The Merchantman Shanty

detail from Moonlight over the Bosphorus by Edward Hoyer

The Merchantman Shanty

“Work songs were banned in the Royal Navy”
                                                                                    – Capt A. Bakalarka

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval brig,
But there they wouldn’t let me sing
Whene’er we raised the rig

     So we hauled away in silence so,
     We had to heave without a ho,
     We dare not peep a quick-quick-slow
     Or the cat would make us holler.

We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only lubbers sing at sea
     So let all singing go.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval sloop,
But I couldn’t let my whistle ring
Whene’er we swabbed the poop.

     So we scrubbed away in silence, see,
     We had to dumb without a dee,
     We dare not hum a do-re-mi,
     Or the cat would make us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only madmen sing at sea
     So keep your whistle’ing low.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval barque,
But I must not pluck a single string
Till safely after dark.

     So we sailed away in silence, aye,
     We had to hew without a cry,
     Unless the roaring wind was high
     And the cat can’t hear us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only sirens sing at sea
     So take your singing below.

The lines in roman are sung by the shanty man, the lines in italics are sung by the crew.

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