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Pique la Baleine

[French trad.]

Ye Mariners All (John Roberts, John Rockwell and Larry Young) sang Pique la Baleine on their 2003 CD Songs of the Sea. John Roberts noted:

The French chantey Pique la Baleine, like many of the English songs, is found in several quite different versions. If my recollection is correct I first heard this version from William Pint and Felicia Dale. It is printed (and recorded) in Marc Robine’s Anthologie de la chanson française, where we also found the rowing song Hourra les Filles, a cheer for the ladies of the port.

Danny Spooner sang Pique la Baleine with the same verses as Ye Mariners All on his 2006 CD of songs of the whaling industry, The Great Leviathan, and on his 2009 CD Bold Reilly Gone Away. He commented in the first album’s notes:

It was in Brittany I first heard this rowing song from the French South Seas Sperm Whale Fishery. I learned it later from the singing of John Roberts of Schenectady, N.Y. A cheery tune for such a sad set of words.

My thanks to Angie Hamilton for the translation.

and in the second one’s:

When I went to Brittany in 2002 I heard wonderful shanties and songs from the canals, the rivers, the coast and the sea. The Breton maritime festivals had sung English and American shanties for years and wondered why—“If we are a maritime nation, which we are, where are our shanties?” Now we all benefit from hearing the immense repertoire researched, collected and published by Le Chasse Marée.

So while we are in the Southern Pacific we might as well join a French whaling crew as they chase sperm whales using the ‘chants a ramer’ (rowing songs) Pique la Baleine and Hourra les Filles, then we will help strip the blanket piece from a whale using a “chant a hisser” (hauling song, probably a halyard shanty). Then raising a shanty like Le Capitaine de St Malo, the men would start hauling on the halyard or barring over the windlass, then the whale would be rolled so the blubber peeled off like an orange. This blanket piece might be fifteen feet long and three feet wide and weigh in at 2,000 pounds.

The Young Uns sang Pique la Baleine in 2012 on their CD When Our Grandfathers Said No.


Ye Mariners All sing Pique la Baleine

Pour retrouver ma douce amie
   Oh mes boués, ouh là ouh là là.
Pour retrouver ma douce amie
   Oh mes boués, ouh là ouh là là.

Chorus (after each verse):
Pique la baleine, joli baleinier
Pique la baleine, je veux naviguer.

Aux mille mers j’ai navigué.

Des mers du nord aux mers du sud.

Je l’ai retrouvée quand j’m’ai noyé.

Dans les grands fonds, elle m’espérait.

Tous deux ensemble on a pleuré.

En couple à elle, j’m’suis couché.


To find my sweet love,
   Oh my boys, oh la la,
To find my sweet love,
   Oh my boys, oh la la,

Chorus (after each verse):
Lance the whale, jolly whalerman,
You lance the whale, I’ll steer.

I sailed many seas

From the north to the south.

I found my love when I drowned.

In the great depths she was waiting for me,

The two of us together we cried.

Entwined with her will be my bed.