"Ship Of Fools" Lyrics by Robert Hunter, Music by Jerry Garcia...
Went to see the captain, strangest I could find
Laid my proposition down, laid it on the line
I won't slave for beggar's pay, likewise gold and jewels
But I would slave to learn the way to sink your ship of fools

Chorus Ship of fools on a cruel sea
Ship of fools sail away from me
It was later than I thought when I first believed you
But now I cannot share your laughter, ship of fools

Saw your first ship sink and drown from rocking of the boat
And all that could not sink of swim were just left there to float
I won't leave you drifting down but whoa it makes me wild
With thirty years upon my head to have you call me child

The bottles stand as empty now, as they were filled before
Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more
Though I could not caution all, I still might warn a few
Don't lend your hand to raise no flag atop no ship of fools

Lyrics submitted by itsmyownmind

"Ship of Fools" as written by Robert C. Hunter Jerome J. Garcia

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group, Warner Chappell Music, Inc.

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Ship Of Fools song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentI see it as a comment on society in general. many cultures have sunk from rockin of the boat. like this fucking american way of life that is so oppressive, and repressive, with those domineering religious sects. dont raise your flag atop that war mongering way of life. when we sink we will just be left there to float. I could go on, but thats kind of how i see it. this is my fav gd song. I just love the imagery of it, I wonder if anyone else sees it like that
    sawyerboyon February 12, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe title/tagline is from a medieval Christian religious allegory.Hunter's writng is full of such stuff,he's very well read.There was a time when those who were considered to be insane were cast off in boats called ships of fools Later the same were put in asylums. The song though , seems like a political /cultural metaphor.
    sambaon February 25, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commentmy history teacher talked about this song today in class and i wasnt really paying attention but i do remember him saying that this song was protesting against the goverenment and "ship of fools" refers to the goverenment.
    nimbo16on March 11, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI think that the ship of fools might represent heroin, or the drugs Jerry was taking. The addiction was what needed to sail away. Each line puts Jerry's struggles with drugs into a different perspective. Jerry was also the captain of the ship, which included the crew behind him. The song is ambiguous in meaning. No clear cut interpretation proven to me quite yet.
    hvdon December 06, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentHmm. I think Robert Hunter was feeling disgusted with something in the US (song is from early '70's but could fit any period). I'd be curious what in particular, back then, set him off. And he was saying to take a stand to not support whatever idiocy had set this off. Ship of fools/ship of state. At sea, mutiny is not taken lightly, so this is a serious decision, to not stand by the supposed leader... Most Dead songs (& Hunter's in particular) tried to stay somewhat apolitical, but occasionally, they got fed up or fired up but it was generally in a way that didn't pin them to any specific time or item of regard.
    jasjbon April 17, 2014   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationPersonally I believe this song to be almost an outcry against ignorance. The ship of fools is a metaphor for how we as a society, have failed to open our eyes to the greater truths of this world, instead choosing to be dormantly content with scraps and sorrow. And so those who are enlightened like Jerry, or those who are somewhat at least will let that diseased ship sail away, making one created out of their own compassion and wisdom.
    Tarkier12on November 30, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commentdoes anyone find a connection between this song and Bosch's painting dubbed ship of fools as well?
    lmc1211on April 06, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentFirst i can't believe only one person has posted about this song! It's fricking beautiful! It reminds me of my life in general. I've become quite the jaded individual over the years & happy chipper clueless people are what i think of when i think 'ship of fools'.. contempt & pity sort of "sail away from me" (pleeeaaase!!) and the moment of realization that you almost bought into it and now your goal is to sink that ship to possibly put the idiots out of their misery.. or perhaps sink the ship and let the fools off for enlightenment ;)
    cnfsdyoieon December 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI honestly have no idea what this song is about.

    I know that in days past the insane were often thrown onto ships and sailed about....
    "And all that could not sink or swim was just left there to float."

    Sort of an out of sight, out of mind thing?

    Often the isolation and vastness of the sea, and the time away from home would driver them further into madness:

    "The bottles stand as empty, as they were filled before.
    Time there was and plenty, but from that cup no more."

    I can only presume the fools were objects of ridicule by the locals when they came into port, but some saw the folly of the situation:

    "It was later than I thought, when I first believed you,
    Now I cannot share your laughter"
    trich daddyon September 12, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentits a beautiful song even tho im not quite sure about the meaning is
    chinacat15on December 24, 2008   Link

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