So I said, “Men, pull her out of the water.
And then lay on hands,
and bind back her flippers and tail
until international waters. And there we’ll feel
what’s human inside of her.”

So she’s chilly and slick
on her hips where the scales
meet with skin. With a sickening
flick of her tail, circling,
her gills fill with cold, salty water. She thrashes
and twirls, her freezing fins fluttering.

And she’s pretty, I think,
with her hair dark as ink, and her belly bone-white.
And her lips, of a slight, sea-shell pink, slightly part
as she’s tonguing the tub’s rusty rim,
as the saltwater flows out and in.

All farewells to the land we knew well
we’d never be touching again.
To the fields where we rambled and ran.
Farewell to our wives and children.
Let’s stand on the deck and let’s watch
them all disappearing.

And the days all float by
in a daze, over waves, under sky.
And the weeks slowly leak into years.
The last islands are all left behind as we silently sail.

Until late some dark night, a wild wind starts to wail.
And our map blows away.
And our compasses fail.
And it’s out on the lost boiling black water
where I see her float out.
And she’s so thin and so pale. I see her rise up.
And she’s so fast and so fair. My hands meet,
and they press to a point in the air,

but my mouth fills with more panic than prayer.
And my skull fills with more color than care.
And my heart fills with love, with too much love to bear.
And I know that I’ll stay, and that she’ll always be there,
my hands sunk in cold sand,
sea-weed strung through her hair.


Lyrics submitted by XeeGen

Mermaid song meanings
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7 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentPrettiest song about attempted mermaid rape I've ever heard.
    jurlacheron May 14, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love this song sooo much. Okkervil River's long, slow songs are just incredible. A number of them, like this one; Blackest Coat; For the Enemy; So Come Back, I Am Waiting; etc. really build in intensity, and I love that. I just had Mermaid playing in the kitchen, and I didn't realize how loud it grew until I was reminded that someone was sleeping, because I was so into it.

    Anyway, the real reason that I'm posting is that I transcribed the lyrics to the first release of the song from the In Search of a Midnight Kiss soundtrack (youtube.com/…). Unfortunately, that version doesn't get so intense, but it's also pretty amazing. The lyrics are different enough to be significant, I think, though the story and sense are essentially the same. It was the lyrics from that version that actually made me understand the story, how the mermaid escaped, so maybe they're more clear. Or maybe I was just focusing on them more because I was transcribing them. Anyway, this is what I heard:



    So, I said, "Men, pull her out of the water, and then, lay on hands, and we'll bind back her flippers and tail, and we'll sail into trade waters, and then, we'll feel what's human inside of her."

    And she's chilly and slick on her hips, where the scales meet with skin. With a sickening flick of her tail, circling, her glazed gills fill with cold, salty water, and she thrashes and twirls, freezing fins lightly fluttering.

    And she's pretty, I think, with her hair dark as ink and her belly bone-white, and her lips of a slight sea-shell pink lightly part as she's tonguing the tub's rusty rim. The water, the saltwater, it flows out and in.

    So we seize her and sail, and she'll please us from head down to tail. Then, one night, when our boat coasts right into a gale, and some wild, shrill wind lights up, starts to wail, and the lighting, it flares and ignites our small sail, and our maps blow away, and our compasses fail, then our boat takes on too much water to bail. The tub overflows. I see her float out, so thin and so pale. I see her rise out; she's so fast and so fair. My mouth fills with more panic than prayer, and my head fills with more color than care, and the waves, they weave cold seaweed through my hair, and my hands lose their grip, and my eyes lose their stare. And she's surging at me, and she's breathing the water like air.
    Kozumouon August 15, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think this is about a crew, setting sail and before they get very far, they come across a mermaid and they capture her and keep her on board and eventually, the whole trip becomes a mess and they're lost and they begin to sink and as the narrator is drowning, he sees her swim away and how beautiful she is and starts to regret keeping such a creature trapped on board a doomed ship. most likely, this is a metaphor for a relationship thats really going nowhere, and when they finally part, he see's his lover benefit from the spilt and he cant help but feel guilty for holding them back. and it hurts to see them be happy while he is struggling to carry on.
    this whole song is so gorgeous, will sheff has such a talent for writing eloquent, beautiful pieces.
    i can't wait for the rest of the album!
    glowon March 05, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe best.
    dolleon June 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionSheff is easily one of my favorite lyricists. this song in particular gets a strong emotional reaction from me every time
    StrayDogFreedom12on June 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationIt could be that this song is really just the story of a sailor and his crew's desperate, life long search for a mermaid they once caught (whom one particular man fell in love with). However, I think it's incredibly analogous to a love that is almost obsessive, completely enthralling, and overwhelming. The kind of love that captures one so completely and causes all else to fall away to trivial detail (the more dangerous of loves that is especially apt to involve the aggrandizement of the subject of ones affections--hence his flawless and alien description of the woman--a glorious mythical creature--the mermaid). The whole "love makes one blind" thing definitely applies here, though as the song ends, it might not have been an entirely bad thing and somehow worked out to benefit both parties (which seems to happen so rarely in this particular fashion of love)

