Painting by Mauritz Frederik Hendrik de Haas (1832–1895), Dutch–American painter. Beating to Windward in the English Channel (1872).
Oil on canvas. Image courtesy of Art Collection of New Bedford Free Public Library. (Photo by Janice Hodson, Curator of Art, March 2016.)
He has this harsh, bitter truth of humankind’s relation to the sea pouring into your ears. It’s often a rugged lament of sailors and fishermen, a ballad of those who work at sea and those who remain on land who support them. His is a testimony to their courage, foolishness and experience in working on the ocean. It’s also suffused with love, pain and struggle that haunts the listener with its own tidal pull. Perhaps that was what I felt and it overwhelmed me.
23 Those who go down to the sea in ships,
Who do business on great waters,
24 They see the works of the Lord,
And His wonders in the deep.
25 For He commands and raises the stormy wind,
Which lifts up the waves of the sea.
26 They mount up to the heavens,
They go down again to the depths;
Their soul melts because of trouble.
27 They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man,
And are at their wits’ end.
And, then, he started to play. We were all transported immediately into the tale. He started the song as though it was an instrumental solo. It echoed the sea, a bell ringing from a gong buoy, almost dirge like, a plaint from another time; a world of loss, love and the languor of a deep bond felt between old and new souls. It was melodic, yet stuttered in its forward momentum, almost stopping. Then it did halt, to be filled with the rich, deep voice of his that spoke the story and gave the opening context of what it was going to be about.
I thought then, and still do now, that Tolkien would have very much enjoyed hearing Gordon sing for him. A seal who is also a beautiful woman, falls deeply in love with a man and can call to him so that he hears her “twenty miles to sea”, all seem completely capable at being home in the Middle Earth. Tolkien’s (1892–1973) poem, “To the Sea, To the Sea, the White Gulls are Crying,” which is a song song by Legolas Greenleaf, is a perfect example of that compatibility with Gordon’s own sense of mythmaking.
Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Turn ye now to me.
Turn your back unto the Wind
And all the weary windy sea.
Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Lay ye down to sleep.
For I do come to comfort thee
All and thy dear body keep.
Bok, Gordon. “Wiscasset Schooners.” Schooners. Timberhead Music, Camden, ME, 1992. CD
Bok, Gordon. “Bay of Fundy.” Bay of Fundy. Folk-Legacy Records, Inc., Sharon, CT, 1975. LP
Bok, Gordon. “Peter Kagan and the Wind.” Peter Kagan and the Wind. Folk-Legacy Records, Sharon, CT, 1971. LP.
Bok, Gordon. “A Tune for November,” “The Hills of Isle au Haut,” and “Saben, The Woodfitter.” A Tune for November. Folk-Legacy Records, Inc., Sharon, CT, 1970. LP
Bok, Gordon. “Johnny Todd” and “Rambler.” Gordon Bok. Verve Folkways, New York City, 1967. LP
Holy Bible: New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Web. 17 Mar. 2016. <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+107%3A+23-27&version=NKJV>.
Tolkien, J. R. R. (John Ronald Reuel). “To the Sea, to the Sea! The White Gulls are Crying.” The Return of the King. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956. Print.
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