Sea Crab, The

DESCRIPTION: A man stows a crab (lobster) in the chamber pot while his wife is asleep. She gets up to relieve herself; the crab grabs her "by the flue." He seeks to free her; the crab grabs his nose. Caught in this predicament, they send for a doctor to free them
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1620 (Percy Folio Manuscripts)
KEYWORDS: animal bawdy humorous husband injury marriage
FOUND IN: Canada (Newf,Ont) Britain(England(Lond,South),Scotland) US (Ap,MA,MW,Ro,SE,So,SW)
REFERENCES (11 citations):
RoudBishop #104, "The Crabfish" (1 text, 1 tune)
Cray, pp. 1-4, "The Sea Crab" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
Randolph-Legman I, pp. 66-73, "The Sea Crab" (4 texts, 1 tune)
Grimes, pp. 49-50, "The Sea Crab" (1 text)
Sharp-100E 77, "The Crabfish" (1 text, 1 tune)
Kennedy 196, "The Crab-Fish" (1 text, 1 tune)
GreigDuncan7 1277, "The Jolly Minister" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Hugill, pp. 277-278, "Whiskey Johnny" (2 texts, version "D" of "Whiskey Johnny) [AbEd, p. 206]
Logsdon 52, pp. 245-248, "The Sea Crab" (1 text, 1 tune)
ADDITIONAL: Renwick: Roger deV. Renwick, _Recentering Anglo/American Folksong: Sea Crabs and Wicked Youths_, University Press of Mississippi, 2001, pp. 116-150, "'The Crabfish': A Traditional Story's Remarkable Grip on the Popular Imagination" (includes sample texts on pp. 117-118, "The Sea Crab"; pp. 120-124, "The Crab," a modern rewrite; p. 129, "The Lobster"; pp. 142-143, "Crabfish," a relatively clean versiion from Sharp)

ST EM001 (Full)
Roud #149
Charlie Chettleburgh, "The Crab-Fish" (on FSBFTX19)
Ernest Poole, "Crab Song" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
Dan Tate, "Little Fisherman" (on OldTrad1, FarMtns1)

cf. "Cod Fish Song"
The Crayfish
The Fishy Crab
The Lobster
The Old She-Crab
NOTES [357 words]: This is one of the oldest of English language traditional ballads. F.J. Child deliberately excluded it from his canonical ESPB, presumably because of its indelicate nature. - EC
Kennedy says of this piece, " seems likely to be either French in origin or in imitation of French balladry (at any rate this is a chance to disown it as an English composition)." Renwick notes a tremendous number of foreign equivalents, some so distant in time and space that they would almost certainly have to be independently created (unless the story originated back in the days of Homo Erectus. I agree that it's crude and primitive, but I doubt it's THAT crude and primitive!). He does note that the English versions are unusual in that the crab grabs the man by the nose rather than the sexual organs or by the lips. - RBW
Sharp's version differs from the canonical one in several ways, aside from having been cleaned up. The main theme of the song is that the woman is sick, and craves the crab, so the man goes and buys one. She goes to smell it, and it bites her, then him. Same song, very different emphasis. -PJS
In the illustrated children's booklet by John M. Feierbend, PhD (children's education?), The Crabfish, copyright 2005, is a brief children's poem of the ballad.  Per the blurb, he is an established collector of American songs and rhymes and is prof. and chair of music education.  
The brief introduction gives: "This story has delighted listeners for more than 600 years in spoken form and more than 400 years as a song.  Franco Sacchetti (ca 1330-1400) of Italy is the oldest known teller of the story. Although the story is found in many countries, the song is found only in English-speaking countries (Britain, Canada, Australia, and the United
States.)" - AS
The GregDuncan7 fragment is so brief ("There was a jolly minister, he had a jolly wife, He loved her, he loved her, he loved her as his life, Bawker oodle ....") that I'm not sure it belongs here. It does come close to the beginning of Sharp-100E 77: ("There was a little man and he had a little wife, And he loved her as dear as he loved his life. Mash-a row ..."). - BS
Last updated in version 4.3
File: EM001

Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List

Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography

The Ballad Index Copyright 2018 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.