    In the first stanza, the narrator's attitude toward the mermaid (woman) is nearly contemptuous, oddly enough (obviously unmatched by the audible tone of Sheff's voice, which sounds close to remorseful). He seems most apathetic towards her and almost derisive or rude with the lines "..And there we’ll feel what’s human inside of her."Perhaps it's also a simple and objective curiosity but I'm inclined to think the former as he could be referring to any kind of emotional reaction from her (in response to her sudden captivity), as if she were a creature incapable of human reactions/feelings--he perceives her as different from himself- in the extreme--not human.

    The second stanza refers to the woman exiting his life; his half-hearted attempt at catching something strange (without any real purpose) which happens to be this woman/mermaid has failed. "Chilly and slick", "sickening flick", "trashes" countered with "twirls", "freezing fins fluttering"--these descriptors emphasize her alienness as well as her beauty. As the woman leaves he begins to consider her as beautiful as stated in the third stanza. Obsession grows, love forms, etc.

    The fourth stanza:

    All farewells to the land we knew well
    we’d never be touching again.
    To the fields where we rambled and ran.
    Farewell to our wives and children.
    Let’s stand on the deck and let’s watch
    them all disappearing.

    This describes the narrators forgoing of a "normal life" driven by conventions or the organization of any priorities. He has devoted his life to a search for this woman/to the woman (mermaid)--become obsessed with her (in a non-psychotic way). The fifth stanza further supports this by describing how time has elapsed over the years of searching, of bearing his love for her alone but of course, without her to share it with.

    The sixth stanza:

    Until late some dark night, a wild wind starts to wail.
    And our map blows away.
    And our compasses fail.
    And it’s out on the lost boiling black water
    where I see her float out.
    And she’s so thin and so pale. I see her rise up.
    And she’s so fast and so fair. My hands meet,
    and they press to a point in the air,

    The narrator finds his love finally. They reunite after his long strung out quest that was near hopeless and approaching failure. (a second failure, if you count the first time he caught her.) This time he encounters her, he is overwhelmingly aware of her beauty and value, as at this meeting he is consumed by his love for her and no longer viewing her as completely alien but rather completely sublime.

    The seventh stanza:

    "but my mouth fills with more panic than prayer."
    The "but" in this sentence is key. I'm not sure if it is meant to call attention to the disparity of what love should be and his obsessive love for her. Panic seems to be more selfish while prayer (though it could be selfish) is more selfless. Or to emphasize the contrast between tangible and intangible (panic: a concrete feeling, Prayer: a wish) Or both..

    "And my skull fills with more color than care."
    This line would support both the "altruistic love" vs "obsessive love" comparison and the "tangible/actual" vs. "intangible/fantasy" contrast.
    The narrator is caught up entirely in the moment instead of living through his dream. The dream is realized and before him..it his his return to the present.
    "And my heart fills with love, with too much love to bear."
    "too much love to bear" could be a negative description though it doesn't have to be. Depends on how you want to interpret it.

    "And I know that I’ll stay, and that she’ll always be there,
    my hands sunk in cold sand,
    sea-weed strung through her hair."

    His dream has come true, his love is requited, etc. The relationship does seem kind of precarious though, perhaps because of the parallelism and because the success of their love is so miraculous.

    The parallel is fairly simple but I felt like trying to clarify it if I could.
    hayllonon July 13, 2012   Link
  • -1
    General CommentFor such beautiful, emotionally charged lyrics the music is really weak and bland. There's no power behind the vocals and the music is really droning and weak. love the lyrics though.
    Robot111on January 02, 2012   Link

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