There's a house across the river, but alas. I cannot swim
And a garden of such beauty that the flowers seem to grin
There's a house across the river, but alas, I cannot swim
I'll live my life regretting that I never jumped in

There's a boy across the river with short black curly hair
He wants to be my lover and I want to be his peer
There's a boy across the river but alas, I cannot swim
And I never will get to put my arms around him

There's a life across the river that was meant for me
Instead I live my life in constant misery
There's a life across the river but I do not see
Why I should please those that will never be pleased

There is gold across the river but I don't want none

Gold is fleeting, gold is fickle, gold is fun

There is gold across the river but I don't want none
I would rather be dry than held up by a golden gun

Saying work more, earn more, live more
Have more fun


Lyrics submitted by bluest_light

Alas, I Cannot Swim song meanings
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21 Comments

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  • +3
    General CommentShe's ultimately saying live life and have fun; jump in the river & learn to swim for things you want, but don't spend all your time working to earn money. The real "gold" is enjoying your life.
    WendyPopson January 07, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think that it's supposed to be "Work more, earn more, live more, have more fun."
    attlyssnaon October 23, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is all about being too scared to go for something and if you live your life gaurded how you will regret it.

    I feel the narrator can see all this great things across the river but her fear stops her from going for it even though it will be worth it.
    ?
    darkleexxxon November 14, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt kind of seems like an argument within one's self about whether to jump in or not. It talks of the good things across the water and how she is missing out, but "Alas, I cannot swim" implies an inability to cope; she will drown before she gets there.

    Throughout the song she seems to be convincing herself that she doesn't need false happiness (gold etc.) because she can earn her own happiness. The golden gun could imply that once you've given in to the temptation it is difficult/impossible to go back, people will try to keep you there.

    I agree with 'roo92123' it could apply to the music industry and selling out, or it could simply mean that you shouldn't give in to other people, as you will never be able to please them all anyway/there will always be something more they want from you ("Why I should please those that will never be pleased?") Be happy with being yourself, if you work hard you will reap the rewards.
    YouCantHelpIton January 17, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationI read the ending as "There is gold across the river but I don't want none
    I would rather be dry than held up by a golden gun
    Saying 'work more, earn more, live more, have more fun."
    I feel like the song's saying that across the road are the things we're all supposed to aspire towards, or are felt pressured to gain at some point, like the home and garden and the lover and wealth. I think the turning point in the song is where she says "Why I should please those that will never be pleased." I think the song is about saying stuff them all, stuff expectations and conventions; to be wealthy, to be hardworking, to be fun and to be entertainting! I think it's saying there's nothing wrong with being anything else, there's nothing wrong with being miserable! Nothing wrong with being dry! I think it's about not selling out yourself, your personality and individuality. Just be whatever it is you happen to be.
    However, I do appreciate the double negative about the gold thing...
    TheLostDirectoron April 08, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think most of this album is about her being guarded. She won't allow herself to fall in love and be happy because she knows that her mind will fuck it up eventually and she'll end up hurting herself and others. She has commitment issues and she doesn't want to hurt anyone, that's how i see it anyways.
    Chantal16on December 23, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My Interpretation"I will live my life regretting that I never jumped in." She has resigned herself to the fact that she will NOT jump in as long as she lives. She knows this. It isn't so much a dilemma as to whether she should make an attempt but a statement as to how it is so that she cannot ("alas, I cannot swim") and how much she bemoans that fact. She will regret it, and she knows that even thinking about it now and regrets not swimming in the past, but that doesn't change who she is or how she will act. It does exactly have to do with being guarded, with having inhibitions, and probably with having ideals. She is miserable being so, but that's how she is, which is because she finds it better than the alternative. She will take what she can get that washes up on her side of the river or that she is lucky enough that will make its conscious way to her, and she will be thankful for it and settle for it. Probably, she used to be content in her way and proud of herself. But now she yearns for the so-called gold on the other side of the river, and it hurts her to see the possibilities; but that's not what she wants, not really. That's not who she is. She's not a swimmer. If it were truly what she wanted, she would most certainly jump in the river. The thing is, it is her desire to stay where she is that prevents her from being able to swim. She wants happiness and fun and wealth and love for herself like any sane person, but she doesn't want to achieve those things in the manner of acquiring the gold. Or the secure house, the beautiful garden, the potential object of her arms and heart, the kind of life that she sees herself leading in her dreams. Perhaps she feels that she is not worthy and/or that she would rather someone else have it and enjoy it. Plus, there is the idea of going outside of her comfort zone. In order to get to the gold, she has to leave her side of the river behind, to go to some new place and in a strange manner. Yes, she is scared, but this is way bigger than getting uncomfy. She would need to leave her identity behind, to do things that she has an aversion to for whatever reason, likely personal and moral and in respect for others. I also like the double negative in "There is gold across the river, but I don't want none," even if the only reason that it exists is for rhyming purposes. Considering the colloquial use of double negatives to indicate negatives, it could be taken to mean either that she doesn't want any (which is, to me, the immediately obvious conclusion) or that she does not want to be without any. And I feel that in the situation described by the lyrics, both meanings could make sense, and it is interesting if both are taken to be true. I like the duality. She lives in her misery and envies those with gold, but she doesn't want to be "held up by a golden gun," and she does "not see why [she] should please those that will never be pleased." I think there's more to those phrases than not wanting to be subject to the power and influence of others and of the gold itself. Attaining the gold, becoming wet in the process, would go against who she is, and that would be wholly unacceptable. She is subject instead to the strict rule of staying dry, and she feels that while she may be miserable, at least she does not go against her beliefs, and that is preferable. Essentially, it is not an inherent inability that prevents her from swimming, but she would rather not, and that is why she cannot. Alas.

