The Mermaid Problem:
Don’t Go Searching For A Mermaid, Son,
If You Don’t Know How to Swim.
I soon got used to this singing, for the sailors never touched a rope without it. Sometimes, when no one happened to strike up, and the pulling, whatever it might be, did not seem to be getting forward very well, the mate would always say, “Come men, can’t any of you sing? Sing now and raise the dead.” And then some one of them would begin, and if every man’s arms were as much relieved as mine by the song, and he could pull as much better as I did, with such a cheering accompaniment, I am sure the song was well worth the breath expended on it. It is a great thing in a sailor to know how to sing well, for he gets a great name by it from the officers, and a good deal of popularity among his shipmates. Some sea captains, before shipping a man, always ask him whether he can sing out at a rope.
Herman Melville about sea shanties, in: Redburn: His First Voyage:
Being the Sailor-boy Confessions and Reminiscences
of the Son-of-a-Gentleman, in the Merchant Service,
Chapter 9, 1849