So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell,
Blue sky's from pain.
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

And did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?

How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We're just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl,
Year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
And how we found
The same old fears.
Wish you were here.



Lyrics submitted by Demau Senae, edited by kehlankr, galaxiaad, bwheeler78, sharkycharming, JohnEightThirtyTwo, GrimTone, robodok, dimaqq

"Wish You Were Here" as written by Roger/gilmour Waters

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Lyrics powered by LyricFind


Wish You Were Here song meanings
Add your thoughts

626 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +6
    General Comment:Wish you were here refers to Syd Barrett, an original member of Pink Floyd, who's extremely exessive drug use caused him to leave the band and be replaced by David Gilmour. Barrett was considered the creative one behind early Floyd. "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" is also a tribute to him, and the Wall is often refered to by some as his biography.
    Ferthukoon January 25, 2002   Link
  • +5
    General Comment:The song was written for Syd Barret. However, we all relate since we’ve all had someone special in our life that chose a different path. This is the way I would interpret it.


    So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
    blue skies from pain.

    (Just because Syd chose a different path and because he thinks he knows what he’s doing doesn’t make it true or right… on the contrary the author of the song is telling him that he is wrong)

    Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? A smile from a veil?

    (When one is addicted to something they think they know better than everyone else. The author is trying to make Syd understand that what he’s doing is wrong, thus wants him to think twice about his life)

    Do you think you can tell?

    (And asks again… it’s like: are you sure you want to be doing this?)

    And did they get you trade your heroes for ghosts?

    (They: he’s referring to Syd’s inner voices that keep him straying… so, everything he believed earlier doesn’t stand anymore? (Syd’s beliefs that is))

    Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cold breeze?

    (Past experiences (good times) for new greater ones. However, the author says here that these will not be the same, what’s gone is gone)

    Cold comfort for change? And did you exchange

    (Again, points out to Syd that he wrongly believes that change is better than what he’s used to)

    a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

    (Asking if he’s exchanged something he could’ve got himself out of for a lifetime trap. In other words if it’s too late to turn back, and if the drugs have completely taken over his life)

    How I wish, how I wish you were here.

    (The author here gets nostalgic and wishes that Syd was there with him like the good old times)

    We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl,
    year after year,
    running over the same old ground. What have we found?

    (Two soul mates, the author and Syd, who went different ways. I believe that there are two fish bowls, each one trapped in their own, realising that they’re just going into circles)

    The same old fears,
    wish you were here.

    (All those years of experience and nothing is gained, back to square one… he wishes Syd was there with him to share that moment)
    fallen_floweron November 18, 2008   Link
  • +4
    General Comment:For me this song is (like much Floyd) about missed opportunities.
    Do you really think that right now you can tell the difference between something that will be good in the long run and something short term?
    Do you really think that you can tell what the difference is between this job and that one?
    Do you think that you really know if this girl will be better in 5 years, or that one.

    Can you tell Heaven from Hell? Can you tell what will work out well from a nightmare?
    Blue skies from pain? Something "good" from something "bad"

    And repeat (in a good way, I love the song)

    What it says to me is that you can never tell, at least about your own life (your too close), what is good and what is bad. Look at all of history, the life story of every great artist, the history of every war. Things that seem great one second are just pain the next, and possibly more importantly, things that seem great now can be the undoing of everything.

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions and often the road to enlightenment is paved with painful mistakes and lessons.

    The song grinds this message home. Then expresses loss in the titular line.

    That loss seems to be for someone, but is equally for all the missed opportunities and chances.
    It is the loss of all the lives that could have been.
    All the dreams left unfulfilled.
    The chances not taken.
    Because we could not tell heaven from hell, blue skies from pain.
    Because we could not see beyond the end of our (temporal) noses.


    The final segment makes it all the more personal.
    A relationship that is not working.
    Two people, neither grasping their dreams, both plodding along in the same routines.
    Day after day, in the same old way, they bang their heads against the same barriers, never breaking through.
    Never quite telling that today's blue skies are eternities' pain.
    Never quite getting to the point where they have to break free or break down.
    Just bumping of the bowl year after year, running over the same ground.

    So for me this is a song about the nature of humanity and it's limited capability to see it's own position in the world, or individually in their own life. It is about the lack of vision of most of man, the limited horizons and the pain that that causes.

    And I know that I suffer from all those flaws, and that I am trapped in that position, and that is why I had to listen to this song tonight when I came home.

    Many other Floyd songs express similar feelings to me, particularly Time which puts a ticking clock next to the weighing scales of wish you were here. Balance each decision, but don't run out of time.

