The wood so softly singing
In a language strange to hear
And the song it sings will find you
As the twilight draws you near


John Stewart and the Selkie


Those selkie girls, they like to climb
Up onto the rocks to take the air
Peel off their seal skins and recline
As human girls in the warmth of the sun;
But if a human from from the land comes near
They’re seals again and off they swim.

John Stewart knew that this was so,
Had watched them from his boat out in the bay
But never could get close enough before they’d go.

One day he hid himself among the heather
Above the rocks washed by the highest tides
Where he knew the selkie girls would gather.

Spreading their skins upon the rocks above
They sat and sunned themselves above the spray
Or cooled themselves in pools the selkies love.


He waited until they slid into the water
Then crept out to take the skin  of one he’d noticed
Above the others for her grace and beauty
Knowing that if he had her skin he’d also have her.

When he was seen the girls came out and scrambled
Onto the rocks to put their seal skins on
And swim back out into deeper waters.
But one remained, frantic, for the skin she’d shed,

Which he had folded away secretly.
He said to her ‘Come home with me
To be my wife and I will love you
For now you cannot go back to the sea’.

For nine years she lived with him
And bore him two girls and a boy
But gazing over the waves from the rocky shore
Her thoughts strayed often to her selkie kin.


One day she looked up and saw a leak
Dripping through the thatch of their cottage
And climbed up into the roofspace to check.

Then she saw it, lined in the thatch,
The skin she had shed nine years before,
Dry and wrinkled now, but intact.

Her husband was away at sea and she
Felt the swell of the waves, and the taste
Of the the tear on her cheek was salty.

So she took the skin and called to her children,
For the last time, her heart breaking,
Fed them, bade them be good, and kissed them

Went to the beach and put on the skin,
Felt a shiver as the chill waves touched it
And swam, as a seal, back to the ocean.


Eliseo Mauas Pinto said...

Thanx for sharing this lovely poem.... I have always been alured by the folk selkie type... There is a cute celtic styled movie... based on the Selkie lore... "Roan Inish"
In fact it is an American independent film written and directed by John Sayles, and released in 1994. It's based on the novel The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry, by Rosalie K. Fry.

It is centered on the Irish and Orcadian folklores of selkies—seals that can shed their skins to become human. The story, set on the west coast of Ireland, is about Fiona, a young girl who is sent to live with her grandparents and her cousin Eamon near the island of Roan Inish, where the selkies are rumored to reside. It is an old family legend that her younger brother was swept away in his infancy and raised by a selkie. Part of the film takes place in Donegal.

The film has been praised for its uniqueness and its cinematography filmed by Haskell Wexler with an awesome irish folk musical score by Mason Daring

Keep up this good blog!
Best wishes and blessings ☼

Heronmist said...

Thanks for your comments Eliseo, and for the information about the film. I'll certainly look out for it.

puny human said...

I read and enjoy your stories, but don't often leave a comment. This poem, though, reminded me of a song I used to sing when I was young, about a Silkie father who predicts the death of his half-human son, a Child Ballad, I think. I can't remember the words now, but it made me cry to sing it, not only for the sad story, but because the music was melancholy.

Heronmist said...

Thanks for the comment Puny.

Yes those selkie stories do often have a melancholy feel to them which is quite moving.