No song probably depicts the hardships and suffering of African-Americans as poignantly and as beautifully as ‘Ol’ Man River’. Jerome Kerr composed the song for the 1927 musical Show Boat with Oscar Hammerstein II as lyricist. Almost a century on, the words and the melody still resound in a society that has yet to really come to grips with racism.
It is heartening to see many people visiting Marine Café Blog for its repository of downloadable sea songs and shanties. I hope to add more musical files to the database. In the meantime, here’s a list of the most downloaded songs to date in ascending order (click on the song titles to play and download).
I recently came across three lighthouse poems which should delight anyone who loves lighthouses. All were written by women. Does that really matter? Feminists and literary critics would probably say ‘No’. However, there is a difference between men and women in the way...
Excellent poetry, it could be argued, does not need to be complemented by art. This seems true in the case of ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge about a mariner who unleashes a chain of misfortunes after killing an albatross. In a 2009 review of the poem published in the British newspaper The Guardian, Carol Rumens spoke of its hypnotic power: “The scenery remains thrillingly hellish, while laced with photographically realistic meteorological effects, and the narrative drive is irresistible.”
Why publish such a powerful poem with illustrations? It’s a reasonable question to ask, to which one could reply: WHY NOT, if the artist happens to be Gustave Doré (1832—1883)?
Seagulls can be quite pesky. The loud, harsh sounds they make are no music to the ear. An Encyclopedia Britannica article describes seagulls as “adaptable opportunists” that feed on whatever food they can find. “Some of the larger gulls,” it notes, “prey on the eggs and the young of other birds, including their own kind.” Despite their notoriety, these birds continue to captivate many people with their beauty, resilience and freedom.
One need not be Russian to be moved by The Song of the Volga Boatmen (‘Eh, Ukhnem!’ to the Russians or ‘Yo, Heave Ho!’). This well-known traditional song was originally sung by burlaks, the men who pulled barges upstream in the old Russia. The melody is stern and gloomy, which somehow reinforces the Western stereotype of the Russian people as dour and cheerless. But the song also has a triumphant, martial air…
Shanties (shipboard work songs) are fun to listen to because of their typically jaunty rhythm and hilarious lyrics. One exception is the popular ‘Leave Her, Johnny’, which was sung by 19th-century sailors on the Atlantic Ocean packet trade. Despite its dash of humour, this shanty tells of the trials and tribulations of seafarers.
As the end of the old year nears, I thought I would share three songs in remembrance and honour of seafarers. I dedicate these songs to all those who are still working at sea, to those who have grown old and are now retired, and to those who have sadly departed. As the Scottish dramatist and novelist Sir James Matthew Barrie (1860–1937) wrote, “God gave us memories that we might have roses in December.” Smell the roses, dear readers.
Almost a century has passed since Max Ehrmann, an American writer and lawyer from Indiana, wrote his 1927 prose poem ‘Desiderata’ (Latin word meaning “things that are needed or wanted”). Many who were college students during the heady 1960s will remember the opening line, “Go placidly amid the noise and the haste…” and the immortal phrase “you are a child of the universe”. Ehrmann’s words still ring true today. Not only do they inspire. They also offer bits of practical wisdom, a philosophy of life, that seafarers and others can live by during these tumultous times. Here is the complete original text, followed by two video clips (in English and Spanish) of ‘Desiderata’ read aloud.
In ordinary usage, the word “siren” is defined by the Oxford English Dictiionary as “a woman who is considered to be alluring or fascinating but also dangerous in some way”. Feminists might object to the term as being sexist. However, not a few women would feel flattered if they were called “siren”. In Greek mytholody, sirens (pictured above) were creatures, half bird and half woman, whose music and singing lured unsuspecting sailors to destruction. They have since become the archetype of the woman who has the ability to bewitch and have control over men.
Who would not want to journey to Venice, the city beloved by famour artists and ordinary tourists alike? The English Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley, summed up its appeal in his poem ‘Julian and Maddalo: A Conversation’: “Its temples and its palaces did seem / Like fabrics of enchantment piled to Heaven.” Alas, not everyone has the means or the opportunity to visit the place. But no worries, the following artworks and poems will transport you blissfully to beautiful Venice.
These are not the best times for America. The nation has been ravaged by the coronavirus and rent by racial divisions. For all this, Americans have good reason to celebrate the 4th of July in a big way. As John Adams, the second president of the United States, wrote:
‘It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.’ (Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776)