“The Old Fish Song”


Humorous retelling of the Jonah myth. Jonah is ordered by God to preach repentance to Nineveh. Not wanting the job, he goes to sea. God raises a storm; the sailors throw Jonah overboard. He is swallowed by a whale. Children are warned to obey

Long description

God sees that the people of Nineveh are wicked, and sends Jonah to preach to them. Jonah says he's a hard-shell Baptist and refuses to go, being against foreign missions. He gets on a ship, but God, angered, raises a storm and the sailors throw Jonah overboard, where he's swallowed by a whale. The whale has indigestion, and vomits Jonah back out; Jonah heads for Nineveh and preaches and prophesies until the population repents. The moral is that one should be obedient: "When you disobey mammy, remember this tale/When you run off from home, bud, look out for a whale/There's varmints to get you on sea and on land/And a boy can be swallowed lots easier than a man."


This hilarious song almost certainly began its life as a printed "ballot." - PJS

Book of Jonah, ch. 1-3. In the Bible, of course, it's a great fish rather than a whale. - PJS

Interestingly, the story leaves out most of chapter 4 of Jonah, in which the repentance of Nineveh causes Jonah to get mad at God again. Perhaps it's the author who's the hard-shell Baptist. - RBW


  • Blind James Howard, "The Old Fish Song" (AFS 74A, 1933; on KMM)
  • New Lost City Ramblers, "The Old Fish Song" (on NLCR01, NLCRCD1)


  1. Cohen/Seeger/Wood, p. 124-125, "The Old Fish Song" (1 text, 1 tune)
  3. BI, CSW124


Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1933 (field recording, Blind James Howard)
Found in: US(Ap)