Recently my wife was singing to our youngest grandchild. I’m used to this. Typically it’s a lullaby or some silly song about a stupid spider continually going up a water spout, knocked down only to go right back up again. But this song piqued my interest when it started with “what do you do with a drunken sailor?” Wait! What? Said grandchild was giving huge gummy grins while my wife was hoisting her up singing “way hay up she rises”. This of course means my next words were “why are you singing about drunken sailors to a baby.” My wife smiled and said it was a sea shanty.
My wife grew up in a small fishing village along our beautiful coast of Maine. She grew up exploring the coast in all types of boats, including sailboats and schooners. She learned this pleasant ditty while hauling sails and has never forgotten it.
Sea shanties are in the news and social media lately. There’s a TikTok Meme a Scottish postman shared entitled “Soon May the Wellerman Come”. To say it’s gone viral is an understatement. Hundreds if not thousands have added their voices to this now famous shanty telling the sad tale of a whale boat. The now former postman has a record deal. You can see the full article here
Sea shanties were sung originally to create a rhythmic beat to follow while rowing, hoisting sales or hauling up massive anchors. These tedious tasks were performed by many crewmen who all had to work together. The shanties kept the sailors working as a team and kept their spirits lighter while doing the grueling work. Perhaps that’s why they are so very popular right now. Whatever you thoughts are on the pandemic, it is grueling and tedious work to get through it. The shanties remind us that even while isolated we are all pulling together.
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