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the Pale

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A sort of mermaid of death

Laura Becker on AWSoP

Laura Becker writes to BtP (August 2005)
Hi - just wanted to share my personal interpretation of
 A Whiter Shade of Pale:

I doubt many people will agree with me, but I think that the "she" in this song is a sort of "mermaid of death."  This mermaid is allowed by her father Neptune, king of the sea, to come aboard ships for a short time (mermaids can only leave the water for brief periods) before they are destined to sink.  Thus she is aboard this ship to guide those in it to their watery deaths.  Here's how the story goes:

First verse:  Being on these doomed ships is her only opportunity to socialise, so she allows herself to have fun at first, skipping "the light fandango" and turning "cartwheels 'cross the floor" with the singer of the song.  She makes sure the ship's passengers become quite drunk, as to ease their coming passage into death.

Chorus:  Later, as the passengers tell stories and play cards, the singer notices her face turning "a whiter shade of pale" - it is nearing the time that she must return to the water, which means the ship will soon sink. 

Second verse:  "She said there is no reason" (for death), and now, as she points out, it is apparent (perhaps only to a sober person) that the ship is sinking ("the truth is plain to see").  "I would not let her be one of sixteen vestal virgins" means the singer has begun to realise who she is (a daughter of Neptune), but does not want to accept that he is about to join her forever in the sea. 

Third verse:  Trying to explain but not wanting to break the truth to him just yet, she tells him she's "home on shore leave" because to her she is on shore, being out of the water.  But now he knows who she is, and takes her to the mirror to force her to admit it.  He is angry that he is about to die, but is disarmed by the sadness in her face.  She does not want him to die, but knows it is his destiny.

Last verse:  Here the singer is contradicting Shakespeare, who wrote, "If music be the food of love."  He had thought that the music they danced to earlier would lead to love, but instead it has led to his death.  He gives examples of other contradictions.  Now that he realises his fate, his mouth is completely dry "like cardboard" and he is speechless.  Seeing that there is nothing else she can do to ease his passage, the mermaid lets the ship sink.


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