The Silkie

An earthly nurse sits and sings
And aye she sings by lily wean,
And little ken I my bairn's father,
Far less the land where he dwells in

He came ae nicht tae her bed feet,
And a grumbly guest I'm sure was he,
Saying "Here am 1, thy bairn's Father,
Though I am not comely be.

"I am a man upon the land,
I am a silkie in the sea,
And when I'm far and far frae Ian',
My home it is in Sule Skerrie."

And he his taen a purse of gowd,
And he his pit it on her knee,
Saying, " Gie to me my lit tie young son,
And tak' thee up thy nurse's fee.

"Shall come tae pass ae Simmer's day,
When sun shines bright on every stane,
I'll come and fetch my little young son
And teach him how to swim the faem

"And ye shall marry a gunner good,
And a richt fine gunner I'm sure he'll be,
And the very first shot that e'er he shoots,
Will kill baith my young son and me."

There are many versions of the story of the 'Silkies' or sea-people who are part of folk tradition from the Orkneys to the Hebrides. Legend has it that these people live in the ocean depths and on occasion shed their seal-skins to leave the sea and take a human as their marriage partner. The tug-of-war of allegiance starts with the children of the marriage and, as in many folk tales, doom is the outcome. Some families in the islands claimed to have traced their ancestry back to such a legendary union. There are other versions of the tune, but the one given here sings well and catches the atmosphere of the legend. Sometimes the first verse is sung again at the end of the song, very quietly.