,Jim 24 May 02 - 06:02 AM
IanC 24 May 02 - 06:29 AM
GUEST,Keith A at work 24 May 02 - 06:35 AM
McGrath of Harlow 24 May 02 - 06:52 AM
IanC 24 May 02 - 07:09 AM
GUEST,Jim 24 May 02 - 07:34 AM
IanC 24 May 02 - 09:09 AM
GUEST,Iain L. 24 May 02 - 10:20 AM
Charley Noble 24 May 02 - 10:49 AM
Mary in Kentucky 24 May 02 - 10:53 AM
Jacob B 24 May 02 - 11:04 AM
McGrath of Harlow 24 May 02 - 11:13 AM
SharonA 24 May 02 - 11:14 AM
Amergin 24 May 02 - 11:25 AM
IanC 24 May 02 - 11:35 AM
GUEST,Nerd 24 May 02 - 12:37 PM
Barry Finn 24 May 02 - 02:54 PM
Bennet Zurofsky 24 May 02 - 04:17 PM
Emma B 24 May 02 - 04:52 PM
Stewie 24 May 02 - 08:05 PM
Roughyed 24 May 02 - 08:11 PM
Peg 24 May 02 - 11:10 PM
GUEST,mike-wsm 27 Oct 13 - 02:58 PM
GUEST 27 Oct 13 - 03:32 PM
GUEST,Gerry 27 Oct 13 - 07:09 PM
GUEST 26 Mar 15 - 07:58 AM
GUEST,Guest 02 Oct 16 - 05:39 AM
bubblyrat 02 Oct 16 - 09:45 AM
Gurney 02 Oct 16 - 11:51 PM
Hrothgar 03 Oct 16 - 04:19 AM
GUEST,RA 03 Oct 16 - 04:57 AM
clueless don 03 Oct 16 - 08:56 AM
Steve Gardham 03 Oct 16 - 02:37 PM
Gurney 03 Oct 16 - 05:50 PM
Charley Noble 06 Nov 17 - 08:09 PM
Gallus Moll 06 Nov 17 - 08:39 PM
Keith A of Hertford 07 Nov 17 - 07:55 AM
Charley Noble 07 Nov 17 - 08:56 AM
Tootler 09 Nov 17 - 04:55 AM
Jim Carroll 09 Nov 17 - 06:04 AM
Charley Noble 09 Nov 17 - 08:50 PM
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Subject: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 24 May 02 - 06:02 AM

In the False Bride / I loved a lass (lad) / Week before Easter family of songs, some versions include the verse:

The men in yon forest, they all ask of me
How many strawberries grow in the salt sea?
I ask them the same, I ask them quite plain
How many ships sail in the forest?

The verse doesn't really add anything to the narrative, and seems to have 'wandered in' from another song, presumably one of the large range of 'impossible riddle' types.

However, I've not heard the verse used except in the song family mentioned.

Any ideas?

Jim


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: IanC
Date: 24 May 02 - 06:29 AM

Jim

It's a reflection on those things which cannot be. I believe it also ties up with the "Dig me a grave/dig it long, wide and deep" verse.

Cheers!
Ian


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: GUEST,Keith A at work
Date: 24 May 02 - 06:35 AM

I wondered if the phrases were meant to convey the exact opposite of the expression, There are plenty more fish in the sea.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 May 02 - 06:52 AM

But not too many strawberries.

The verse shows him recognising that he has no hope of regaining his lost love. There is no more chance of that happening than there is of finding strawberrries in the ocean, or ships deep in the forest. Best he can hope for now is to die and be buried and be done with all that.

The verse has a very effective narrative quality. Economical and elliptic. And it also implicitly paints a picture of him wandering in the forest where the strawberries do grow. It's an extraordinarily powerful son with layers of meaning, and yet very simple.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: IanC
Date: 24 May 02 - 07:09 AM

BTW, the verse is unlikely to find its way into any riddle songs as the (rhetorical) questions are not riddles. The answer is just "no chance".

