Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Heartbreaking Tale from the Sea

I thought I'd share the bitter sweet tale of Kagan and the Wind. It's classic storytelling and the first time I heard it read and sung by Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy, it stirred the heart and blood. I wish I could find it again, but the tape has vanished...



Peter Kagan and the Wind from the Makem Brothers

It is said that the seals have the ability to take on human form. The seal people, though they like to live near the sea, dare not ever go back into it, or else they immediately revert to their original form and lose the ability ever to take on human form again.

Peter Kagan was a lonely man in the summer of his years. One day he got tired of being lonely, and he went away, off to the east. And when he came again he had a wife. She was strange, but she was kind and people liked her. She was good for Kagan. She kept him company and winter come to summer they were happy.

Kagan had a dory then, with a lugsail on her mast. He used to go offshore three, maybe four, days at a time setting out for the fish. Oh his wife was sad then. She didn't like to see him go. She'd go down to the sea sometimes and call to him:

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.

Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.


He said he could hear her calling twenty miles to sea, and when he heard her, he would come home, whether he had fish or none.

She was a seal, of course, everybody knew it. Even Kagan. He knew that, but no one said anything to him.

Then, one day, in that year's autumn , Kagan said "I've got to go now. Go offshore and get some fish." But his wife said "No! Please don't go!" She started crying. "The winds are coming and the snows are coming."

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Don't go out to sea,

Stormy winds and snows do come,
And, oh, but I do fear for thee.


But Kagan wasn't afraid of snow, and it was early in the year. So Kagan put in his oars and went out to sea. Kagan sailed in the middle ground. The Wind was west all day and the fish were coming to him. Kagan read the writing on the water and in the sky. He saw haze very high up above the clouds and said "That's all right for autumn - only a change of wind. I'm not afraid of wind."

But Kagan read it wrong this time. The Wind went away, and then it came back, Southeast. And the fog came round.

Kagan said, "I've got to go now. I'll find that gong buoy off the sunken ledges and then I'll know the best way home." So Kagan put up a sail and bore away to the Nor'ard for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching.

The Wind backed around to the East'ard and came breezing on, against him. He sailed for a long time. The sail was pulling very hard. Finally the Wind was so strong that the sail tore out, so Kagan took it down and the dory went drifting.

He thought he could hear that gong buoy. It wasn't very far away.

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.
Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.

But the dory went drifting, and by and by the gong buoy went away. Kagan said, "All right then." He put in his oars and started to row back up for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching. The Wind back around Northeast, making the seas confused. The Wind said, "Listen! I have something to tell you."

Kagan, rowing, "I don't want to hear it."

The Wind humps up then, making the sea short, making it hard for Kagan to row. Finally the seas are so steep that Kagan knows he isn't getting anywhere. So Kagan takes in the oars and again the dory goes drifting...

Kagan said, "All right then. Now I've got something to show you." He took a slip of wood for a needle and waxed up a hand line for a thread and he sewed the sail up smaller - sewed a reef in it.

The Wind said, "What're you doing?"

Kagan said, "You keeping watching."

So Kagan put up a sail and again he bore away to to the Nor'ard for the gong.

But, oh, the Wind was watching.

The Wind backed around North-Nor'east. Kagan can't hold his course now. Kagan said, "All right then." He brought the boat about. Now he's steering East'ard.

"You're heading out to sea."

"I'm not afraid of water. I'll bring this boat about when I can fetch that gong buoy."

"I'll veer on you; I'll go East."

"You do that and I can hold my course."

"I'll back on you."

"You back too far and you've got a clear. You know that. I can keep ahead of you."

"You may be smarter but I'm stronger." The Wind grew bigger then and the Wind blew harder. Finally the wind was so strong that the Sail said, "I can't make it, Kagan!" And Kagan said, "I know that. Thank you."

So Kagan took down the sail, and the dory went drifting.

Kagan took the sail off the yard and put it about him. "Sail, keep me warm!"

"The sail can't keep you warm."

The Wind snatched off North by East. "I'll freeze you."

"I'm not afraid of cold!"

But Kagan was afraid. He didn't know what to do. And oh, the Wind is working now. The Wind brings ice and snow. The Wind blows long and long and black.

Kagan says, "I'm dying. Sail, keep me warm!" and the sail said, "I can't do it Kagan."

Kagan dying, and the wind blowing.

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.

So Kagan lay on the bottom of the boat, and he tried not to be afraid of the dying, and he dreamed of her then, his wife. He dreamed she was coming to him, and he heard a long calling down the wind and he raised himself up, and he saw her. Down the smoking, storming sea she came. Over the rail of the dory she came, laughing to his arms.

And all in the night and in the storm they did lay, and the Wind went away, and the storm went away, and in the morning they found him...

...asleep, with a sail wrapped around him. And there was a seal, lying there with him, curled over him like a blanket, and the snow was upon the seal's back.

Kagan, Kagan, Kagan,
Bring the dory home.
Wind and sea do follow thee,

And all the ledges calling thee.
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