It’s a rather interesting phenomenon that most of us think of pirates as romantic heroes, despite the fact they were common street criminals roaming the open seas. I have over a dozen coveted books about pirates and some of my favorite movies are the old piratical ones: The Black Swan; Against All Flags; The Sea Hawk; Treasure Island.
More recently, the incredible popularity of the Pirates of the Caribbean big-screen franchise starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow further proves my point that we all seem to romanticize the cut-throat buccaneers of old, however, the commercials for these modern pirate movies looked a bit too futuristic for my taste. It was only recently that I finally saw what all the hoopla was about. I must admit, I rather enjoyed it. I mean, what man or woman wouldn’t appreciate the deviously wiley ways of Captain Jack, and it got me to once again thinking about pirates.
Oh, what ‘twer I be they?
Few of you are probably aware that pirates had a lot to do with the founding of our nation.
First, a pirate ship was the original blueprint for democracy, wherein every member of the crew had a say as to who would be their captain and what voyages they would undertake. Second, pirates provided much-needed goods and currency to many a developing continental coastal community. Third, pirates forced the British to divert a lot of maritime resources to protect their shipping interests. And lastly, once founded, our nation’s first naval build-up was to eradicate pirates, particularly those of the Barbary Coast, the original Islamic terrorists. Then President Thomas Jefferson, repeatedly wrote of his woes over them.
Bring up the subject of pirates in any conversation and the first person to respond will likely issue a hearty “ARGH!” while the next response will likely be someone chanting, “Yo-Ho-Ho and a bottle of rum!” It’s a line we all know and recognize, but very few people are aware of its origin.
“Dead Man’s Chest” (a.k.a Fifteen Men On A Dead Man’s Chest or Derelict) is a sailor’s rhythmic work song or “sea shanty” from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883), and a later expanded poem by Young E. Allison (1891), an American writer and newspaper editor who was partially deaf, but his words have rung loud and clear right up to this day. It’s a tale which basically describes a pirate mutiny and relates an interesting, albeit gory story.
So pour yourself a dram of rum, clear your throat, bully your wench and let the pirate soul within you sing out:
The Dead Man’s Song
Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Drink and the Devil had done for the rest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle or rum.
The mate was fixed by the bo’suns pike, And the bo’sun brained with a marlin spike, And the cookies throat was marked belike; It’d been clutched by fingers ten. And there they lay, all good dead men, Like break ‘o day in a boozin ken, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men of the whole ship’s list, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Dead and bedamned and their souls gone whist, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! The skipper lay with his nob in gore, Where the scullion’s axe his cheek had shore, And the scullion he was stabbed times four; And there they lay, and the soggy skies, Dripped carelessly in upstaring eyes, By murk sunset and by foul sunrise, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men of ‘em stiff and stark, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Ten of the crew bore the murder mark, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! ‘Twas a cutlass swipe or an ounce of lead, Or a gaping hole in a battered head, And the scupper’s glut of a rotting red; And there they lay, ay, damn my eyes, Their lookouts clapped on Paradise, Their souls gone, just the contra-wise, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men of ‘em good and true,Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Every man Jack could of sailed with old Tew, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! There was chest on chest of Spanish gold, And a ton of plate in the middle hold, And the cabin’s riot of look untold—And there they lay that had took the plum, With sightless eyes and with lips struck dumb, And we shared all by the rule ‘o thumb, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
More was seen through the stern lights screen. Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Chartings ondoubt where a woman had been, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
A flimsy shift on a bunker cot,
With a dirk slit sneer through the bosom spot,
And the lace stiff dry in a purplish rot-
Or was she wench or a shuddering maid,
She dared the knife and took the blade,
Faith, there was stuff for a plucky Jade!
Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
Fifteen men on the Dead Man’s chest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Drink and the devil had done for the rest, Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!
We wrapped ‘em all in a main’sul tight With twice ten turns of a hawser’s bight, And we heaved ‘em over and out of sight. With a yo-heave-ho and a fare-ye-well, And a sullen plunge in a sullen swell, Ten fathoms along on the road to hell- Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!!!
And to the ladies who might find all this machismo somewhat dis-concerting, I’ll later write about Anne Bonnie and Mary Reid… hardly finishing school graduates, but pirate chicks to the core. ARGH!