Lady Franklin’s Lament, 2011

“Lady Franklin’s Lament” (AKA “Lord Franklin) is a haunting ballad, telling of Lord Franklin’s British Arctic Expedition (1845), an attempt at finding the fabled Northwest Passage. For centuries, that passage has been a dream; climate change is making that dream a reality. First, my favorite version of the song, then my update:

They sought a passage through the frozen seas
Where brave men searched and died for centuries
The dream of merchant-men and sailors too
Amid the icy white, a waterway of blue

To sail from Newfoundland to Beaufort Sea
A Northwest Passage when from ice it’s free
Now rising temperatures and cloudless skies
Have opened channels, and cleared the Passage prize

A land of Eskimo and polar bear
The metal ship is an intruder there
Once thought impossible, a sight so strange
What has happened, to bring about this change?

The lure of money means we’re bound to see
Canada challenged over sovereignty
This Northern treasure, never seen before
The perfect reason, for economic war

The north is changing at a growing pace
Because of challenges we all must face
The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell
Now I worry… about our fate as well.

Via NPR this morning, a story on the Northwest Passage. Clearly, one could write entire books on the subject, so any brief story will be necessarily incomplete, but it touches on a number of interesting bits. For me the most frightening is that the US sees the Northwest Passage as international waters, and Canada sees it as an internal waterway. Oh, and we can add to this the notion that perhaps a fifth of the world’s oil might lie under Arctic ice.

Think about that.


  1. F (entropy) says

    Oh, crap. Of all the changes brought about by a warming climate which could cause contention, I never considered this one.

    Lovely and poignant re-working of the verse, though.

  2. plum grenville says

    If you’re going to update this ballad, please update the word “Eskimo”. The correct word is “Inuit”. That’s what the people themselves use and it is also the term universally used by Canadians. “Eskimo” is as outdated as “Hottentot”.

  3. cuttlefish says

    Plum Grenville–

    While I agree that the term is outdated, the first rule of writing parody is to write in the language of the original. Both the word “Eskimo” and the phrase “The fate of Franklin no tongue can tell” were included because of the original (for that matter, the sexist “brave men” and “merchant-men” as well). I did consider using “Inuit”, but went with the dated speech for the sake of the authentic ballad; updating the language would be as odd to me as accompanying it with heavy metal music.

    I do appreciate your point, and I acknowledge the deliberate choice of an outdated and potentially offensive term, but I hope my reasons are sufficient explanation.

  4. F (entropy) says

    And could one really be certain that “Inuit” is the intention of “Eskimo”, a term which is inclusive of Aleuts and other peoples. And Inuit is also considered improper or inaccurate in some cases where it is used. The Northwest Passage winds by lands of all “Eskimo” peoples, from Greenland to Siberia.

    But sure, you could just pick one people or name them all. :)

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