A Sailor Went to Sea

‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a popular children’s song. There are different variations of the song that are sung all across the English-speaking world. However, it is mainly a clapping game associated with the singing of this song. A clapping game or hand game is a type of cooperative and non-competitive game. Two players clap in a rhythm and recite the song. Each time the stanza gets repeated, the pace of clapping and singing increases. So, through this game, children learn coordination and cooperation among each other. Moreover, children have a lot of fun and get physically active while playing such games.

A Sailor Went to Sea



‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a children’s song that talks about a sailor. He went to the sea to see what he could see.

‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a simple children’s poem. It talks about a sailor who went to the sea once. He went there to find what he could find there. Like a wanderer without any destination or goal, this sailor is also in search of something. What he actually wants, it’s not sure. Moreover, after voyaging for some time he couldn’t see anything except for the bottom of the deep blue sea. It seems that the sailor might have drowned at last.



‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ consists of two main stanzas that are repeated throughout the game. Each stanza of this song contains four lines. Each line of the poem ends with a similar sound. However, the rhyme scheme of the poem is ABBA. It goes on like this throughout the poem. The first and fourth lines rhyme with the similar word at their ends. Whereas, the second and third lines end with “sea”.

Apart from that, the first three lines of the stanza contain eight syllables. The last line has two syllables more. The stress falls on the second syllable that is followed by an unstressed syllable. It’s called the iambic rhythm. So, the first three lines of the stanza are in iambic tetrameter and the last line is in iambic pentameter. There is a variation in the last foot of each line. Each line ends with a spondee or a foot having two stressed syllables. And, in the last line, it has two trochaic feet at the beginning. So, the rhythm of this line also portrays the sense of the line.


Literary Devices

‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a popular children’s song that contains repetition, alliteration, consonance, and assonance. In the first line, there is a repetition of the word “sea”. Moreover, the “s” sound gets repeated here. Henceforth, it’s an example of alliteration. In the second line, the word “see” gets repeated four times for the sake of emphasis. The following line also contains the repetition of the word. The last line presents the use of periphrasis or circumlocution. According to the meaning of this line, the sailor drowned in the sea. Apart from that, the last two feet of each line of this song contain a repetition of the long “i” sound. It’s an example of assonance.


Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,

To see what he could see, see, see.

But all that he could see, see, see,

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.

‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a popular children’s song that talks about a sailor. It is one of the well-known tongue twisters. Children from all over the English speaking world sing this song while clapping together. Moreover, the song helps children to build coordination among each other. They have to clap together while singing this song. Each time they complete a stanza, they have to increase their speed of clapping as well as singing. In this way, this clapping game helps them to exercise and increase their energy level. As they need to sing faster, it also improves their fluency and English pronunciation.

However, the sailor went to sea to see whatever he could find. But, all that he could see was tragically the “bottom of the deep blue sea”. The imagery of the deep blue sea is interesting. It reflects the depth of the sea and its color.


Stanza Two

A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,

To see what he could see, see, see.

But all that he could see, see, see,

Was the bottom of the deep blue sea, sea, sea.

The second stanza of ‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is the repetition of the first stanza. Children follow a few specific steps while playing along with singing this song. On every “sea, sea, sea”, one puts his/her right hand up to the forehead, over the eyes, like he/she is finding something. However, in different variations, the song has different words in it. While singing, children make different gestures accompanied by the song. More or less, there is an involvement of the hands and other body parts such as knees, toes, elbows, shoulders, etc.


Historical Context

‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ is a children’s song and a clapping game. These clapping games are a part of oral tradition. For this reason, there are many varieties of a single clapping game throughout different English-speaking regions. A clapping game may be performed or played in different versions found in different areas and times and often according to ethnicity. In some cases, clapping patterns and actions also vary. The truth is there’s not any canonical version of the clapping games. Hence, Children often fight over whose version is right or real. Surprisingly, every version has been popularized orally. Hence, it’s hard to say which one is real or not.


Similar Children’s Songs

Like ‘A Sailor Went to Sea’ here is a list of a few children’s songs. Children from English-speaking regions either sing those songs while playing or merry-making.

  • Little Bo-Peep by Mother Goose‘Little Bo-Peep’ by Mother Goose is a children’s song that presents the story of Bo-Peep, a shepherdess, a flock of lost sheep, and their missing tails.
  • London Bridge is Falling Down – This children’s song is sung while playing a game. While singing this song, children form their arms into an arch while others pass under a single-file.
  • Monday’s Child – Parents and teachers take recourse to this nursery rhyme to teach children the days of the week. For example, if one is born on Wednesday his or her life is going to be “full of woe”.
  • Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross – In this nursery rhyme, the narrator describes a fine lady or an old man who is riding on a cock-horse. She rides to Banbury Cross in Oxfordshire.

You can find more children’s songs in A List of Popular Nursery Rhymes here.

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Sudip Das Gupta Poetry Expert
A complete expert on poetry, Sudip graduated with a first-class B.A. Honors Degree in English Literature. He has a passion for analyzing poetic works with a particular emphasis on literary devices and scansion.
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