:-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: GUEST,Jim
Date: 24 May 02 - 07:34 AM

Thanks guys.

Ian,

'Riddle' was perhaps the wrong word. I meant songs of the

"Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Without any needle or needle's work"

type. ie "No Chance"


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: IanC
Date: 24 May 02 - 09:09 AM

Jim

Fair enough. You're thinking of Scarboro' Fair rather than Riddles Wisely Expounded. I always wondered if there was an answer to all of those, if the bloke was only bright enough!

;-)
Ian


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: GUEST,Iain L.
Date: 24 May 02 - 10:20 AM

In Scottish heraldry, the Fraser coat-of-arms has three strawberry flowers on blue; McDonald and related ones have one ship on green. Fraser in Gaelic is Frisealach, which can be interpreted as 'men of the forest'. The verse, traditionally known as 'the magic verse', is equally traditionally associated with the battle in July 1544 called Blar na Leine, between Frasers of Lovat, with some McDonalds, and other McDonalds and some Camerons. So ye ken the noo!


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Charley Noble
Date: 24 May 02 - 10:49 AM

There's many a "bark" in the forest, but some would quibble that a "bark" is not a "ship."

Cheerily,
Charley Noble


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Mary in Kentucky
Date: 24 May 02 - 10:53 AM

Malcolm Douglas summarized some of the Mudcat/DT information about The False Bride here. (also references to other sources) I like to hear Jon sing this one...something about his accent that makes it so appropriate.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Jacob B
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:04 AM

There is an answer to the "Tell her to make me a cambric shirt without any needle or needle's work" line. In some versions that is the task the man sets for the woman, and she replies,"Tell him to find an acre of land between the beach and the ocean, plow it with a thistle, sow the entire acre with one seed, and when he brings me the wheat from it I'll have his shirt ready."


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:13 AM

Of course in folk stories all these impossible tasks normally get carried out, with the help of various creatures whom our hero has befriended in earlier parts of the story. (With the underlying message being that it's best policy always to do anyone you meet good turns, because you never know, you might need a good turn from them some day.)

But I don't think that would apply in this story. After all, this time it's not the girl or her parents who are laying down those impossible conditions to be met.


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Subject: Birmingham Sunday and ships sail in the forest
From: SharonA
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:14 AM

The question also makes its way into the song "Birmingham Sunday" by Richard Farina, as this verse (slightly altered from the above version):

The men in the forest, they asked it of me
How many blackberries grew in the blue sea
And I asked them right with a tear in my eye
How many dark ships in the forest


Link to the complete lyrics of "Birmingham Sunday" from the DT: /@displaysong.cfm?SongID=653


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Amergin
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:25 AM

thanks, Sharon....was just about to mention the same thing...always wondered what it was doing in there....


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: IanC
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:35 AM

Amergin

The clue comes from the tune name. The tune used was ... you guessed it.

:-)


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: GUEST,Nerd
Date: 24 May 02 - 12:37 PM

I always thought of the lines as elliptical narrative. He was distressed at being left by his love and has decided to enlist in the navy. He is taunted by the lads of the wood, who ask him how many strawberries grow in the sea. He answers them with the only taunt he can think of: "how many ships sail in the forest?" But he's aware his answer is slightly hollow as he does not truly love ships, hence the tear. This realization is what makes him, finally, wish for death.

I realize that my interpretation may be idiosyncratic, but this is how it's always fit into the song for me. I do of course realize that it also adds the sense of futility of the traditional impossible tasks verses.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Barry Finn
Date: 24 May 02 - 02:54 PM

This verse is from "The Lambs On the Green Hills"
makes much more sense to me

The lambs on the green hills, they sport and they play
And many strawberries grow round the salt sea
How sad is my heart when my love is away
How many's the ships sails the ocean

Barry


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Bennet Zurofsky
Date: 24 May 02 - 04:17 PM

I am glad that someone brought up the use of this verse in Birmingham Sunday, since this query was posted while the last living murder suspect for the church bombing described in that song was on trial in Alabama for the deed after way too many years. I was glad to hear that the jury returned a guilty verdict yesterday.

