The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they called 'gitche gumee'
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
Than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty
That good ship and crew was a bone to be chewed
When the gales of November came early
The first stanza is telling about a story that has been passed down about the lake called 'gitche gumee' that never has any survivors when the weather turns cold. The ship named Edmund Fitzgerald had a 26 ton load of iron ore and thought they would be safe on the lake, but the cold weather and winds came early.
The ship was the pride of the American side
Coming back from some mill in Wisconsin
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
With a crew and good captain well seasoned
Concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
When they left fully loaded for Cleveland
And later that night when the ship's bell rang
Could it be the north wind they'd been feelin'?
The ship was American, and was coming back from Wisconsin. It was bigger than most ships, but the crew and captain knew what they were doing. They loaded the ship and took off for Cleveland thinking that the cold air was just the wind.
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
And a wave broke over the railing
And every man knew, as the captain did too,
T'was the witch of November come stealin'
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
When the gales of November came slashin'
When afternoon came it was freezin' rain
In the face of a hurricane west wind
The wind had gotten significantly stronger and when a wave crashed over the side of the ship all of the men, including the captain, knew what was coming. The sunrise came late for them, because they were facing a hurricane.
When suppertime came, the old cook came on deck sayin'
Fellas, it's too rough to feed ya
At seven pm a main hatchway caved in, he said
Fellas, it's been good t'know ya
The captain wired in he had water comin' in
And the good ship and crew was in peril
And later that night when his lights went outta sight
Came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
When the evening came the cook said he could no longer feed the crew, because a hatchway caved in. He told the crew it was nice knowing them, because they all knew they were in danger. Later that night when the lights went out, was the last of the ship.
Does any one know where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searches all say they'd have made Whitefish Bay
If they'd put fifteen more miles behind her
They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters
Does anyone know where they go since the waves slowed them down. If they would have traveled a little faster, then they would have made it to Whitefish Bay. They had a lot of difficulties, and now all that is left to remember them are their families.
Lake Huron rolls, superior sings
In the rooms of her ice-water mansion
Old Michigan steams like a young man's dreams
The islands and bays are for sportsmen
And farther below Lake Ontario
Takes in what Lake Erie can send her
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
With the gales of November remembered
Lake Huron has a lot of waves, lake Superior has a lot of wind, and you can sail very easily in the cold water of lake Michigan. Lake Ontario takes all of the sailors that come from lake Erie. All the boats that sail know the story of the wreck, and what happens in the cold weather.
This ballad is telling the story of how the Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior. It uses a lot of personification and the author, Gordon Lightfoot, uses a sentimental tone. The only characteristic that makes this song a ballad is that it has rhyming in it.