Saturday, 12 May 2012


Birkdale - a barque used on the Chilean nitrate trade
The sea shanty "Seraphina" appears in Lowry’s short story ‘Goya The Obscure’ (Pg. 270). A group of sailors returning from a voyage sing the sea shanty in the Dolphin pub in Birkenhead's docklands. Tradition has it that the song originated amongst the sailors who sailed the nitrate trade on barques between Birkenhead and the West Coast of South America. Lowry refers to the song in Chapter 2 of Ultramarine; "Sera- phina's got no drawers, I been down and seen her, Seraphina," (Pg. 64).  Lowry later reprises the line "Seraphina's got no drawers" during Dana's trawl around the brothels of Dairen in Ultramarine; "Three stokers swayed along the road, singing Seraphina. "Sera- phina's got no drawers, I been down and seen her, Seraphina," they shouted happily" (Pg. 100).

Lowry probably heard the song in the pubs of Birkenhead before and after his voyage to the Far East in 1927 aboard the Blue Funnel ship Pyrrhus. A former Blue Funnel sailor has told me that the song was still being sung into the 1950's around Birkenhead pubs. There appear to be many different versions of the song including some without the refrain "Serafina's got no drawers" which obviously stuck with Lowry.

See 'Seraphina' on Malcolm Lowry @ The Ninteenth Hole

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