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Pirate song deconstruction

Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!

The drink and the devil have done for the rest-

Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!

So what does this song all mean? Let’s break it down line by line, shall we?

A dead man’s chest is a chest which was buried and then everyone else who dug the hole were killed by the Capitan and first mate, who then covered up the whole mess, so that nobody could reveal the location of the booty later. Pretty brutal, eh? Well that’s the pirate life…

the chorus is pretty meaningless, mostly here for phonetic effect

Now we are told that the drink is partially responsible for the demise of the crew, whether by alcohol related death or just poor choices fueled by inebriation is uncertain but when we assert that the devil has done for the rest, it surely means that they’ve died as a direct result of their wicked lifestyle

We may now safely conclude that everyone who knew the location of the booty is deceased and this treasure is lost; it has literally become priceless (although it will retain an innate value as it could be potentially rediscovered)

Let’s revisit the chorus now. YO is generally understood as an attention grabber, while HO is usually indicative of motion toward, so if the chorus is anything other than phonetic, we might interpret it as “keep going that way”

My read on this song is that the pirates understood on some level that they’d never live to spend their ill-gotten gains before they died by murder or misadventure, yet they rushed forward into that lifestyle regardless. Indeed, this song is a celebration of that mindset. We might conclude from this song that they were less interested in the acquisition of wealth and more focused on the method they chose to acquire it

Why then did they risk their lives for booty they had no expectation of living to enjoy? Whether they were simply miscreants who lived only for violence or were attempting to level the playing field is something I will leave to you to decide…


What do you think?

12 points


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  1. That sounds like alcoholism, or an addiction to wealth and violence.
    Partying for the rest of their lives. ?
    I hope they believed in reincarnation and hoped they could get back to their chest someday. I mean, thinking all they cared about was having fun, that’s quite sad.
    I like the story, though I just see the “devil” as an embodiment of greed.

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