HAUL ON THE BOWLINE

Haul the Bowline


This song is a very old example of a working sea-shanty. It’s constant, rythmic verse was to be sung while pulling on the ‘Bowline’, an antiquated sailing rope that dates back to as far as the 1500s. The bowline fell out of use in probably the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, meaning that ‘Haul on the Bowline’ could be one of the oldest known sea shanties to have survived until now. A. L. Lloyd writes in his Folk Song in England that the shanty may also be so old ‘because the words ‘Hail out the Bollene’ occur – but as a command, not a shanty – in the Compaynt of Scotland (1549)’ but claims that ‘There are no firm grounds for imagining that the shanty rose earlier than the nineteenth century’ and that it is more likely based on the Irish air ‘Savourneen Deelish’. Regardless, It’s catchy, work-paced tune meant that it was sung right up until the final days of sail, though it was applied to other more modern sailing ropes. The pulling of the rope came on the ‘haul’ at the end of each verse.

In A Sailor’s Garland, Masefield writes that the shanty is ‘certainly as old as the reign of Henry VIII’

It should be noted that the ‘Bowline’ was also a form of knot, so it could be said that the song was  applied to ropes tied via the Bowline knot also.

The lyrics to this version by Ewan MacColl and A.L. Lloyd are as follows;
Haul on the bowlin’, the bully ship’s a-rolling,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!
Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty is me darlin’,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!
Haul on the bowlin’, Kitty comes from Liverpool,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!
Haul on the bowlin’, it’s a far cry to payday,
Haul on the bowlin’, the bowlin’ haul!
 
 
 
 
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