"Shanty for the Arethusa" as written by and Colin Meloy....
We set to sail on a packet full of spice, rum and tea-leaves.
We've emptied out all the bars and the bowery hotels.
Tell your daughters do not walk the streets alone tonight
Tell your daughters do not walk the streets alone tonight.

To tell the tale of the jewess and the mandarin chinese boy
He led her down from her gilded canopy of cloth.
And through her blindfold she could make out the figures there before her
And how the air was thick with incense, cardamom and myrrh.

So goodnight, boys, goodnight
Say goodnight, boys, goodnight

We set to sail on the clipper that's bound for South Australia
The weather's warm there, the natives are dark and nubile.
But if you listen, quiet, you can hear the footsteps on the cross-trees
The ghosts of sailors passed, their spectral bodies clinging to the shrouds.

So goodnight, boys, goodnight
Say goodnight, boys, goodnight


Lyrics submitted by sendthestars

"Shanty for the Arethusa" as written by Colin Meloy

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Shanty for the Arethusa song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentThis song is based partially on the play, and partially in fact. The HMS Arethusa was a real ship, captured from the French by the British Navy or British Privateers. This song therefore is NOT about Pirates. Just because they cleared out the bars and hotels doesn't make them pirates, in fact, pirate crews were almost always volunteers. The crews in the Navy, on the other hand, were almost always press-ganged into service, because the Navy was a horribly bleak job back then - very few men actually survived their terms of service, and afterwards, they had hardly anything to show for it. This is why so many crews mutinied and/or willingly joined pirate crews when their ships were captured.

    This song also lacks any 'deep' meaning. It's a shanty, which were just songs that the sailors would sing to pass the time. Usually they were pretty bawdy, talking about how manly the sailors were, remembering the women back home, and sharing superstitions or folk-tales about the ships or places they were going. So that's where you end up with each of the 3 verses.

    Verse 1-
    A 'packet' is just ship. The sailors are saying where they're from, letting everyone know that they were pressganged, probably mostly from Bowery. Then they go on to warn you that they're manly men, with manly needs, so you shouldn't let your daughters wander around tonight or they might end up as a plaything for the sailors.

    Verse 2-
    Jews were notoriously slandered in this period. The Jewess is most likely a prostitute, the Mandarin Chinese boy is something exotic, probably acting a servant for her in an opium den where she serves her customers. They're just remembering the girls back home.

    Verse 3-
    Australia was NOT a penal-colony like so many people think, but it was a common enough belief that several folk songs (even from that time) reference it as such. Ironically, Georgia here in the US actually was a penal colony. Anyways, they're just going to Australia, which was a dangerous journey. They're sharing information and telling ghost stories, "I hear there are blacks in Australia," "Yeah, well I hear all the women are young virgins," "Hey, did you hear the story about how this ship is haunted?" -just a bunch of guys sitting around passing the time.

    Great song all the same, I love the way that the effects are so good, you can hear the sounds of a wooden ship creaking at night in the background. To me, that's a peaceful sound (except for the scream in the beginning), but the song does make it quite spooky. Remember, there are plenty of chains and groaning boards on legitimate ships as well, not just slavers or pirate ships.
    SlyBlu7on September 16, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthis song is brilliant
    OjosBrillanteson April 26, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI second that. This song is so freaking awesome.
    hermajestyon April 28, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentdoes anyone else think this song is about stealing kids and selling them into slavery? or perhaps pirates?
    Bryia_026on February 21, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentdoes anyone else think this song is about stealing kids and selling them into slavery? or perhaps pirates?
    Bryia_026on February 21, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentmakes sense. but i think it's just one of those old fashioned sea shanties, just significantly modernised.
    pumkinhedon February 21, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentJust a side-note, in Greek mythology, Arethusa was a nymph who fled from a potential suitor to Sicily and was transformed into a fountain.
    Mellow_Harsheron March 06, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreat opener. "Tell your daughters, do not walk the streets alone tonight"...very memorable
    Cherub Rockon April 24, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthese songs are such rich delightful stories.
    enchanting, and delicious for the imagination.
    it's brilliant.
    boroaskituron July 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment"But if you listen, quiet, you can hear the footsteps on the cross-trees"

    If you listen quietly, you can actually hear the footsteps.
    mwahahah.
    dnowikon August 29, 2006   Link

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