there's a place your mother goes when everybody else is soundly sleeping
through the lights of beacon street
and if you listen you can hear her weeping, she's weeping, cause the gentlemen are calling and the snow is softly falling on her petticoats. and she's standing in the harbour and she's waiting for the sailors in the jolly boat. see how they approach

with dirty hands and trousers torn they grapple 'til she's safe within their keeping
a gag is placed between her lips to keep her sorry tongue from any speaking, or screaming
and they row her out to packets where the sailor's sorry racket calls for maidenhead
and she's scarce above the gunwales when her clothes fall to a bundle and she's laid in bed on the upper deck

and so she goes from ship to ship, her ankles clasped, her arms so rudely pinioned
'til at last she's satisfied the lost of the marina's teeming minions, and their opinions

and they tell her not to say a thing to cousin, kindred, kith or kin or she'll end up dead
and they throw her thirty dollars and return her to the habor where she goes to bed, and this is how your fed

so be kind to your mother, though she may seem an awful bother, and the next time she tries to feed you collard greens, remember what she does when you're asleep



Lyrics submitted by Hunter, edited by antiaverage

"A Cautionary Song" as written by Colin Meloy

Lyrics © BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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A Cautionary Song song meanings
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85 Comments

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  • +3
    General Comment:I think this song is much more tongue-in-cheek than a lot of people seem to think. I see it much more as an elaborate lie told by maybe a nanny or a grandmother or something to get a young child to appreciate the food they're given better. I think the more graphic the more effective it would be in this case, and this song is graphic to the point that it's over-the-top. It's obviously being told to a child (who else would be so upset about their mother telling them to eat collard greens). It's more than likely false due to the fact that she only does it when everyone's sleeping and she's told not to tell anyone she knows what she does (stipulations which would silence questions about why she hadn't mentioned any of this before). I personally love the song.
    n00ton January 28, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:"Backed by the incessant thumping of an accordion, an age-old Bostonian tale of harlotry and self-renunciation is woven. The story begins with a down-and-out mother standing in the harbor, awaiting the rowboat that will take her to the 'jolly boat' where she is paid to please the ruttish sailors. There is an exceptional drawing in the liner notes of the mother coyly looking off to the side as a burly brute of a man rows her out. She is bound and gagged before she is hoisted upon the ship, where the men are itching for virginal satisfaction. She is passed along from boat to boat until--not she, but they--are content. They toss her a paltry wad of money and admonish her before dumping her back at the harbor. The meaning behind the song's title is made known in the final lines urging meticulous young children to be appreciative of their guardians’ breadwinning."


    stylusmagazine.com/…
    knowthyselfon July 05, 2004   Link
  • +2
    My Opinion:I love the little bait-and-switches:

    she's safe - within their keeping

    she's satisfied - the lot of the marina's teaming minions

    Of course she is not safe or satisfied at all.
    Ashley Yon February 02, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:I think you guys might be taking the song a little bit too seriously.

    Forgive me for sounding insensitive, but I interpret songs like this, as well as they're latest "The Mariner's Revenge Song" as an emulation and depiction of music and subject matter of 18th century-esque pirate and 'sea-dog' music.

    I just got a light hearted 'story teller' vibe from these songs, and I can't help but giggle at this song when he says "Remember what she does when you're asleep".
    MorrisStephensonon March 29, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:Right, MorrisStephenson, but the whole point I think is to draw attention to the bizarre contrast between what sounds like a light-hearted song with its pretty nauseating subject matter. You laugh at the end because that's where the point is made most cuttingly. I'm talking about people laughing at the graphic rape scenes, which only makes sense if you are an actual pirate.
    tps12on April 13, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:I don't think rape is the subject, especially given the point at the end that she is making money for a reason, namely to feed herself and her family, and the elements that make one think of rape, are just bluntly descriptive elements to what she has to do to make that money.
    b.chroneoson January 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:I think it is about alot of things. Prostitution, Motherly Love, Mans need to Dominate, and Humiliation. She makes money buy selling her body. The gag and tie part is not rape it is just showing males need to dominate to prove they are better. that also goes along with humiliation. Then the motherly love is her willingness to do anything to provide for her children. That is what i see at least.
    Formenotyoon January 22, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:'So be kind to your mother
    Though she may seem an awful bother
    And the next time she tries to feed you collard greens
    Remember what she does when you're asleep'

    The long pause between 'collard greens' and the next line is wonderful.

    Every time I hear that last line I giggle to myself.
    dog-on-wheelson September 26, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:the song's basically like "your mom gets raped to feed you so don't complain about eating vegetables."

    fffuuuuuuuuuuhhhh. . .
    PiGGmalionon June 15, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:this song is about prostitution, a little obvious. it's got an appropriate accordian part that adds very nicely to the song. props to the decemberists for being so bold as to sing about this time frame and so on. it's a cool song, either you love it or you don't
    duckadoozon June 15, 2004   Link

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