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 harbor
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 screamin'

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 lot of the marina's teeming minions
In 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 harbor
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
Remember what she does when you're asleep

Lyrics submitted by Hunter, edited by antiaverage, AbuDun

A Cautionary Song Lyrics as written by Colin Meloy

Lyrics © BMG Rights Management

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A Cautionary Song song meanings
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  • +4
    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
  • +4
    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
  • +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."…
    knowthyselfon July 05, 2004   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 30, 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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