"River Man" as written by and David / Sylvian....
Betty came by on her way
Said she had a word to say
About things today
And fallen leaves.

Said she hadn't heard the news
Hadn't had the time to choose
A way to lose
But she believes.

Going to see the river man
Going to tell him all I can
About the plan
For lilac time.

If he tells me all he knows
About the way his river flows
And all night shows
In summertime.

Betty said she prayed today
For the sky to blow away
Or maybe stay
She wasn't sure.

For when she thought of summer rain
Calling for her mind again
She lost the pain
And stayed for more.

Going to see the river man
Going to tell him all I can
About the ban
On feeling free.

If he tells me all he knows
About the way his river flows
I don't suppose
It's meant for me.

Oh, how they come and go
Oh, how they come and go.


Lyrics submitted by Sweet Blue Way

"River Man" as written by David / Sylvian

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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River Man song meanings
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  • +11
    My InterpretationVery meaningful song to me. Here is how I see it:

    Betty came by on her way
    Said she had a word to say
    About things today
    And fallen leaves

    Said she hadn't heard the news
    Hadn't ahd the time to choose
    A way to lose
    But she believes

    "Betty is a representation of Nick, depressed, and feels cheated by how painful life is, and believes that what ever direction one goes, its going to be painful"


    Gonna to see the river man
    Gonna to tell him all I can
    About the plan
    For lilac time

    "The River Man is God, and Nick wants to tell him that life should be good, not painful"

    Betty said she prayed today
    For the sky to blow away
    Or maybe stay
    She wasn't sure

    For when she tought of summer rain
    Calling for her mind again
    She lost the pain
    And stayed for more

    "She is ready to commit suicide, but is uncertain, then she becomes aware of one of those small, beautiful things in life, and it gives her temporary hope"

    Gonna see the river man
    Gonna to tell him all I can
    About the ban
    On feeling free

    "Again, telling God that it isn't fair that life is so hard"

    If he tells me all he knows
    About the way his river flows
    I don't suppose
    It's meant for me

    "But it wouldn't be right if God tells him the true meaning of life"



    Such as sad, sad song, makes me cry every time I hear it.
    krtmanon January 28, 2009   Link
  • +6
    General CommentI guess I can't be sure, but to me it makes a lot of sense that this song is about death or Thanatos or dwelling on mortality... River Man is the legendary guide on the River Styx who carries souls who have just entered the underworld into Hades.


    It's pretty eerie coming from Nick Drake when you know that he did, in fact, kill himself, and you consider that this song may have been written during a time of rumination about where his own soul would go after death.


    Gonna see the river man
    Gonna to tell him all I can
    About the ban
    On feeling free



    "the ban on feeling free"? well, everyone would commit suicide if we thought it was OK - if it wasn't sinful, or if our soul would simply melt away into heaven, right?

    It's like the famous Shakespearean soliloquay about "To Be or Not To Be," where Hamlet considers suicide if it weren't for the mystery of "What dreams may come" - what follows death? and could it be worse than life?

    Perhaps also borrowed from Shakespeare is this idea of "lilac time," which sounds like a reference to Ophelia, who killed herself in a fit of madness.


    If he tells me all he knows
    About the way his river flows
    I don't suppose
    It's meant for me


    I dunno if this was indeed a specific intent of the song, but it runs chills down my spine. I listen to this song and think of my own mortality. Ironic, too, about the song, is that it is so beautiful and light, like his syrupy voice, that you can't even be sure it does exist :).
    Leroyskagnettion November 02, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentFairly sure he's referring to a lost love. The third stanza intrigued me, so i went and did some research. Das Dreimäderlhaus, an opera with music composed by Franz Schubert, about the composers life, debuting way back in 1916, was later rewritten for UK audiences and renamed 'Lilac time.' "Schubert writes a beautiful love song to his beloved Mitzi. But he gets his best friend Baron Schober to sing it to her, and she falls in love with him instead of poor Franz, who has to find consolation in their happiness - and in his music." How Nick Drake is that? Similar in tone to Hanging on a Star, the theme of unrequited love comes up fairly often in Drake's music. Betty comes by to talk of 'fallen leaves', lost opportunites, past actions that can't be recounted. Fallen leaves could also refer to Autumn, he then goes on to write about summer in a more nostalgic sense. The riverman could obviously refer to the passage of time. I think he's writing about a love that has been lost somewhere between summer and autumn. "Oh how they come and go." Beautiful song.
    Guffleon May 21, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti believe nick is searching for something of more meaning in this song. the river man is perhaps someone who understands more about life. Nick is saying he doesn't believe this higher level of understanding life is for him, he feels that he doesn't deserve it or it's just never going to happen. Any thoughts or comments?
    delomoon January 02, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentObviously Nick was smart and knew a lot about literature. I think Guffle and Leroyskagnetti were leading to something...
    seeker24on November 10, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General Commenthow can no one have commented on this song yet? its fantastic. music like this is amazing. i like a wide range of stuff from emo to heavy metal to classic rock but today i haven't been able to stop listening to nick drake. i think its the christmas season...pisses me off...
    rossxon December 25, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti believe nick is searching for something of more meaning in this song. the river man is perhaps someone who understands more about life. Nick is saying he doesn't believe this higher level of understanding life is for him, he feels that he doesn't deserve it or it's just never going to happen. Any thoughts or comments?
    delomoon January 02, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentgorgeous song, and rossx another person you might like is Elliott Smith, if you're not already into him. anyway his music is like Nick's only more eerie and some are a little more pissy.both amazing musicians, why do all the good ones commit suicide?
    lost_in_twlighton April 06, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI can't believe there are only 4 comments on this wonderful song. It's up there with Nick Drake's "Pink Moon" and "Things Behind the Sun." BEAUTIFUL song!!!
    Phrogexon May 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song reminds me of the film Easy Rider. Especially the last shot with the river extending to the horizon and Ballad of Easy Rider being played. The part about the ban on feeling free seems to be related to the theme of the movie too. What do you think?
    bladeton May 19, 2005   Link

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