    I think I have failed on both counts.
    Ho humm, welcome to the machine.
    Jarakon July 16, 2009   Link
  • +4
    General Comment:As said by the living members of Pink Floyd in the movie/documentary specially about this album (The Story of Wish You Were Here (2012), this album IS NOT JUST about Syd Barrett, their former member, leader, composer, singer, guitar player. This album is also about, and criticises the phonographic industry.
    The critic to the phonographic industry is notorious by the cover of the album (2 persons making a deal and one of them gets burned) and the songs "Welcome to the machine" and "Have a Cigar". The song "Shine on you crazy diamond" both parts (opening and closing of the album) are dedicated to Syd Barrett, and it's obvious by the lyrics ("Remember when you were young"; "Nobody knows where you are"; "Come on you painter" (his job before pink floyd)).
    About that song, Wish You Were Here what they say is that they play the song thinking about Syd, and they can't to it of other way, although this song is not like "Shine On", it's not specifically about Syd.
    Roger (the writer of the lyrics) says: "Can you free yourself enough to be able to experience the reality of life as it goes on before and with you, and as you go on as part of it. Or not? Because if you can't you stand on square on, until you die. It might sound like bullshit but that's what the song is about.
    All the songs are encouraging me, I imagine that I write them for me, it's to encourage myself not to accept a lead role in a cage, but to go on demanding to myself that I keep auditioning for a walk on part in the war, because that's where I want to be. I want to be in the trenchers, I don't want to be in the headquarters or sitting in a hotel somewhere, I want to be... Engaged... Probably, I might say, in a way that my father would approve of.
    David Gilmour says: "Shine on is the one specifically about Syd, wish you were here as a broader remit".

    I hope I've helped with the interpretations.
    If you can, watch this documentary because it's really good and well done.
    LZIVon February 19, 2013   Link
  • +3
    My Interpretation:I think the first part of this song refers to growing up, maturing, and knowing how to discern between things that often fool us when we're young. When we're young we sometimes misconstrue the most straightforward signs in our lives. Someone smiles at us and we think its a veil. A beautiful blue sky doesn't seemingly have an obvious connection to pain; but these are the connections we sometimes mistakingly make mentally. Growing out of this mindset is a sign of maturation or growth.

    As for the second part of this song... it's like looking up to or at a person who is now in a different position. Trading "hot ashes for trees" and "hot air for a cool breeze" can be interpreted again as maturing, getting more in sync with the world as opposed to your own selfishness. Trading "cold comfort for change" is letting go of that which we are comfortable with/in (but nonetheless hurts us) in exchange for something new.
    This is the best part:
    "Did you exchange a walk on part in the war, for a lead role in a cage"
    - to me this alludes to giving up your collective identity for "a lead role in a cage" or, attaining a high/different/unique/individualized/differentiated position (but possibly living in it in solitude).

    Literally, "how I wish you were here" would mean the narrator wants that other person to be where the narrator now is.
    But given my interpretation of the first two verses, I'd like to (and am inclined to) think "how I wish you were here" is merely pointing out that the narrator would both him and the other person to be in the same place (probably not physically). Moreover, to be as accurate as I can get, that line can be taken as simply being a feeling of 'longing to be...'
    "two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year, running over the same old ground... same old fears..." --just makes it known the similarity and connection between these two souls... how they're invariably tied together, thus, making it understood that "wishing you were here" isn't too far-fetched since they're already connected in some ways.

    I think the cover art, a man on fire shaking hands with a man that's not on fire perfectly symbolizes this song.

    I get the feeling that I'm overanalyzing -but I wouldn't have been able to make this interpretation had I not happened to think about something thats going on in my life while listening to it.
    nehaCon May 06, 2012   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:It's my opinion that "Wish You Were Here" is sort of a sarcastic remark. You know, like those people that go on vacation to Bermuda and send a postcard back saying "Wish you were here". So he's in this miserable place and "hey wanna' join us?"

    Also you can take it another way. If you look at the cover of the album titled "Wish You Were Here", you see a man on fire shaking hands with a man not on fire. You could take that as a "misery loves company" sort of thing. Let me catch you on fire so you can relate to my pain.
    thisboyon February 03, 2002   Link
  • +2
    My Interpretation:I have always thought the song Wish You Were Here was about how people in relationships (whatever kind: marriages, friendships, bandmates, partnerships,etc.) change over time, and their values/principles change with them. People in relationships don't always change in compatible ways, and I think the song is about grieving the loss of a husband/wife, a good friend, anyone with whom you've had a close relationship who has changed in such a way that they are not the person you fell in love with, made friends with, started a project with, and you miss the "old" them. Henceforth, the title "Wish You Were Here." A person does not have to physically be gone to be gone. It is possible to change to a degree that you really are not the same person you once were. However, you stay in that relationship because it is comfortable all the while wishing that it could be as it once was.

    So, I think it is a song about loss and mourning that loss even if it is psychological in nature. At least, that is what that song has always meant for me. Loss and mourning and wishing someone hadn't "gone away."
    ADDGirlon May 04, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:personally, I see this song as examining the age old question: would you rather rule in hell or serve in heaven? It may not make sense to anyone else, but whenever I hear this song, thats what it makes me think of.
    uknowthe1on May 29, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:This song is about all those feelings you somehow cannot express when your in your twenties.
    Sergioutfoxon March 30, 2003   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:i love this song, so much. i think songs mean diffent things to diffent people. to me this song is about how you really want to be with someone you love, but they live far away. and you go on with life, but you two are "just to souls swiming in a fish bowl" and you won't be the same without eachother. thats what i get out of it, probably because thats how i feel about someone, but that probably isn't the meaning it was written for.
    KamiKamGuitarGirlon May 25, 2005   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain