Meaning of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” by Jimmy Buffett

The lyrics of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” paint a portrait of a person with an adventurous spirit, drawn to the vastness and mysteries of the ocean since childhood. This ocean represents both freedom and the unpredictability of life. Through metaphors of piracy and sailing, the protagonist expresses feelings of being out of sync with time, having desires better suited to an era gone by. His life choices, including smuggling, squandering wealth, and fleeting relationships, reveal a mix of indulgence, risky decisions, and ensuing regrets.

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for Jimmy Buffett's A Pirate Looks at Forty at

Returning to the ocean, the protagonist’s true passion and purpose are underscored, even as he recognizes that the thrill of his earlier aspirations has waned.

Inspiration behind “A Pirate Looks at Forty”

At the time “A Pirate Looks at Forty” officially came out, Jimmy Buffett was somewhere in his mid to late twenties. Owing to this, it is safe to say that this song isn’t really about him, which is contrary to what many think.

Jimmy actually composed this song about one Phil Clark. Now, Clark was a real person whom Buffett met in Key West, Florida. This was somewhere in the 1970s. Clark was an explorer often characterized as a contemporary pirate. Many even claimed he engaged in major smuggling and mercenary activities.

At the time Buffett crossed paths with Clark, he was nearing his 40s. The lyrics of “A Pirate Looks at Forty” were derived from the numerous conversations that Buffett had with Clark. It is said that during these conversations, Clark expressed worry about the future of his profession. Put simply, Clark was a born pirate. However, he was living in times where it was impossible to follow his dreams to the fullest. And accordingly that reality greatly dampened his spirits.

“I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don’t thunder, there’s nothing to plunder
I’m an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late”

When was “A Pirate Looks at Forty” released?

This classic was released in December of 1974. It is a song that can be found on Jimmy’s fifth studio album which is titled “A1A”.

Did this song chart?

Yes, it did. It charted in the United States.


Jimmy Buffett receives sole writing credits on “A Pirate Looks at Forty”. Don Grant is the only credited producer of this track.

Covers of “A Pirate Looks at Forty”

“A Pirate Looks at Forty” is undoubtedly one of Jimmy’s signature songs. Owing to this, it has been covered quite extensively by different artists. These include:

  • Ian McNabb
  • Jack Johnson
  • Roger Creager
  • Bob Dylan
  • Dave Matthews
  • Jack Johnson

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