"A Salty Dog" as written by and Gary Brooker Keith Reid....
"All hands on deck, we"ve run afloat" I heard the captain cry
"Explore the ship, replace the cook, let no one leave alive!"
Across the straits, around the Horn, how far can sailors fly?
A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive

We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die
No lofty peak, nor fortress bold, could match our captain's eye
Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call
A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all

We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
The captain cried, we sailors wept, our tears were tears of joy
Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land
A salty dog, this seaman's log, your witness my own hand

Lyrics submitted by planetearth, edited by vitaminf, JimbobAlbobjim

"A Salty Dog" as written by Keith Reid Gary Brooker

Lyrics © T.R.O. INC.

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A Salty Dog song meanings
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  • +7
    Song MeaningOkay, since I cannot find a decent interpretation of this song anywhere I’m going to post what I think is closest to what the metaphors are about in this song and the basic meaning:

    The song is about the sinking of a ship. It could have sank rounding Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of the African continent) which is very treacherous. There are no survivors as noted in the lyrics “and no one left alive.” The rest of the song is about their journey into an afterlife as indicated by “Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call”. Port of call being “heaven” as in “seventh heaven”. Another key line indicating this is “no mortal place at all”. In the final verse the line “and burnt the mast” indicates that there is no going back to the mortal world, they have accepted this and their entrance into the afterlife is met with “tears of joy”. The line “many moons and many Junes” is a poetic way to epitomize the sense of eternity. Finally, the sinking is noted in the seaman’s log and seen by “your witness”. “Your” in this sense is god as in “god as my witness”. Since the ship sunk at sea with no survivors and would have been destroyed by the ocean over time there are no human witnesses to their “tortured course”.

    Note that “heaven” can be interpreted any way one likes. It could be thought of as “nirvana” or “the great beyond” or even some kind of “reincarnation”. In any case the song represents sailors risking their lives for passion for the sea. It is a story of those who never made it to their destination - lost at sea forever - but live instead in the glory of god.

    I think this is such a beautiful song because it honors all those sailors who have been lost at sea over the centuries. The nameless and faceless many who braved the sea with as much hope and passion as those who made it through their journeys alive. May they all rest in peace.
    fullmoon2000on June 22, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentI'm amazed by the variety of interpretations here. Since first hearing this some 40+ years ago, I've always felt this was a straightforward story, representing a first-hand account (your witness-my own hand) of a group of sailors (pirates?) who commandeer a ship, kill the existing crew, and sail to a far-off destination where they go ashore, destroy the ship, and happily live out their lives. Lines like "explore the ship" and "let no one leave alive" seem completely consistent with taking violently taking over an unfamiliar ship. And in a hostile take over of a ship, the first order of business is to secure the food supply to someone you trust, lest you risk poisoning ("replace the cook"). And once arriving at their safe haven, to them it is the most beautiful place ever, being the fulfillment of their dreams (sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all).
    JimbobAlbobjimon November 15, 2015   Link
  • +3
    General CommentStill working on this. Just heard it today.
    They're sailing the river Styx. Their captain is Charon. But they do find themselves in Heaven at the end. "The seventh sea-sick day" -- 7 being the number of the infinite. As with most Procol Harum songs that I've heard, Christian imagery and numerology play their part, here.
    They fired the gun to announce their arrival, and burned the mast because they intended never to return to their port of departure.
    "A salty dog, this seaman's log: your witness, my own hand" is the end of the letter. In his blindness and old age, Paul had Timothy write his last epistles. Paul came in at the end to say, "I write this in my own hand," to prove to the recipients that the letter was authentic, and that Paul was still alive. It should be written like this:

    Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land.
    A salty dog, this seaman's log.

    Your Witness

    (my own hand)

    He felt his name was unimportant, just that he had witnessed this all, and wrote it to us as a promise.
    ASaltyDogon November 20, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentAddendum: Cape Horn is the southernmost tip of Chile. Here's the wikipedia excerpt:

    Cape Horn is the most southerly point of South America, and marks the northern boundary of the Drake Passage; for many years it was a major milestone on the clipper route, by which sailing ships carried trade around the world. However, the waters around the Cape are particularly hazardous, owing to strong winds, large waves, strong currents and icebergs; these dangers have made it notorious as a sailors' graveyard.

    It was on the way to Australia from England.
    ASaltyDogon November 20, 2010   Link
  • +3
    My InterpretationA most haunting account - ‘fulllmoon2000’ (above) nailed it very well with some help from ‘ASaltyDog’. Please indulge this interpretation:

    Synopsis: The after death impressions of a sailor during his very emotional and
    uncertain voyage to the ‘Eternal Shore’.

    'All hands on deck, we've run afloat!'
    I heard the captain cry.

    The ship is afloat again after the fatal shipwreck — however, now in the astral plane.
    Afloat: Of a vessel which is floating freely (not aground or sunk).

    'Explore the ship, replace the cook.
    Let no one leave alive!'

    Search the ship for anyone (who may be doing routine chores) pretending to themselves that
    they are still alive — they must face fact. No one can proceed under such delusion.

