February 17th, 2009
Thousands Are Sailing
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” decreed Lady Liberty to the millions upon millions of immigrants in search of a new life in the Land of the Free. The largest influx of refugees from afar emanated from Ireland during the 19th century. Harsh times in the Emerald Isle were further exacerbated when disease created a potato famine, the likes of which claimed over a million lives and devastated the entire country. The immense impact upon Ireland created strong sentiments that were often reflected in song. In “Thousands Are Sailing,” Phil Chevron, of the Pogues, captured those emotions, both disheartened and joyous. ...view middle of the document...
Five and dimes were inexpensive markets especially for the impoverished immigrants2.
The uprooted Irish were still connected to the Emerald Isle in heart and mind, some more than others. The next verse describes the mixed emotions felt by those who made the voyage. “Did the old songs taunt or cheer you / And did they still make you cry / Did you count the months and years / Or did your teardrops quickly dry.” Although the situation in America was vastly improved in comparison to their famishing homeland, it was not an easy journey to make. “Ah, no, says he, ‘twas not to be / On a coffin ship I came here / And I never even got so far / That they could change my name.” A famished man tells of how his journey ended before the shores. The vessels that were used to by immigrants to traverse the ocean became known as coffin ships, due to the high death rates aboard3. The conditions were immensely vile and dangerous, but immigrants had no other options. The man never experienced Ellis Island, where names were commonly altered in an attempt to conceal their Irish origin. When the next verse begins, the vocals take on a plurality, as if the masses arose and sang together: “Thousands are sailing / Across the western ocean / To a land of opportunity / That some of them will never see / Fortune prevailing / Across the western ocean / Their bellies full / Their spirits free / They'll break the chains of poverty / And they'll dance.” The perspective alters from verse to verse, as if to share the experiences from every point of view, whether it be those making the voyage or those left behind. Although the majority of the population set sail for America, countless died on the voyage, often of disease or starvation. Those lucky enough to complete the journey alive would eat and dance in jubilation.
Upon successfully arriving on the shores of America, the refugees would survey their newfound home. “In Manhattan's desert twilight / In the death of afternoon / We stepped hand in hand on Broadway / Like the first man on the moon.” Their first encounters would be in Manhattan, where they would reunite and explore the foreign land. Just as Neil Armstrong took those first steps that renewed hope in the future to Americans, those first immigrants walking in New York City gave hope of opportunities to all following generations. “And "The Blackbird" broke the silence / As you whistled it so sweet / And in Brendan Behan's footsteps / I danced up and down the street.” The Blackbird can allude to many things pertaining Ireland’s history. Songs of the Blackbird commonly fill the air in their homeland, and a ballad bearing its name is a nationally known part of Irish musical culture. The reference could also be the Beatles’ song “Blackbird,” which speaks of a sudden eyed bird yearning for freedom. The allusion makes sense, considering those famished might have had saddened and ill set glares from the callous conditions facing them while they longed for...