Song of the Day: The Mariner’s Revenge Song by The Decemberists


The Mariner’s Revenge Song” is a song by The Decemberists from their 2005 album Picaresque.


We are two mariners
Our ship’s sole survivors
In this belly of a whale
It’s ribs are ceiling beams
It’s guts are carpeting
I guess we have some time to kill

You may not remember me
I was a child of three
And you, a lad of eighteen
But, I remember you
And I will relate to you
How our histories interweave
At the time you were
A rake and a roustabout
Spending all your money
On the whores and hounds
(oh, oh)

You had a charming air
All cheap and debonair
My widowed mother found so sweet
And so she took you in
Her sheets still warm with him
Now filled with filth and foul disease
As time wore on you proved
A debt-ridden drunken mess
Leaving my mother
A poor consumptive wretch
(oh, oh)

And then you disappeared
Your gambling arrears
The only thing you left behind
And then the magistrate
Reclaimed our small estate
And my poor mother lost her mind
Then, one day in spring
My dear sweet mother died
But, before she did
I took her hand as she, dying, cried:
(oh, oh)

“Find him, Bind him
Tie him to a pole and break
His fingers to splinters
Drag him to a hole until he
Wakes up naked
Clawing at the ceiling
Of his grave”

It took me fifteen years
To swallow all my tears
Among the urchins in the street
Until a priory
Took pity and hired me
To keep their vestry nice and neat
But, never once in the employ
Of these holy men
Did I ever, once turn my mind
From the thought of revenge
(oh, oh)

One night I overheard
The prior exchanging words
With a penitent whaler from the sea
The captain of his ship
Who matched you toe to tip
Was known for wanton cruelty
The following day
I shipped to sea
With a privateer
And in the whistle
Of the wind
I could almost hear
(oh, oh)

“Find him, Bind him
Tie him to a pole and break
His fingers to splinters
Drag him to a hole until he
Wakes up naked
Clawing at the ceiling
Of his grave

There is one thing I must say to you
As you sail across the sea
Always, your mother will watch over you
As you avenge this wicked deed”

And then, that fateful night
We had you in our sight
After twenty months at sea
Your starboard flank abeam
I was getting my muskets clean
When came this rumbling from beneath
The ocean shook
The sky went black
And the captain quailed
And before us grew
The angry jaws
Of a giant whale


Don’t know how I survived
The crew all was chewed alive
I must have slipped between his teeth
But, oh, what providence
What divine intelligence
That you should survive
As well as me
It gives my heart great joy
To see your eyes fill with fear
So lean in close
And I will whisper
The last words you’ll hear
(oh, oh)


“The Mariner’s Revenge Song” has been one of the Decemberists’ most popular at live performances. It had been played at virtually every live show as an encore since its release until the 2006 tour. At this point, the band swore off playing it at nearly all of the shows, saying that they were giving it a break for a while.

When played live, the song utilizes a characteristic variety of instruments, with Chris Funk on mandolin, Nate Query on stand-up bass and bowed bass, Colin Meloy on vocals andguitar, John Moen on floor tom and Jenny Conlee on accordion. The band usually brings out a large paper maché whale jaw to use as a prop, and encourage the audience to “scream like you’re being swallowed by a whale” during the part of the song when the whale attacks the ship.

On March 21, during their “Twilight in the Fearful Forest Tour 2007” at The Landmark Lowes Theater in Jersey City, New Jersey, the song was “revived” and brought back from retirement as the last song played in the regular set. Colin Meloy said that they were playing it for all the people who never experienced the song live. The band continued to play it throughout the tour.

The Decemberists

Origin Portland, Oregon, United States
Genres Indie rock, indie folk, folk rock,progressive rock, baroque pop
Years active 2000–present
Labels Kill Rock Stars, Capitol, Hush Records
Members Colin Meloy
Chris Funk
Jenny Conlee
Nate Query
John Moen
Past members Jesse Emerson
Ezra Holbrook
Rachel Blumberg

image by stickygum

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