    Across the straits, around the horn:
    How far can sailors fly?
    A twisted path, our tortured course,
    And no one left alive.

    A very distant and difficult voyage preceded the fatal shipwreck.
    How could they possibly return home?

    We sailed for parts unknown to man,
    Where ships come home to die
    No lofty peak, nor fortress bold,
    Could match our captain's eye.

    Now sailing in an astral purgatory, they trust the captain’s perseverance amidst
    mirages and illusions in finding the Eternal Shore.

    Upon the seventh seasick day
    We made our port of call.
    A sand so white, and sea so blue,
    No mortal place at all.

    Having, in much angst, purged their ‘sins’ (hates, fears, hurts, longings, etc.)
    from all six planes of form, they reached their destination on the seventh.
    No mortal place indeed!

    We fired the gun, and burnt the mast,
    And rowed from ship to shore
    The captain cried, we sailors wept:
    Our tears were tears of joy.

    Thoroughly exhausted, empty, and profoundly grateful, they are Home.

    Now many moons and many Junes
    have passed since we made land.

    The earthly life is hardly remembered now.

    A salty dog, this seaman's log:
    Your witness my own hand.

    “This is my experience.”
    dmtilleyon February 13, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General CommentTo me it is a very simple straightforward song about a ghost ship. The lyrics are hauntingly clear. It may have been inspired by a book or history. It reminds me of some of the stories my father (a merchant marine) used to tell me. Sailors have lots of stories that border on the paranormal. I guess it's the mystery of the sea.
    suzycreamchezon July 11, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe strings and chord progressions in this song are brilliant. They convey the feeling of floating on the sea extremely well (along with the rhythm and seagul/wave noises).
    The string section sounds like it was lifted straight out of an older piece of work - like they did with Whiter Shade of Pale.

    As for the lyrics, I'm not sure. I think death obvioulsy has something to do with it. The lyrics about "a sand so white...no mortal place at all" sort of sounds like they all died or discovered a paradise.

    In regards to 'lapofthegods' - yes, Disney are apparently set to release a film in 2010.
    Deathsdoor99on March 13, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentYeah I going with the death thing to. Just the line about burning mask and stuff. Sounds to me like they destroying the ship, you know no return once ya dead.
    But then on the other hand it talks about death in ways that seem to conflict this such as "and no one leaves alive", seems kinda obvious if they are already dead.
    Who knows? Amazing song though.
    Cpt-Sensibleon June 17, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAlright. Getting deeper and more shallow at the same time.

    This is a song about a man dreaming of his perfect love. "All hands on deck," is the last thing any sailor wants to hear. It means there is terrible trouble about. "We've run afloat," is the opposite of what any sailor would worry about. They were bound to sea, but actually being at sea was a fearful thing. This is a man who has left his home and his mother.
    "Explore the ship, replace the cook," terrible freedom from Mother.
    "Across the straits," -Keith Reid "straight is the gate and narrow the path that leads to salvation."-- Jesus Christ.
    "Around the horn," horn being a symbol of fertility, referring to a penis.
    "How far can sailors fly?" sperm being the ultimate sailors.
    "A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive," the horrible emptiness of the life of a single man.
    "We sailed for parts unknown to man, where ships come home to die," every voyage ends in the port. The port being the right vagina, in this case.
    "No lofty peak, nor fortress bold could match our Captain's eye," no woman can fulfill him so far.
    "Upon the seventh seasick day we made our port of call," after an eternity of searching adrift, (no seasoned sailor should ever get seasick), he found his girl.
    "A sand so white, and sea so blue, no mortal place at all," she had white skin and blue eyes, and was so beautiful that the sailor could not believe she was human.
    "We fired the gun, and burnt the mast, and rowed from ship to shore
    The captain cried, we sailors wept: our tears were tears of joy," -- ejaculation, and more, an emotional connection.
    "Now many moons and many Junes have passed since we made land," they're growing old together.
    "A salty dog," he's unworthy of this experience.
    "This seaman's log," semen, penis, the account of the whole story.
    "Your witness. My own hand." the fact that he can dream it (and masturbate over the idea) means the reality must be out there, somewhere.

    ASaltyDogon November 21, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis song has two meanings for me - one more literal and one allegorical. Sailors headed for the New World experience some kind of difficulty "all hands on deck, we've run afloat!" and dutifuly follow their Capitan's pirate orders knowing they're breaking moral codes: "A twisted path, our tortured course, and no one left alive ". They eventually arrive at their destination which appears to be uninhabited. They destroy the ship and tearfully go ashore to start a new life. I think the listener may wonder, will they be better men in the New World? Considering the song was created during the Viet Nam war, I think there's a timeless & deeper meaning that can resonate with countless wartime experiences including conflicts in the Middle East. Soldiers dutifully carry out acts, mostly under orders, that they may personally abhor. The lucky ones are allowed to joyfully return home and the same question remains, how will they re-adjust to civilian life?
    serendipon February 11, 2012   Link

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