Robert Carr & the Seafarers – “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

“What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” by Robert Carr & the Seafarers narrates a sailor’s ordeal due to his intoxication, depicting the varied reactions and treatments he receives from his shipmates. It’s an energetic sea shanty, expressing the collective experience of seafarers, emphasizing camaraderie, discipline, and the nautical life’s challenges. The repeated refrain, “Hoo-ray and up she rises,” could signify the crew’s hopeful spirit and resilience amid the unfolding chaos.

Embark on a rhythmic voyage with Robert Carr & the Seafarers and explore the lively beats, profound camaraderie, and vibrant energy emanating from “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?”


“What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” Lyrics Meaning

Robert Carr & the Seafarers deliver an engaging portrayal of a sailor’s life in “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” The song reveals nautical life, resonating with rhythmic tones and vibrant energies. This sea shanty unveils the challenges and adventures faced by sailors, shedding light on the communal aspects and discipline of maritime existence.

The lyrics delineate various ways to deal with the drunken sailor, reflecting the crew’s collective deliberation. The suggestions range from sobering actions like “Put him in the long boat ’til he’s sober,” to more drastic ones like, “Pull out the plug and wet him all over.” These diverse recommendations underscore the struggle to maintain discipline and order aboard, highlighting the importance of individual responsibility in ensuring the crew’s collective well-being.

The repeated refrain, “Hoo-ray and up she rises,” acts as a rhythmic backbone to the song, possibly symbolizing the rising spirits and resilience of the sailors amidst adversities. It can be seen as a metaphor for the hope and perseverance inherent in the sailor’s life, echoing the unified and hopeful spirit that navigates them through their arduous journeys.

The song, with its catchy rhythm and repetitive structure, facilitates group singing, reinforcing the sense of camaraderie and unity among the sailors. The different treatments suggested for the drunken sailor convey humor and a serious undertone, reflecting the dichotomy of merriment and strictness governing life at sea.

The Story Behind “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?”

Originating from the rich traditions of sea shanties, “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” encapsulates the essence of sailor’s communal living and the maritime world’s vibrant culture. By reviving this classic shanty, Robert Carr & the Seafarers invite listeners to experience the harmony, discipline, and unique life lessons emanating from the sailor’s world.

Sea shanties have historically been a crucial element of nautical life, serving as a means to synchronize work, foster unity, and alleviate the monotony of long sea voyages. The repeated refrains and rhythmic beats align with the sailors’ tasks, creating a harmonious work environment and reinforcing mutual cooperation and bonding.

The context in which this song was written revolves around the life of sailors who, despite facing countless challenges, find solace and strength in their shared experiences and songs. The depiction of the drunken sailor’s ordeal is not just a humorous anecdote but a reflection of the need for order, responsibility, and camaraderie in navigating the unpredictable and tumultuous seas.

Robert Carr & the Seafarers, through their rendition of this timeless shanty, offer a glimpse into the sailor’s world, enriched with tales of adventure, lessons of resilience, and the enduring spirit of camaraderie. The lively beats and resonant lyrics of “What Shall We Do With a Drunken Sailor?” continue to echo the maritime tradition’s timeless values and vibrant energies, connecting generations of seafarers and music enthusiasts to the rich tapestry of nautical lore.