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The Death Chanty

Dreamed 1914/9/21 by a friend of E.M. Martin

Source: Dreams in War-Time by E.M. Martin (1915)

I have had a letter from a woman who is, too, a dreamer of dreams, and what she has told me, I will give in her own words.

I dreamed I was in the parlour of an old Inn, whose bowed windows looked down a narrow cobbled street with a patch of blue sea showing at the bottom; it might have been an old bit of Gravesend if I had not known that this patch of water was the sea. A woman was busy laying the table for some meal, and I was by turns idly watching her and as idly looking out of the window, when I heard the sound of singing; at first soft and far away, but growing louder every moment. And then I could hear the music and the words, and see sailors coming up the street, marching as they march for a naval funeral, only there was no gun-carriage, no coffin, nothing but the empty cobbled way, and on either side, close to the houses, the sad procession singing this sorrowful chanty:--
God bless our Army,
God bless our Navy,
And God bless our Allies true;
And bring 'em home
Wherever they may roam,
And our poor drowned sailors too.
Over and over the last line rolled out to a tune as haunting and as sad as the song of the Volga boatmen, and as the procession (always keeping the space of cobbled way clear between them as though the coffin were there on its gun-carriage) wound up the steep little street leaving the sea behind them, I turned and asked the woman, "What is it? Why do they march like that singing this song?"

"It's the sailors' chanty for the widows and orphans--they always sing it."

"But why do they sing it now?"

As if for answer, one of the sailors turned and looked at me through the window while still singing the last line of the chanty

And our poor drowned sailors too.
His face was pale, and sad as the face of a dead man, and I tried to read the ship's name on his cap, but could not, and woke up weeping.

That same day came the news of the sinking of the Hogue, the Cressy and the Aboukir.

My friend, who is herself a maker of songs, has sung to me the chanty these dead sailors sung to her in her dream, and, to my thinking, it is even sadder than the song of the Volga boatmen, and to the full, as sweet. We have spoken much of her dream, and she tells me, this friend of mine, that she knows the singing sailors were the drowned men themselves, pacing a familiar street, looking through the window of a friendly Inn parlour where they had once been welcome guests, and trying to bring to the living some sense of their duty to the dead. Well, maybe she is right, for she is one of those who have the gift of foreknowledge, and whose birthright is the sea.

--E.M. Martin


--Chris Wayan

LISTS AND LINKS: sea dreams - music - grief and tears - politics - the dead march in more open protest, in: Dead Rights - war - crashes and sinkings - the dead - psychic dreams - E.M. Martin's own dreams - another ship torpedoed in Billie - a dream prevents a torpedo-death in Tin Fish

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