    Of course, this is just how I interpret the lyrics, and it is probably because this is how I feel myself, all the time. It is quite frustrating, to want more but not to want to go for it. I do not think that it is ultimately due to the risk/fright that she does not swim, though I understand that interpretation to a degree. Individuality is certainly a part of it, but I think it's more about personality than maintaining individuality. As for what YouCantHelpIt said, yes, she most certainly is missing out! She declares that she lives in constant misery. How can you say that she is not missing out if this is the case? TheLostDirector said that there's nothing wrong with being miserable, but I don't see how that can be true. It's just that she has accepted living in misery as how she will continue to live her life. But she still wants to be happy, and she deserves to be happy, don't you think? It's kind of tragic.
    Kozumouon January 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationIt's The Great Gatsby.

    (WARNING: SPOILERS!!!
    if you haven't read Gatsby or seen the movie, stop reading NOW because its good and I will ruin the whole story for you!)

    A refresher:
    In the Great Gatsby, Gatsby is in love with Daisy, but she is way out of his league. She's rich, he's poor. He does whatever he can (mostly illegal things-bootlegging, etc.) to become rich so that she will love him. He doesn't care about the money at all, just Daisy. He buys a house directly across the water from hers on Long Island. Daisy's house is huge and magnificent. He sits outside his house by night and watches the green light which marks Daisy's dock. The problem is that while Gatsby was making his fortune, Daisy got married and had a daughter. When she finds out that Gatsby is rich, they start an affair, kept secret from everyone except their friend Nick (the narrator). However they have different ideas about how far the affair should go. Soon there are a lot of misunderstandings and Gatsby is shot in his swimming pool


    My cousin came up with this interpretation:

    The song talks about a house, garden, and boy across the river. This part is from Daisy's perspective--she wants Gatsby and his money.

    Their lives were meant for each other, but they cannot get to each other.
    Gatsby pleases those who will never be pleased, because he deals with both criminals and rich people who are greedy and always want more.

    When it starts talking about gold, it is entirely from Gatsby's perspective. He doesn't care at all about the money, just Daisy. He knows that gold is fleeting, fickle, and fun.

    "I would rather be dry than held up by a golden gun/saying work more, earn more, live more, have more fun" refers to how Gatsby's death is a culmination of all the things he did, especially getting rich illegally. He is also in a swimming pool. A person would say they would rather "be dry," both literally (not dead and therefore not in the pool) and figuratively (really poor) than be staining the pool with their own blood. They would also want to have worked more (he, unlike people like Daisy's husband who were born rich, worked for his money, albeit illegally. He put his whole life into it), earn more (he worked for it, but he didn't earn it because he did it so illegally), live more (Gatsby spent all of his time trying to get Daisy, but she would leave him if their affair became inconvenient. He wasted his entire life on nothing, and died for it), and have more fun (Gatsby never even bothered to enjoy the ridiculous parties he threw in order to catch Daisy's attention. He just sat and watched.) HOWEVER Gatsby himself would never actually say any of this, even after his death, because he was so in love with Daisy. This is a logical reaction fro, not Gatsby's.
    mermy96on March 16, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General Commentwell said lozza
    chris-jerichoon August 09, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentMy favourite song on the album and one of my favourite hidden tracks ever.
    MyBloodBeatsDarkon September 05, 2008   Link

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