I believe Richard Farina used the traditional verse for the same reason that it is used in the ballad: some things just cannot be explained, like how could a human being commit the crime of bombing a Sunday School class, killing three young girls, and injuring many others?

In addition, the image of a dark ship in the forest is a terrifying one. It seems to signify that there are many unknown, but substantial, hazards in the forest that the struggle for freedom must pass through. This meaning is certainly appropriate in Birmingham Sunday.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Emma B
Date: 24 May 02 - 04:52 PM

I was told that there are answers to all the riddles in Scarborough Fair. The Cambric shirt is an egg shell the well, a dew drop, the acre of land the foam etc...


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Stewie
Date: 24 May 02 - 08:05 PM

See also #318 in Iona and Peter Opie 'Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes' Oxford Uni Press:

A man in the wilderness asked me
How many strawberries grow in the sea?
I answered him as I thought good
As many as red herrings grow in the wood

The accompanying note refers to 'How many ships sail in the forest' as being an extension of a Shetland version of 'The Week Before Easter' which 'is preserved on a broadsheet of the reign of James II'. [p284, Fourth Impression 1995].

--Stewie.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Roughyed
Date: 24 May 02 - 08:11 PM

I think this verse is inexplicable and that to me is what makes folk music special. I love the different theories that contributors have come up with and accept that any one of them could be true - but we'll never know. To me it is a really surreal verse and I love it as such. the fact that Richard Farina could take what I feel is a song of adolescent angst and use the form and the imagery to say something so powerful about something so important - well that's why I love folk music and the people that produce and produced it.


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Subject: RE: Lyric Query: ships sail in the forest
From: Peg
Date: 24 May 02 - 11:10 PM

it's not just surreal or a riddle; it's an inversion (or a "topsy-turvy" is you prefer). Strawberries grow in the forest; ships sail on the salt sea. Love turns you upside down?

peg


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST,mike-wsm
Date: 27 Oct 13 - 02:58 PM

Try Squirrel Nutkin, it's in the story, along with more 'impossible' riddles


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST
Date: 27 Oct 13 - 03:32 PM

I used to sing the song, and I thought it obvious that the narrator was a sailor who had fallen for a girl who lived in a forested area. The locals were saying that she wasn't for him and his lifestyle, and he was reluctantly agreeing.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST,Gerry
Date: 27 Oct 13 - 07:09 PM

Bob Dylan, from Ballad in Plain D, which has a similar tune:

Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
"How good, how good does it feel to be free?"
And I answer them most mysteriously
"Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?"


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST
Date: 26 Mar 15 - 07:58 AM

Further to the Fraser coat of arms showing strawberries ... it wouldn't have anything to do with the French word for strawberry being "fraise?"


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST,Guest
Date: 02 Oct 16 - 05:39 AM

In May 2002 Sharon A wrote: The question also makes its way into the song "Birmingham Sunday" by Richard Farina, as this verse (slightly altered from the above version):

The men in the forest, they asked it of me
How many blackberries grew in the blue sea
And I asked them right with a tear in my eye
How many dark ships in the forest

As I know it, the words were sung - and explained as:-

The men in the forest, they once asked of me
How many black berries grow in the salt sea ?

'The men in the forest' are that group of people who supported the segregationist cause but did not want to be individually identified – and who use the riddle to ask whether it was natural for black people to live in the white community.

And I asked them right with a tear in my eye
How many dark trees in the forest ?

And the sijnger comes right back by asking whether anyone can or should identify individual trees in a forest – with the added overtone of 'dark trees'. But then, I was brought up in South Africa and was eventually banned for ridiculing the previous government and its apartheid laws in a series of songs.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: bubblyrat
Date: 02 Oct 16 - 09:45 AM

I, and others of my acquaint, have always sung thus ;

The men of yon forest, they ask it of me,

How many strawberries grow in the salt sea ?

And I answer them back with a tear in my eee ( Scots for "eye" )

How many ships sail in the forest ?

