Blow the Man Down is a song that most people associate with pirates and other interesting people who sail the sea. Its origins lie in the fact that the people in charge of keeping order on ships more often than not did so with the backs of their hands. A man was said to be “blown down” when he was struck to the deck in a fight. A good sailor was more often than not a good fighter: those who were not would frequently either not come go back out to sea — or would be dead.

Note that the song lends itself to a strong rhythm — specifically one that swings up and down regularly, which makes the song useful for singing while one is performing regular manual labor, of the sort that sailors would be required to perform. This, (as I was helpfully reminded by kalen) makes it an ideal song for sailors to be singing as they work. Also, because of the repetition, the number of verses would increase by leaps and bounds as sailors would compete to come up with new ones to pass the time.

It may be the case that you know the refrain of this song as "yo ho, blow the man down" instead of "way haye, blow the man down." If so, you have been swindled yet again of your rich cultural heritage by the Disney Corporation (where magic comes to life, and is then packaged and distributed). Since the Pirates of the Caribbean ride became well-known, the song that plays within it, Yo Ho (A Sailor's Life For Me), has become confused with Blow the Man Down to the point where the original lyrics are not very well-known.

Like most sailing and drinking songs, there are countless versions of Blow The Man Down floating around, some good, some bad, some full of innuendoes, some safe for the family. There cannot be a definitive version of the lyrics, as different sailors knew different versions, but what follows is a version from the Burl Ives Songbook. It tells of the Black Ballers, the ships of the Black Ball Line, once renowned for their expediency, the quality of their sailing, and the violence of the sailors towards each other. These ships went between America and the United Kingdom, and sailors helped to pass the long voyages (3 or 4 weeks, depending on the winds) by singing, fighting, and drinking themselves silly.

Oh, come all ye young fellows that follow the sea,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
And pray pay attention and listen to me,
Give me some time to blow the man down.

I'm a deep water sailor just in from Hong Kong,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
if you'll give me some grog, I'll sing you a song,
Give me some time to blow the man down.

'Twas on a Black Baller I first served my time,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
And on that Black Baller I wasted my prime,
Give me some time to blow the man down.

'Tis when a Black Baller's preparing for sea
to my way haye, blow the man down,
You'd split your sides laughing at the sights that you see.
Give me some time to blow the man down.

With the tinkers and tailors and soljers and all
to my way haye, blow the man down,
That ship for prime seaman on board a Black Ball.
Give me some time to blow the man down.

'Tis when a Black Baller is clear of the land,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
Our Boatswain then gives us the word of command
Give me some time to blow the man down.

"Lay aft," is the cry, to the break of the Poop!
to my way haye, blow the man down,
Or I'll help you along with the toe of my boot!
Give me some time to blow the man down.

'Tis larboard and starboard on the deck you will sprawl,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
For "Kicking Jack" Williams commands the Black Ball.
Give me some time to blow the man down.

Pay attention to order, now you one and all,
to my way haye, blow the man down,
For right there above you flies the Black Ball.
Give me some time to blow the man down.

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