The Seal Lullaby

The Unitarian Choir at First Unitarian Church, Portland, sang Eric Whitacre’s setting of “The Seal Lullaby” by Rudyard Kipling in worship this morning. It is a lovely lullaby, and as sometimes (often) happens, it evoked a nearly three-decade old memory for me.

My son, then about ten years old, and I hiked from Lake Ozette to Cape Alava on Washington’s coast. Cape Alava is the western-post point of the lower 48 states.

Cape_Alava_Ozette_Island

He went for a swim, while I watched from shore. The ocean was unusually calm, but along this coast, it’s never warm enough for comfortable swimming by adults, though at least some kids don’t seem to mind the cold.

As he swam parallel to the beach, a seal swam along with him, far enough further out that my son was not aware that he was being ‘shadowed.’ I imagined it was a female and that she was guarding and protecting him. Of course she might have been casing him as a potential threat to her pups, yet to me it was a tender moment and obviously one that has stuck with me in vivid imagination.

Seal pups face many threats, and more often live in the storm and under threat from predators than in the environment of gentle swells the music offers. In this week of intentional bombing of spectators at the finish line of the Boston Marathon and the heroic response to offer care and identify and seek out the perpetrators; of the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas; and of senseless shootings around the nation, of warfare beyond out borders, and so much more — made ever more poignant by the failure of the US Senate to even permit a vote on even a weakened measure to seek to stem gun violence — we are ever more aware of the dangers all of us face.

And it is in times like this that we need not only to be present, to love one another, and to redouble efforts to understand and reduce violence, but we long for and need comfort. Music such as this offers that comfort and respite to permit us to carry on.

Kipling’s poem is:

Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, O’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.


Where billow meets billow, there soft by the pillow.
Oh, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, no shark shall overtake thee
Asleep in the storm of slow-swinging seas.

So thank you, Mark Slegers and choir!

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One Response to The Seal Lullaby

  1. Duane says:

    The Minister of Music, Mark Slegers, responded thus:

    Of course we are in love with this piece which in the singing heals the singer:
    1. it falls in just the range that is warm and rich for each part
    2. each part has beautiful lines that cry out for our musicality to phrase, to crescendo, decrescendo. Thus WE are healed.
    3. And I think the text harkens to past life experiences of being a child, rocking our young children.
    4. The rather simple melody adds to this and for the listener, one could go out humming it.
    5. Hearing Signe play the beautiful melody in the 2nd half as we hum – again we are healed as well.
    6. The 2 measure phrases on “oo” that swell up and back, much like floating in the sea out just beyond the breakers, awaiting the perfect wave. That weightlessness . . .

    Thanks, Duane, for including us in your blog. I am extremely proud of the work the choir did on this.

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