The sighting of a mermaid on the seas was considered a portent of a shipwreck, a topic that gets taken up in this rollicking tune from the mid-1700s. With its upbeat tempo and catchy tune, ‘The Mermaid’s verses are the discussion between men on a ship in stormy seas while the chorus cheerfully talks of a sailor’s dangerous duty to go aloft when needed during a storm.

Check out lyrics and a live version of ‘The Mermaid’ below!

Note: The tunes, lyrics and history of a single sea song or shanty are often diverse and debated, given how these songs were passed along and changed (often simultaneously on many ships all over the seas). This is part of what is beautiful and fascinating about them. What we’re representing in this blog post is only one, and certainly not the only, version of a song and its history.

As you can see, the lyrics we often use on the ships and the lyrics from this musical group are slightly different. Embrace it!

Full Lyrics - Mermaid

Friday night when we set sail

And we were not far from the land

We spied a little mermaid sitting on a rock

With a comb and a glass in her hand

 

Chorus:

Oh the ocean waves do roll

And the stormy winds do blow

And we poor sailors go skipping up aloft

While the landlubbers lie down below, below, below

While the landlubbers lie down below

 

Up spoke the captain of our gallant ship

And a fine looking man was he

“I have a wife down in fair Liverpool

that I nevermore will see”

 

Chorus

 

Up spoke the first mate of our gallant ship

And a well-spoken man was he

“I have me a wife in Salem by the sea

And tonight she a widow will be”

 

Chorus

 

Up spoke the bosun of our gallant ship

And a brave young man was he

“Well I’ve got a sweetheart at St. John’s by the sea

And tonight she be weepin’ for me”

 

Chorus

 

Up spoke the cook of our gallant ship

And a greasy old butcher was he

“I care much more for my pots and my pans

Than I do for the bottom of the sea”

 

Chorus

 

Then up spoke the cabinboy of our gallant ship

And a dirty little rat was he

“I care no more for my wife and my babe

than I do for the bottom of the sea”

 

Chorus

 

Then three times around spun our gallant ship

And three times around spun she

Three times around spun our gallant ship

And she sank to the bottom of the sea

 

Chorus