"When I Look At The World" as written by and Larry Mullen Paul Hewson....
When you look at the world
What is it that you see
People find all kinds of things
That bring them to their knees

I see an expression
So clear and so true
That it changes the atmosphere
When you walk (in)to the room

So I try to be like you
Try to feel it like you do
But without you it's no use
I can't see what you see
When I look at the world

When the night is someone else's
And you're trying to get some sleep
When your thoughts are too expensive
To ever want to keep

When there's all kinds of chaos
And everyone is walking lame
You don't even blink now do you
Or even look away

So I try to be like you
Try to feel it like you do
But without you it's no use
I can't see what you see
When I look at the world

I can't wait any longer
I can't wait 'til I'm stronger
Can't wait any longer
To see what you see
When I look at the world

I'm in the waiting room
I can't see for the smoke
I think of you and your holy book
When the rest of us choke

Tell me, tell me
What do you see
Tell me, tell me
What's wrong with me


Lyrics submitted by yuri_sucupira

"When I Look at the World" as written by Dave Evans Adam Clayton

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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When I Look At The World song meanings
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19 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThe song is about a person's faith being troubled by tragedy. It has been described by Bono in the book U2 by U2 as being told from "the point of view of someone who is having a crisis of faith looking at someone who has built their house upon the rock."
    Hammaloon May 06, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentTo Nightvid:

    The song IS about God; Bono even alluded to this by hanging a crucifix from his mike before he sang this song at a concert I attended.

    Bono is simply making a statement -- a rhetorical question, if you will -- when he mentions "You don't even blink, now do you?" It is a statement of reassurance of that fact, to himself and to the listeners of this song. It is a statement made in awe -- not a question he expects God to answer.

    And as to the other verse that starts, "When the night is someone else's, and you're trying to get some sleep/When your thoughts are too expensive to ever want to keep", the "YOU" in these lines is a general, non-specific "you," meaning anyone. Then in the subsequent lines, the "you" shifts to mean God. So what Bono is saying is that when your thoughts weigh heavy on your mind and you can't sleep because you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and all of these troubling thoughts and problems are taking their toll in negative ways (COSTING you -- "too expensive to keep"), then comfort yourself to know that God is there watching, and he never blinks or looks away.
    Bluewaveson June 17, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAs opposed to many people here, I view the narrator of the song being the pessimist with a jaded view of the world, and more importantly, wishing they could be the optimist like the person the narrator is talking to: "When you look at the world / What is it that you see? / People find all kinds of things / That bring them to their knees."

    The narrator wants to be like the person they're talking to. To be able to change the atmosphere in a room just by walking into it: "I see an expression / So clear and so true / That changes the atmosphere / When you walk into the room", and to be able to look at people who are facing terrible conditions or events and find a way to find a positive in those conditions or events so they can handle such conditions without shame or heartbreak: "When there's all kinds of chaos / And everyone is walking lame / You don't even blink now do you? / Don't even look away."

    The chorus, however, seems to indicate more romantic indications with the use of "without you it's no use", almost as if the narrator *can* be the optimist like the person they're talking to, but only when that person is around: "So I try to be like you / Try to feel it like you do / But *without you* it's no use / I can't see what you see / When I look at the world."

    I agree with the obvious religious overtones with the last verse, especially the Pope John Paul II ideas, since that so strongly fits Bono's persona and writing style. That said, I don't think that "I think of you and your holy book" must refer to the Bible or any religious book in general. I rather look at it as referring to a mindset, or a coping mechanism, one might fall back on when things get rough, to be able to see the worst of the world, whether that be nature, humans or whatever else and still find the best of the world around you.

    I find that view really makes the lament at the end of "Tell me, tell me / What do you see? / Tell me, tell me / What's wrong with me?" extremely sad. The narrator wants so badly to understand how this person can be so positive and have such a great effect on everyone they're around, they think there's something wrong with them because they just can't. They can't shake their pessimistic thoughts that "are too expensive to keep", and it's becoming too much to bear.
    Leafsdudeon May 06, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think this song is about someone changing themselves, and who they are; trying to change the way they act and think, just to make someone like them. and even then the person they were trying to be liked by, still doesn't like them, so that person wants to know what is it that he has to see, or be, to bo liked/noticed by that person.
    eMotionSicknesson June 01, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI heard that Bono (the lead singer) wrote this song about Ali, his wife. She always helps people in Africa and places, and she's so caring and helpful and never turns away from them. Bono was frustrated that it upsets him more than Ali gets upset about it and he wants to be more calm and loving about the sickness and bad things in the world. More like Ali.
    bythewayon April 02, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTrying to see the world through God's eyes - to reach out to those in need as Jesus did. Any attempt on our own isn't going to get us anywhere, "But without you, it's no use". The end is a cry from the heart that, in this life, we won't ever truely sees as God does.
    andrewlynnon May 12, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentnot too sure wat this part means hey:
    "I'm in the waiting room
    I can't see for the smoke
    I think of you and your holy book
    When the rest of us choke"
    firthelementon October 11, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTo firthelement, "I'm in the waiting room" (life, holding pattern, a sinful state, perhaps redeemed through the Lord, but not yet home {Heaven}...pushing to swim through, and feeling like not getting anywhere.)
    "I can't see for the smoke" (the harshness of life, sin, the black smoke and sting of life's battle........the battle for his soul and to 'get it right'.)
    "I think of You and your holy book" (God and His word, the Bible and God's promises.)
    "When the rest of us choke" (when we fail......and fall short from the glory of God as we all have OR God's own .....who try to seek Him and get "it" right but drop the ball from time to time and need HIS grace.)
    robbwhiteon December 19, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThese are all interesting views - I especially like the idea that this was to his wife (who, in a way, is stronger than him).

    But I always thought (I have done no research) that this was Bono's view of Priests.

    With all the evil in the world, they always seem to stay positive and motivated to keep teaching their flock, while the rest of us who care can easily be disheartened by all the evil we see (poverty, AIDS, terrorism, tsunamis, etc.).

    I came up with that idea purely from the second-to-last stanza when he mentions the "holy book, when the rest of us choke."

    Very interested in others views of my conjecture?
    X34brandonon December 30, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI just learned something new. Thanks, Nightvid.

    Peace

    BTW, I liked this song. FOR it's apparent pessimism, the effect of the song is a calming one.

    Peace
    daedoloson November 27, 2006   Link

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