What is “The Birthday Dirge”?
“The Birthday Dirge” is sung to the tune of “The Volga Boatmen”. If you don’t know the tune by name, you know it by sound. It’s the depressing sounding Russian folk tune that nearly everyone has heard at one time or another. The resounding thud that follows each “Happy Birthday!” is traditionally accompanied by a “HUHN”-like grunt. The sort of groaning grunt that workers lifting heavy loads might find natural.
What are the lyrics?
The Dirge is known in various circles as “The Barbarian Birthday Song”, “The Viking Birthday Sang,” “The SCA Birthday Dirge,” etc. Those lyrics most common are listed first. Variations and additional lyrics follow. Feel free to pick and choose those verses that best suit the group you are with and the person being serenaded.
THE BIRTHDAY DIRGE
Sung to the “Song of the Volga Boatmen”
Happy Birthday! 1. Now you've aged another year Now you know that Death is near Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday! 1a. So you've aged another year Now you know that Death is near 2. Children dying far and near They say that cancer's caused by bheer 2a. Children dying everywhere Women crying in despair 3. Death, destruction, and despair People dying everywhere 3a. Doom and gloom and dark despair People dying everywhere! 3b. Doom, destruction, and despair Grief and sorrow fill the air 3c. Doom, destruction, and despair People dying everywhere 3d. Death and gloom and black despair People dying everywhere 3e. Pain destruction and despair People dying everywhere 4. Typhoid, plague and polio Coffins lined up in a row 5. Now that you're the age you are Your demise cannot be far 5a. Now you are the age you are Your demise cannot be far 5b. When you've reached the age you are Your demise cannot be far
Other Common Verses:
6. Black Death has just struck your town You yourself feel quite run-down 6a. Pestilence has struck your town You yourself feel quite run-down 7. Birthdays come but once a year Marking time as Death draws near 8. Long ago your hair turned grey Now it's falling out, they say 8a. Soon your hair will all turn grey Then fall out (or so they say)
The Viking/Barbarian Verses:
9. Burn the castle and storm the keep Kill the women, but save the sheep 9a. Hear the women wail and weep Kill them all, but spare the sheep 9b. May the women wail and weep kill them all, but save the sheep 10. Burn, then rape by firelight Add _romance_ to life tonight 11. Indigestion's what you get From the enemies you 'et 12. May the candles on your cake Burn like cities in your wake. 12a. May the cities in your wake Burn like candles on your cake, 13. May the children in the street Be your barbequeing meat 13a. We love children, yes we do Baked or broiled or in a stew 14. May your deeds with sheep and yaks Equal those with sword and axe 14a. May your deeds with sword and axe Equal those with sheep and yaks 15. They stole your sword, your gold, your house Took your sheep but not your spouse 16. This one lesson you must learn First you pillage, then you burn 17. While you eat your birthday stew We will loot the town for you,
The SCA Verses:
18. We brought linen, white as cloud Now we'll sit and sew your shroud 19. You're a period cook, its true Ask the beetles in the stew 20. Your servants steal, your wife's untrue Your children plot to murder you
21. Fear and gloom and darkness but No one found out you-know-what 21a. Just be glad the friends you've got Haven't found out you-know-what 22. I'm a leper, can't you see Have a birthday kiss from me 23. It's your birthday never fear You'll be dead this time next year 24. Now another year has passed Don't look now they're gaining fast! 24a. So far Death you have bypassed Don't look back, he's gaining fast 25. Now you've lived another year Age to you is like stale beer 26. Now your jail-bait days are done Let's go out and have some fun 27. See the wrinkles on your face Like the pattern of fine lace 28. Were I sitting in your shoes I'd go out and sing the blues 29. So you're 29 again Don't tell lies to your good friend 29a. Tho you're turning 29 Age to you is like fine wine 30. You must marry very soon Baby's due the next full moon 31. When you've reached this age you know That the mind is first to go
Where did it originate?
The origins are shrouded in mystery. My first exposure to it was around 1983 or 1984. I’ve heard various forms of the tune performed by various organizations (e.g. SF fandom, SCA). This threatens to remain one of those unanswerable frequently asked questions.
After several sessions of trying to remember what the lyrics were, I decided to start writing them down. Then I began to see other versions on various newsgroups. Collecting and grouping the verses has become one of my hobbies. After enough people asked for copies, I decided to start posting the collection.
—- — — – – – – – – – – – – –
This compilation was made by B. Gabriel Helou in 1997, and is archived at FAQs.org.