Song of the Red Warboat

(notes by Philip Holberton)


Published in Rewards and Fairies (1910) with The Conversion of St. Wilfrid”. The poem is closely linked to the story, in which ‘My Red War-Boat’ rescues Meon, Wilfrid, and Eddi from the Bishop’s islet. (p. 239 line 17)

Peter Bellamy’s rendition is to be found  here.

Notes on the Text

War-Boat: Like the Danes and Norwegians who came after them, the Saxons were fighting sea-rovers from what is now northern Germany, who had raided and pillaged the coasts of England in their long-ships before settling as farmers and fishermen.

[Verse 1]

smooth:  calm water

lop: sea in which the waves are short and lumpy  (Wordsworth edition)

It’s ebb: the tide is going out, against the swell, making the waves
steeper and more dangerous.

The shoals are a mile of white: the waves are breaking for a mile offshore

[Verse 2]

The Gods know they are forsaken: See p. 235 line 23, where Meon says: ‘I wonder what Wotan will say to me. He must know I don’t believe in him. Wotan (alternative spellings ‘Woden’ or ‘Odin’) was the chief of the Saxon gods.

[Verse 3]

meet her:  check the swing of a turning vessel. [OED]

[Verse 4]

Thor’s Own Hammer Cracking the dark:  a flash of lightning. Thor was the Saxon god of thunder and lightning; see Verse 5 line 1 ‘Thor of the Thunder’.

[Verse 7]

mead: an intoxicating drink made from fermented honey

two-reef sailing: the storm has eased and they can stop rowing and set the sail, but with two sections tied (reefed) up to reduce the area exposed to the wind.


© Philip Holberton 2011 All rights reserved