Fairport Convention’s folk rock version (Maidstone, 1970)


Edward Francis Rimbault,
Musical Illustrations of Bishop Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1850)

Robert Pearsall, in 10 parts, sung by the Bach Choir (1892)
The Musical Times, 1905

G.J. Bennet, edited and arranged for 8 voices (1876)

W.A. Barratt, a Ballad for Baritone Solo, Chorus, and Orchestra’ (1907)

Thea Musgrave, for tenor and guitar (traditional) (1961)

Buffy Sainte-Marie on Life Wheel Spin and Spin (1966) PLAY

Nic Jones on Ballads and Songs (1970) PLAY

Fairport Convention’s folk rock version on Full House (1971) PLAY

Michael Cooney on Still Cooney After All These Years (1979)

Geoff Kauffman on Fair Stood the Wind (1987) PLAY

Jackie Leven on Fairytales for Hardmen (1997) PREVIEW

Martin Carthy on Signs of Life (1998) PREVIEW

Rick Fielding on This One’s the Dreamer (1999)

June Tabor on An Echo of Hooves (2003) PLAY

John Langstaff and Martin Best on Nottamun Town: British and American Folksongs and Ballads(2003) PREVIEW

Robin Williamson on The Iron Stone (2006) PREVIEW

Gordon Bok on In Concert (2006) PREVIEW

Kris Drever on Black Water (2006) PREVIEW

John Roberts on Sea Fever (2007) PREVIEW


Anne Ryan

‘Now, Ever Awake My Master Dear, I Fear a Deadly Storm’, Anne Ryan 1947. Indianapolis Museum of Art. VIEW

James Archer, ‘The Legend of Sir Patrick Spens’, Auckland Art Gallery

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, ‘The Ladies’ Lament from the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens’, 1856.

Selected prose and poetry that demonstrate the ballad’s variety of influence on both British and American writers beginning with the works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the Romantics and continuing through to the twenty-first century. See our Spens Library for an extended listing.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

(1798) ‘The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’ Coleridge read Percy’s Reliques and was ‘deeply interested in the Englishand Scottish popular ballads’ (Lowes, The Road to Xanadu). The influence of these ballads comes through in the meter, word choice, and spelling … Continue reading

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

1824 (posthumous) ‘The Triumph of Life’ In ‘The Triumph of Life’ the image of the new moon foreshadows an impending storm. Perhaps this image came from ‘Spens’ or indirectly through Coleridge, whose influence is evident elsewhere in Shelley’s verse. Selected … Continue reading

David MacBeth Moir (1798-1851)

1852 (posthumous) ‘The Old Seaport (Culross, Perthshire)’ Poets of the Victorian period had little doubt as to Spen’s heroism. They were the first poets to draw on this aspect of the ballad. In, ‘The Old Seaport’, David Moir, a Scottish … Continue reading

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882)

1839 ‘The Wreck of Hesperus’ Most likely the first afterlife work to occur outside of Britain, this poem was originally titled, ‘The Ballad of Schooner Hesperus’. This ballad features moon imagery as well as exact phrases and patterns that appear … Continue reading

Aubrey Thomas De Vere (circa 1817-1902)

1884 ‘Robert Bruces’s Heart’; or, ‘The Last of the Crusaders’ Aubrey Thomas De Vere, an Irish poet greatly influenced by Coleridge, also depicts Spens as a hero in this poem. De Vere refers to Spens as ‘that sea-warrior grey’. His … Continue reading

Sara Jane Lippincott, “Grace Greenwood” (1823–1904)

Stories from Famous Ballads; For Children. (Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1885), p. 109-117. GoogleBooks Continue reading

Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

(1887) “The Unfathomable Sea” In 1887 Stevenson published ‘To N.V. de G.S.: The Unfathomable Sea’. THE unfathomable sea, and time, and tears, The deeds of heroes and the crimes of kings Dispart us; This is a poem about a love … Continue reading

Herman Melville (1850-1924)

(1850) White Jacket Though Melville purchased a copy of Child’s English and Scottish Ballads in 1859, he likely read the ballad earlier or heard it sung during his years at sea, because he references a musical version of ‘Spens’ in … Continue reading

Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923)

Penelope’s Progress: being such extracts from the commonplace book of Penelope Hamilton as relate to her experiences in Scotland. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1898 [1897]), pp. 168-181. GoogleBooks; OpenLibrary; InternetArchive

Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh (1861-1922)

1900 ‘A Literature Lesson. Sir Patrick Spens in the Eighteenth Century Manner’ Raleigh’s poem ‘A Literature Lesson. Sir Patrick Spens in the Eighteenth Century Manner’ (1900) makes fun of the verbosity of some eighteenth-century poets, thus backwardly praising the tight … Continue reading

A.T. Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)

‘New Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens’. From a Cornish Widow. (New York: E.F. Dutton and Company, 1906), pp. 62-70. GoogleBooks Continue reading

Robert Frost (1874-1963)

Reginald L. Cook, ‘Frost on Frost: The Making of Poems’. American Literature, Vol. 28, No. 1 (Duke University Press: 1956), pp. 62-72. JSTOR
Lesley Lee Francis. Robert Frost: An Adventure In Poetry, 1900-1918. (Transaction Publishers, 2004), pp. 84-98. Continue reading

Edwin Muir (1887-1959)

1960 (posthumous) ‘Complaint of the Dying Peasantry’ In ‘Complaint’ Muir despairs the loss of the ‘old songs’, valorizing oral culture over a paper one. He sees ‘Sir Patrick Spens shut in a book’ and contemporary writers as ‘newspapermen’. Muir writes: … Continue reading

Louis MacNeice (1907-1963)

1948 ‘The North Sea’ In ‘The North Sea’ he mentions Spens four times by name, including in the opening lines and in the concluding stanza. Though not in ballad form, the poem plays on the sound and rhythm of ‘Spens’. … Continue reading

Tom Clark (1941-

1995 ‘Excalibur’ Clark is an American poet, editor, and biographer who studied in England and lived in Europe for over a decade. Clark begins ‘Excalibur’: While the new moon winter bright swimming Up overhead holds the old moon cradled He … Continue reading

William Fuller (1953-

2000 ‘What Does It Matter Now’ Fuller, an American poet based in Chicago, earned a PhD in English Literature early in his career. In 2000 he published ‘What Does It Matter Now’, emphasizing the tragedy of Spens’s commitment to duty. … Continue reading

William Hershaw (1957-

2006 ‘Sir Patrick Spens’ Hershaw retells the ballad from Spens’s point of view, instead of through an omniscient narrator. Dunfermline and Aberdour, both mentioned in Percy’s version of the ballad, are in Fife, where Hershaw is a native. Hershaw sets … Continue reading

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