* Many English words are pronounced differently by Scottish people, for example Heed ( head) , deed (dead),lang (long)

Example ; "If at firrrst ye don't succeed,
          Pull yer foreskin o'er yer heed "

Sorry ; I find it difficult to take this thread seriously !!


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Gurney
Date: 02 Oct 16 - 11:51 PM

I have had this song from my earliest days as a folkie, and it has always seemed obvious to me.
A sailors life was strictly male. Cabin boys notwithstanding.

If a seaman fell in love, it would have to be a land-based English girl.

Until the Industrial revolution, most Britons lived outside cities.

Britain was until recently heavily forested. By recently I mean post the development of the English language.

So, a seaman fell in love with a country girl, but she jilted him.

Just my theory.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Hrothgar
Date: 03 Oct 16 - 04:19 AM

I have always thought of this as one of the verses in "The Week Before Easter"


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: GUEST,RA
Date: 03 Oct 16 - 04:57 AM

Dudes, if you don't understand that line, then you've never been in love.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: clueless don
Date: 03 Oct 16 - 08:56 AM

I have always thought that this verse is the most over-rated verse in folk music. Your opinion may vary.

Don


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Steve Gardham
Date: 03 Oct 16 - 02:37 PM

It might be over-rated, don, but it seems to have survived very well for over 300 years.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Gurney
Date: 03 Oct 16 - 05:50 PM

I woke up and found that this thread had been going through my subconscious mind last night.

The narrator ('I') was a person cf some importance, (shipowner, shipwright, ship's officer,)and he was in the forest on business, such as seeking timber.
He meets this young lady (the lass) and falls madly in love, and the fact that she is betrothed is of no matter to him in his madness.
He presses his suit.
Relatives and friends of the couple try to put him off, gently. (Spoke ill of her.) This doesn't work.
The hell with him, the couple marry. He crashes the wedding, uninvited. He eats and drinks and sits glowering.
Said friends and relatives point out that she wants to live near home, and he wants to take her away.
He says he is going to die of love and wants to be buried nearby so that she will always be sorry.
He doesn't die, but tells a poet the story, and the poet writes the song.

If you substitute 'white roses' for 'strawberries' it seems lyrically better to me. The verse means, again, 'she couldn't live there, and he couldn't live here.'


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 06 Nov 17 - 08:09 PM

I am mulling over this old thread in the context of a newsflash from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Perhaps the old ballad still has life in it yet:

From Boston Magazine, Hayley Glatter, November 2, 2017

A 400-Pound, Headless Tuna Was Found in the Woods in Gloucester

The tunaverse works in dark, mysterious ways: One day you?re swimming upstream with the local school and the next you?re being recovered in the middle of the woods and your head?s gone.

A dark and ominous tail?sorry, tale?is unfolding in Gloucester, where a 400-pound, headless giant tuna was found on land near Revere Street in Annisquam. The Gloucester Times reports that the Massachusetts Environmental Police and NOAA Fisheries? Office of Law Enforcement are fishing for answers to find the person who ditched the creature, though officials declined to discuss the ongoing investigation. And while we?ve refrained from posting images of this poor dead sea creature, if you?re still in the Halloween mood, you can click on through to that Gloucester Times link if you want to see a rather grisly giant fish picture.

Patrick Moran, a major in the Environmental Police, told the Gloucester Times that the case is the first of its kind, so rest easy in knowing that there?s no giant tuna crime wave sweeping the state.

The 400-pound tuna was so big it had to be carried from the scene with a tow-truck. However, despite its seemingly massive size, 400 pounds is not particularly uncommon for a fish. In fact, the largest Atlantic tuna ever recorded notched 1,496 pounds and was caught off Nova Scotia.

The tuna season is traditionally from June to November, and some species of tuna are classified as ?critically endangered? by the World Wildlife Fund. Meanwhile, we?ll wrestle with such questions as How? Why? No, really, how??

Charlie Ipcar


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Gallus Moll
Date: 06 Nov 17 - 08:39 PM

I am glad I am not the only person whose apostrophes have turned into question marks!
(see the Day we went to Rothesay O thread!!)


