Today I want to share a very popular poem that reveals two very interesting points about human beings:

  1. Humor can be an incredible way to understand and deal with pain
  2. Art doesn’t have to be a fixed thing, but instead can be iterated and innovated upon in unexpected and spectacular ways

The folk song “Rye Whiskey” from the early 1900s had the following verse:

“If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck

I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.”

“If the ocean was whiskey and I was a duck
I’d dive to the bottom and never come up.”

In this version, the author of the song is essentially saying they like whiskey to the extent that they would like to submerge themselves in it and essentially block out the world. A common reason why people turn to alcohol for pain relief.

But on June 6, 2003, a hundred years later, a second verse was added by a user on the newsgroup alt.quit.smoking.support:

“If the ocean were whisky

And I was a duck

I’d swim to the bottom

And drink my way up

But the ocean’s not whisky

And I’m not a duck

So pass me the bottle

And shut the fuck up”

If The Ocean Was Whiskey And I Was a Duck Meaning

The poem subverts expectations by essentially scrapping the image of the duck submerged in whiskey in exchange for the direct command of passing one a drink. In fact, the second verse is itself a direct attack on the poem itself, as if the author is saying, “Yes we can tell ourselves interesting stories about life but those metaphors are no substitute for the altered state.”


If you enjoyed this poem, you may also like The Egg by Andy Weir.