Notes from Penguin: The superstition that the sight of a mermaid is an omen of shipwreck is ancient and widespread, yet songs that treat of it are few. There is no sign that "The Mermaid" is older than the eighteenth century, but it has persisted many forms, in both England and Scotland, in oral tradition, on broadsides, in song-books. It has been used as a sea-shanty, also as a students' song and a children's game ('The big ship sails up the Alley, Alley O'). Perhaps because of its familiarity in print, commentators and collectors have rather neglected this song, which, in good versions, has its fine points. The ballad is No. 289 in Child. It has been reported in recent years, from Oxfordshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, Dorset, Devonshire, and, in a common fragment, from Berkshire.
And a well-spoken man was he;
"I have married a wife in Salem town,
And tonight a widow she will be."
Then up spoke the Cook of our gallant ship,
And a greasy old Cook was he;
"I care more for my kettles and my pans,
Than I do for the roaring of the sea."
Then up spoke the Cabin-boy of our gallant ship,
And a dirty little brat was he;
"I have friends in Boston town
That don't care a ha' penny for me."
And were not far from the land,
When our Captain, he spied a mermaid so fair,
With a comb and a glass in her hand.
And the ocean waves do roll,
And the stormy winds do blow,
And we poor sailor boys are skipping up aloft
And the land lubbers lying down below, below, below
And the land lubbers lying down below.
And three times around went she,
And the third time that she went around
She sank to the bottom of the sea.