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Keith A of Hertford
Date: 07 Nov 17 - 07:55 AM

The film Love Actually always reminds me of this.
The sub-plot where the best man loved the bride.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 07 Nov 17 - 08:56 AM

Gallus Moll-

Clearly the Tunaverse is in conflict with Mudcat Reality...

So, here's a bit more of the story teased out of a Gloucester friend:

"So he (the one who caught the tuna) went out of Pigeon Cove after the Tuna season ended and caught that fish. Apparently someone at Pigeon Cove saw him going out and knew him and why he was going and called the Greenies and dropped a dime. He comes back with the fish, waits till night time, takes his girlfriend's brand new car and goes back to the boat, pulls off the fish, ties it to the bumper of the car and drags it back to Lanesville. He called a buddy that processes Tuna because he thought he would be able to sell it to him and the dude told him no way! So, he's stuck with a 400 pound, headless tuna with road rash. What does he do? Drags it up to the woods off Revere Street and buries it under a bunch of leaves and sticks banking on it so the coyotes and animals can?t eat it. The dime dropper tells the Greenies about the webcam at Pigeon Cove and they pull the tapes. Sure enough, there he is and his ill-gotten Tuna. Oh, and he doesn't have a driver's license either."

The story just gets better and better!

Charlie Ipcar


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Tootler
Date: 09 Nov 17 - 04:55 AM

For goodness sake, so many contortions tomtry and explain a verse whose meaning I would have thought was obvious if you realise just one thing.

The song comes from a time when even for the wealthy, divorce was all but unobtainable and if you weren't wealthy chances of divorce were zero.

So once she was married that's it, there's no going back and his chances of persuading her to come back to him are zero - that's if she ever wanted him in the first place and his affection was always one sided. Either way the verse is simply a statement that she's not attainable any more so stop whingeing and get on with your life.


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Nov 17 - 06:04 AM

"I would have thought was obvious"
Amen to that
"Ships in the forest", "rocks melting in the sun", "seas running dry", "blackberries growing in the salt sea" were commonplace terms for impossible wishes or irreconcilable differences
There really is far too much made of these
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Lyr Req: 'How many ships sail in the forest?'
From: Charley Noble
Date: 09 Nov 17 - 08:50 PM

Here's a draft version of my new ballad, inspired by a real news article above:

By Charlie Ipcar, 11/5/17, ? 2017
Inspired by a story in the Boston Magazine by Hayley Glatter, November 2, 2017.

The Ballad of the Headless Tuna

A man in the wilderness once asked of me,
?How many strawberries grow in the sea??
I answered this fella, as I thought good,
?As many red herrings as grow in the wood.?

Good friends gather round, and listen to me,
And I?ll tell you a tale of a fish from the sea;
She was a great tuna, Charlia her name,
And her untidy demise brought her some fame.

After All Hallows Eve, or so people say,
She was hauled back to Gloucester early next day;
But the season was closed, what was Chummy to do?
Charlia discovered would raise a great hue.

So thinking fast, though somewhat bizarre,
He hitched up Charlia to his girlfriend?s new car;
And down Revere Street to a friend?s house he sped,
Dragging that tuna after removing her head.

Chummy?s friend took one look, exclaimed, ?No way!?
What was he to do now but throw Charlia away?
So he dragged her to a woods and buried her there,
And, as Cod is my Co-Pilot, he then said a prayer.

But that?s not the end to Chummy?s grave sin,
For a fella had spied him, and then turned him in;
He called up the ?Greenies? and told them to check,
The Pigeon Cove webcam down on the deck.

And so they found Chummy, locked him in jail,
Not even his girlfriend would put up his bail;
And Charlia?s grave was found after a while;
She?s now stored in a freezer awaiting the trial.

So all you bold fishermen, remember this song,
Abide by the season, you?ll never go wrong;
Abide by the season and you?ll never dread,
A night visit by Charlia without her head!

Cheerily,
Charlie Ipcar


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