Yet as the title states, Nautical Disaster is more nightmare vision than dream, and the dreamscape the lyrics paint is both devastating and haunting. Though many debate the actual disaster being recounted in the song, lead singer Gord Downie apparently indicated the song dealt with the doomed German battleship Bismarck. What makes the song so eerie and unforgettable is its transition from dream to the waking world and the seamless metaphorical connection of the disaster nightmare to the end of a relationship.
The song features no chorus and can essentially be read as a prose poem or a short story, one packed with a number of memorable images and similes. Accordingly, the narrative effect remains even without the music.
I had this dream where I relished the fray and the screaming filled my head all day.
It was as though I had been spit here,
Into the pocket of a lighthouse on some rocky socket,
Off the coast of France, dear.
Four thousand men died in the water here and five hundred more were thrashing madly as parasites might in your blood.
Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten and ten only,
Anything that systematic would get you hated.
It's not a deal not a test nor a love of something fated.
The selection was quick,
The crew was picked and those left in the water were kicked off our pant leg and we headed for home.
Then the dream ends when the phone rings,
You're doing alright he said it's out there most days and nights,
But only a fool would complain.
Anyway Susan, if you like,
Our conversation is as faint as a sound in my memory,
As those fingernails scratching on my hull.
But in my humble opinion, it is still only truly complete with the music.
Note added: Many dispute the Bismarck interpretation of the disaster described, mainly because the number of dead don't match the real event. Others point out the sinking of military vessels during wartime could hardly be classified as 'disasters.' Personally, I don't think a lack of connection to any real sinking makes the song less relevant or powerful. In fact, I prefer a fictitious nautical disaster in the song over any allusion to a real one.