A Fisherman’s Life and Death

Reprinted from Downhome Magazine, April 2018
by Wilbur Dean, Shoal Harbour

The alarm goes off. It’s 4 a.m.
Come on boys, rise and shine
Time waits for no man so they say
To waste it is a crime.

A cup of tea and some lassie bread
Then off to haul the trap
Mother will have breakfast waiting
By the time that we get back.

We don our oilskins and shove off
The wind’s from the sou’west
‘Twill be a scote to dry the twine
But we must do our best.

Out the Harbour around Lower Point
Hoping for a decent catch
As long as the capelin hug the shore
The cod will fill our traps.

Two trips a day when the weather’s good
We labour and we toil
Splittin’ and saltin’ our bumper crop
We burn the midnight oil.

Prong ‘em up and cut the gut
One twist, off comes the head
Soundbones are flyin’ from the knife
E’en before the fish is dead.

The Martins, Blundells, Simmons, Butts
Deans and Pittmans to name a few
Two hundred quintals, maybe more
Before the summer’s through.

Enough to settle up accounts
And a little bit to spare
And then the cycle starts again
On the books for another year.

My God, ‘twas hard to make ends meet
For the men who put to sea
What they gained one year they lost the next
‘Twas harsh reality.

But not for all the tea in China
Would they stay dry upon the shore
‘Twas in their blood, the fishing life
And then they die. They fish no more.

And when they meet St. Peter
He’ll say, “Boys, come on in
I know you must be weary
Sure, you’re soaked to the skin.”

“Yes, me son,” says the skipper
“The voyage was kinda rough
Punchin’ through that sou’wes gale
Good thing we’re leather tough.”

“But what happened. Where’s my trap skiff?
Where is my ball of twine?
There’s seams to chink and traps to mend
To help me waste some time.”

“No need for that,” says Peter
“Just listen to what I say
Up here the weary get to rest
They have no bills to pay.”

“No more sea blisters on my hands?
No more my bones will ache?
No more my face is drenched with spray?
No more fish upon the flake?”

“No more getting’ up at 4 a.m.?
No more tea and lassie bread?
No more I’ll burn the midnight oil?
Sure, I might as well be dead!”

A Fisherman’s Life and Death – pdf – Downhome article


Transcribed by Brandon Seward, June 2021

These transcriptions may contain human errors. As always, confirm these as you would any other source material.