Music is indivisible. The dualism of feeling and thinking must be resolved to a state of unity in which one thinks with the heart and feels with the brain. George Szell

silkie (selkie) The Song of the Silkie for baritone and string quartet is by contemporary American composer Elena Ruehr. Meditative, haunting and heart breaking, it is an art song in the great tradition of ardent, amorous entreaty anchored on a folk myth from the Orkney Islands at the northern most tip of Scotland. Deriving from the old Scots word for seal, a silkie (or selkie) is a magical seal that can temporarily shed its skin and walk on land in human form. A number of folk songs and tales from various northern traditions recount the tragic love between silkie and human. Inevitably, the silkie longs to return to the sea leaving its human lover bereft, or, the human hides the silkie’s skin leaving the land-locked seal forlorn, forever lost from its mysterious and inaccessible water world in Sule Skerry, a small rocky island where the silkies were said to live. Ruehr’s song features two voices: the male human calling to his departed silkie, and, in falsetto, the female silkie singing one of the many traditional arrangements of the original silkie’s song.

The Song of the Silkie
Text by Laura Harrington
Music by Elena Ruehr

(James, looking out at the sea)

Where is she? Has she found her skin and slipped away?
Oh, Sula, Sula silkie, Have you left me? Oh, Sula, Sula silkie,
Have you gone to live inside the sea? Have you gone forever?
Are you leaving me? Sula, Sula!

(She says)

"I am a woman on the land, I am a silkie on the sea,
and when I'm far from ev'ry strand, My dwelling is in Sule Skerrie."


How can you leave me? Isn’t my love inside your blood now,
Stronger than the call of the sea?
The skin you take so eagerly, Lift in your arms like a child
The skin you take so greedily, The skin, your skin, so wild.
What I stole from you, What I kept from you, Now exacts its price.
I held you captive, I held you dear, I took you for my wife.
Stay my love, my lovely one, My creature of the sea.
Stay, oh my wife, My precious one, I beg you, stay be me.


“Who hears the silkie when she cries, Searching for her skin?
Who hears the silkie when she cries, To free the seal within?”


Sula, take me with you, Sula, take me in (repeats)
Sula, take me to the heart of the sea, In the folds of your magic skin.


“You cannot be a silkie man, You cannot follow me.
You cannot live your life inside the secrets of the sea.
And if you steal my skin again, You'll be the death of me.”


I am a man upon the land, I am a man upon the sea,
And when you’re gone from where I stand, My heart will never be free.
I'll rig my boat, I'll set my sails, I'll follow where you flee
I will follow you, Sula,, Into the green heart of the sea.
Look how you rise and fall in the wedge of the wind, in the sighing of the sea.
You turn your dark eyes, Rising out of the black waves,
Flying far away, Beyond the path of heaven.
This perfect animal freedom, Joy, Joy beyond bearing.
What will I do, When the waves snap shut,
Over your blue grey head when you finally leave this shore?
Did you dream the ocean, Sula, The embrace and freedom of the sea?
Will you dream of me, Sula, Now that you are free?


“The song you make for me at what unknowable cost
From what unknowable loss, The song from Sule Skerrie.”


I will wait for you, Sula. Wait for the voice I hope to hear, And know I never will,
I plunge into memory, come up for air, and plunge again.
Your silence follows me, your silence is my own vanishing song.
I am a man upon the land, I am a man upon the sea,
And when you're gone from where I stand
My soul will yearn for thee. My Sula.

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