The Dead Horse


The Dead Horse was a ceremonial shanty sung at the end of a
sailor's first month at sea. It was to celebrate the end of the sailor's
debt to the ship (when he started working for himself.) Sailor's were
traditionally paid a month in advance when they signed onto a ship.
With the advance he could pay for boots, knives, weather gear, etc.
However many agents took the advance money and shanghaied
sailors aboard, other sailors spent the money on drink and women
before sailing, and some were cheated out of it by greedy
merchants. So very often the sailor had nothing to show for a
month's work. The dead horse metaphor is from the practice of
horse-trading. When a deal was made there was no going back,
even if the horse died right after the deal was struck. So you could
be paying for something that was never any use. Hence, the "dead
horse." For the ceremony sailors fashioned horses of shipboard
scrap to drag around the deck. They hoisted them aloft and threw
them into the ocean.


Lyrics

A poor old man came riding by
And we say so, and we hope so
A poor old man came riding by
Oh, poor old horse.

Says I, "Old man, your horse will die."
And we say so, and we hope so
Says I, "Old man, your horse will die."
Oh, poor old horse.

And if he dies we'll tan his skin
And we say so, and we hope so
And if he don't we'll ride him again.
Oh, poor old horse.

For one long month I rode him hard
And we say so, and we hope so
For one long month we all rode him hard.
Oh, poor old horse.

But now your month is up, old Turk
And we say so, and we hope so
Get up, you swine, and look for work
Oh, poor old horse.

Get up you swine and look for graft
And we say so, and we hope so
While we lays on and drags ye aft
Oh, poor old horse.

He's as dead as a nail in the lamp-room door
And we say so, and we hope so
And he won't come worring us no more
Oh, poor old horse.

We'll use the hair of his tail to sew our sails
And we say so, and we hope so
And the iron of his shoe to make deck nails
Oh, poor old horse.

We'll hoist him up to the fore yard-arm
And we say so, and we hope so
Where he won't do sailors any harm
Oh, poor old horse.

We'll drop him down with a long, long roll
And we say so, and we hope so
Where the sharks will have his body and the
Devil take his soul.



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