Friday, July 22, 2022

Folk Song for January 2023: The Mermaid

My grandchildren insisted we include this one! Scholars have traced the roots of The Mermaid back at least 400 years. Some say it’s a sea ballad which sailors sang while off-duty, while others claim it was a sailor’s work song and therefore can be classified as a chanty. Whatever you want to call it, 'tis a fine, rollicking tune, me hearties!

Important to know: In maritime folklore, the sighting of a mermaid spelled certain doom for sailors and their ships.

Fun fact: JRR Tolkein wrote a song in Old English to the tune of The Mermaid.

Feel free to omit a verse or two for very, very young children, if that seems best. But... learn one verse at a time and I suspect they will surprise you!  

My search for lyrics turned up innumerable variations, and no two were alike. The lyrics here most closely follow this recording by Smithsonian Folkways.  

The Mermaid

On Friday morning we set sail

Not being far from the land

It was there we espied a fair mermaid

With a comb and a glass in her hand


And the ocean's waves do roll

And the stormy winds do blow

And we poor sailors are skipping at the top

While the landlubbers lie down below below below

While the landlubbers lie down below

The boatswain at the helm stood

And was steering his course right well

With tears a-standing in his eyes,

Saying oh how the seas do swell


And then spoke the mate of our gallant ship

And a well-spoken man was he

Saying, “I have a wife in fair Plymouth town

And this night a widow she will be.”



Then spoke the captain of our gallant ship

And a valiant man was he

Saying, “For the want of a longboat

We shall sink to the bottom of the sea.”


And up spoke the cookie of our gallant ship

And a gruff old soul was he

Saying, “I care much more for me pots and me pans

Than I do fer the bottom of the sea!”


Then up spoke the boy of our gallant ship

And a well-spoken lad was he.

Saying, “I have a mother in fair Bristol town

And this night she will weep for me.”


The moon gave light and the stars shone bright

And my mother is looking for me

She may look, she may weep with a watery eye

She may look to the bottom of the sea.


Then once around spun our gallant ship

And twice around spun she

And the third time around spun our gallant ship

And she sank to the bottom of the sea


If that seems like a Whole Lot of Chorus Repeats, just think how long it will keep the kids happily occupied when they start singing it outside! Masterly Inactivity at its finest, Mama! 😉

Do check out the Brobdingnagian Bards' lively version with comic touches and slightly different lyrics.

Lynn's Youtube Playlist for AO Folk Songs 2022-2023

Our helpful intro post is sure to liven up your folk song adventures.

For more information on our folk songs, and for Amazon affiliate 
links to purchase individual songs, see our AO Folk Songs page.

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