I was ‘quest to write a ballad, “Like ye stories of old
About adventure on the high seas; piratical and bold!
Line structure should be formal, De-dum, de-dum de-dum
Rhyming every second line, Yet keeping the story fun!”
The end result is... quirky, like ‘most everything I do,
Did I meet the challenge set? I’ll leave that up to you!
So settle back, assail your ears, for an epic tale of woe
Without any more delay - The ballad of Scurvy Joe!
The Ballad of Scurvy Joe
The hero of this narrative
If hero he be deemed,
Is an old salt named Josiah,
Whom nobody esteemed.
A black-patch masked his wooden eye,
The first of many flaws:
He only had two crooked teeth
His gums were bleeding sores,
His legs were bowed, his nose was bent
No Johnny Depp was he,
His skin was pocked-marked, yellowish
Tough and leathery.
His hair was coarser than his speech,
A squirming tangle of mice,
A minor inconvenience,
But at least they ate the lice!
He reeked of rum and rotting fish,
Never bathed nor changed his clothes,
One whiff of Scurvy Joe downwind
Was enough to curl the toes.
His age was indeterminate,
Some said he’d sailed the flood!
A truly ancient mariner,
With ocean in the blood.
Yet he’d never risen to captain
Or even position of mate,
Forever swabbing the decks
Was poor Josiah’s fate.
Decades of faithful service
Gained him nothing but neglect,
Even the whey-faced cabin boy
Garnered more respect!
Joe suffered his lot in silence
Or if he did complain,
No-one could understand him,
So it was all the same.
All he ever said was “Fishing”
The only word he knew,
And his favourite occupation
When work allowed him to.
One day while alone on deck
Joe spied a mermaid on a rock,
He rubbed his good eye in disbelief
And dropped his mop in shock!
But there she sat as bold as brass
Comb and glass in hand,
Catching poor Josiah’s eye
She sang out her demand –
“I call to thee, O sailor fair
Come and be my mate
Jump into the wine-dark sea
I call to thee, O sailor true
Come into my arms
I will keep thee warm at night,
Safe from every harm.”
Heeding her persuasive call
He dived into the waves
But oblivion in murky depths -
Was not to be his grave!
Unlike other sirens of the deep
This mermaid kept her vow,
Filled his lungs with healing breath
She dragged him to her bower...
Candles flickered within her cave
Where waiting stood a priest,
An earnest man of preaching bent
Thrown overboard for his beliefs
He had no love for buccaneers
Or any godless folk
But this mermaid saved his life
And so a debt was owed
Besides she wanted honest vows
Before sight of the Lord
A noble undertaking
He did nothing but applaud.
And so Scurvy Joe was married
To a maiden of the sea
For better or for worse
In wedded harmony...
At first they seemed quite happy
In that cave beneath the sea
Having such a fish-wife
Was quite the novelty
But novelties wear off like spells
And love will soon grow stale,
When you wake up one morning
Find your wife looks like a whale!
Josiah was no Adonis,
But his wife was truly vile,
Many a ship was wrecked
By sight of her rictus smile
Clammy skin bulged with blubber
Her strength could rival an ox
Her hair was twined with tentacles
Her teeth were jagged rocks
Her voice could rupture ear-drums
Venom laced her kiss
The glass in her hand wasn’t a mirror,
And she drank like the proverbial fish.
Her temper was worse than a sea squall
Grudges she clung to with bile,
In the face of Josiah’s rejection
She became yet more volatile!
Frenzied she chased him relentless
Cleaver and glass in her grip,
Right out of the cavern they shared,
And into the ocean’s abyss...
Yet again fate intervened
For Josiah did not drown
Along came a lumbering leviathan who
With one gulp swallowed him down...
But unlike Jonah in the whale
Josiah did not escape,
In the belly of a kraken
Our hero met his fate.
His mer-widow cried her eyes out,
Sober now and contrite,
For she had truly loved her husband
And mourned his ignoble plight.
The Kraken was harpooned by some whalers
Caught by mistake in their nets
It’s death-throes of epic proportions
None who survived would ever forget
They gutted the beast with sharp daggers,
Shocked to the core when they found,
The Skeleton of poor Josiah
Fleshless yet moving around!
“Is that a ghost or a zombie?”
One man was heard to shout,
Lopping the thing’s head with a sword-stroke
The others cared not to find out.
Joe picked up his skull with a curse
And screwed it back onto his spine
The sailors knock-kneed in terror,
Jumped head-first into the brine.
Alone on the deck of the whaler
Josiah laughed with glee,
He might be dead, but he had a ship
Placing his hands on the wheel
He steered into open sea,
Keeping a wary eye out for mermaids
In case one of them was she....
Harpoon always oiled and ready
He fished to his heart’s delight,
There were plenty more fish in the sea!
The future refreshingly bright.
So ends the ballad of Scurvy Joe
Who took a mermaid to wife –
I’m sure that there’s a moral there
But I can’t find it for my life!