A French Sailor — oil on canvas, 1897, by Norwegian painter Christian Krohg (1852–1925)
Photo courtesy of Nasjonalmuseet, Norway
The maritime Establishment never runs out of tributes to mariners and clichéd words about how hard and dangerous their work is. They all sound contrived and particularly annoying to hear on the annual Day of the Seafarer. Better to listen to the song, “And Yet”, written and performed by the multi-awarded British musician, Sting.
I was all ears when I first heard the piece, which is part of Sting’s 2003 album “The Last Ship”. Devoid of the banality and sentimentalism characteristic of contemporary love songs, it talks about a sailor returning home and not finding his beloved. Sting offers a special brew combining classic rock, pop and jazz influences. The opening lines froth delightfully with poetry:
This town, this stain on the sunrise,
Disguised in the mist this morning,
It’s 8AM, a seagull shouts a sailor’s warning..
Sting sustains the powerful imagery and lyricism, at certain points combining them with down-to-earth language, as in these lines:
This town has a strange magnetic pull,
Like a homing signal in your skull,
And you sail by the stars of the hemisphere,
Wondering how in the Hell did ye end up here?
He describes a sailor’s loneliness at sea and wild days on shore in a way that many mariners can relate to:
So ye drift into port with the scum of the seas,
To the dance halls and the brothels where you took your ease!
And the ship’s left the dock but you’re half past caring,
And ye haven’t got a clue whose bed you’re sharing.
In the end, the protagonist in the song learns to accept the reality that love has vanished:
In truth, it’s too late to find her,
Too late to remind her at some garden gate,
Where a servant tells me I should wait,
And perhaps a door’s slammed in my face,
But it is fatalism tinged with a sense of poignant hope:
My head must be in outer space,
And yet, and yet,
Before the sun has set,
Before the sea,
There may be something else that’s waiting for,
The likes of me.
This town, this stain on the sunrise…
This is the best song yet that I have listened to about sailors and the sea. I would recommend it especially to young men and women who aspire to become merchant mariners but who tend to view the profession with rose-coloured spectacles. Listen and enjoy:
For the complete lyrics of “And Yet” and everything about the singer and his music, visit the official Sting website.
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