"Late, Late Yestreen I Saw The New Moone"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Given orders by the king to hoist sail during the stormy season, Sir Patrick Spens and all his men perished at sea. Such, briefly, is the story of "Sir Patrick Spens." Although it seems to refer to a definite historical event, none has been clearly established. More important than the details of the story, however, is the human element which underlies it. Told with deftness and economy, the story leaves much to the stimulated imagination. The king, who "sits in Dumferling toune,/ Drinking the bludereid wine," enquires about a sailor to sail his ship. An elderly knight, who "sat at the kings richt kne," indirectly suggests Sir Patrick Spens. The king commissions Sir Patrick, who, though receiving his orders with great distress, feels duty bound to comply. "O wha is this has don this deid," he groans, "to send me out this time o' the yeir,/ To sail upon the se!" His men receive their orders with a disturbance equal to that of Sir Patrick's, for, according to the signs known to all sailors, a deadly storm is on the way. They beseechingly but obediently reply to Sir Patrick's command:

"Late, late yestreen I saw the new moone,
Wi the auld moone in his arme,
And I feir, I feir, my deir master,
That we will cum to harme."