"If You Could Read My Mind" as written by and Gordon Lightfoot....
If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
About a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as I'm a ghost you can see

If I could read your mind love
What a tale your thoughts could tell
Just like a paperback novel
The kind the drugstore sells
When you reach the part where the heartaches
Come the hero would be me
Heroes often fail
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just to hard to take

I walk away like a movie star
Who gets burned in a three way script
Enter number two, a movie queen
To play the scene of bringing all the good things out in me
But for now love lets be real

I never thought I could act this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feelings gone and I just can't get it back

If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie about a ghost from a wishing well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
The story always ends
And if you read between the lines
You'll know that I'm just trying to understand
The feeling that you left

I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it
I don't know where we went wrong
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back


Lyrics submitted by karnasaur, edited by rb3868, MuddyG, 42 steps

"If You Could Read My Mind" as written by Gordon Lightfoot

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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If You Could Read My Mind song meanings
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  • +7
    General CommentThis song makes me cry when I hear it. It reminds me of when I was a kid, and couldn't understand it. And now that I'm older and have lived this song, it resonates so much with me.

    There's so much in this song that it's hard to break down. But here's how I see it.

    "If you could read my mind, love
    What a tale my thoughts could tell
    Just like an old time movie
    'Bout a ghost from a wishing well
    In a castle dark, or a fortress strong
    With chains upon my feet, you know that ghost is me
    And I will never be set free
    As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see."

    This verse describes what is going on in the man’s mind, feeling trapped and invisible, not sure how to mend the relationship or make his feelings known. The figurative chains on his feet keep him from both expressing his feelings and from leaving … he feels powerless. He wishes she could read his mind -- hence the song title -- because that would be the only way for her to really see how he feels.

    The second verse,
    "If I could read your mind, love, what a tale your thoughts could tell
    Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstores sell
    When you reach the part where the heartaches come
    The hero would be me, but heroes often fail
    And you won't read that book again because the ending's just too hard to take."

    describes the woman's mind, like a romance novel or a fairy tale — dreaming of the knight in shining armor she hopes for her love to be. He realizes that she wanted for him to be the hero, the knight in shining armor … but he failed. And now she won’t come back to him because it is too painful and she already knows how it will turn out.

    "I'd walk away like a movie star who gets burned in a three way script,
    Enter number two
    A movie queen to play the scene
    Of bringing all the good things out in me
    But for now, love, let's be real
    I never thought I could act this way
    And I've got to say that I just don't get it
    I don't know where we went wrong but the feeling's gone
    And I just can't get it back."

    Here, he describes the end of the paperback novel and what was simultaneously occurring in his mind. His pride (as the movie star) makes him want to walk away rather than compromise or communicate. He thinks that there's some other woman out there who will bring out all the good things in him, and he won't have to work on the relationship or deal with arguments. In "escaping" from the relationship and the chains upon his feet, he is expecting to find the perfect relationship to take its place, but realizes this is unrealistic and can’t figure out why he thinks this way.

    The last verse,

    "If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts could tell
    Just like an old time movie, 'bout a ghost from a wishing well
    In a castle dark or a fortress strong with chains upon my feet
    But stories always end
    And if you read between the lines, you'll know that I'm just trying to understand
    The feelings that you lack
    I never thought I could feel this way and I've got to say that I just don't get it
    I don't know where we went wrong but the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back."

    Relationships, like stories, come to an end. He uses an interesting tactic to show the abrupt end — unlike the first verse where he finishes the thought, he interrupts the verse to say “but stories always end.” He can’t understand how she doesn’t care anymore, in the powerful line, " And if you read between the lines, you'll know that I'm just trying to understand the feelings that you lack."

    This is oh so representative of the lack of clear communication in so many relationships. We sit there, feeling so many things that we just can't express. And we wish that the other person could just read our mind and understand us. But our pride gets in the way. And we are silent. Then those feelings gradually fade and we can't understand where they went or how our relationship went wrong.
    hopeandunderstandingon April 11, 2009   Link
  • +5
    General CommentUNBELIEVABLE!

    This song is about a man in love with something that doesn't exist - ie, mutual love. This is a classic song of unrequited love, nothing more. I love it. It may be my favorite lovelorn song of all time. The lyrics are true tear-jerker, and the music/production are so fine that they only magnify the lyrics.

    These lines never fail to bring tears to my eyes...

    "But heroes often fail
    And you won't read that book again
    Because the ending's just too hard to take"

    Also, the music and production of this tune is exquisite - listen to the subtle bass lines, chord changes and strings. Good listen with headphones. The VI-II-V-I progression is one of the most common progressions in all of pop music. But in this tune tune the progression is as fresh as it has ever been - it brings the listener through the lyrics as gently yet sadly as could be, enhancing the lyrics by an order of magnitude. Lots of subtle harmonies hidden in this tune.

    My only complaint is the duration of this song, I wish it would go on for 2 hours!
    tsreybon August 10, 2006   Link
  • +4
    My InterpretationThis song is beautiful and poignant and just because what I say may make the protagonist seem like a bad guy to some of you, that should not detract from it. It is really straight forward. It is about a couple and the guy falls out of love, then into love with another woman.It is one of those things that just happens and Lightfoot uses the analogy of a "dime store novel" or an old movie to describe the situation. Consider the part where he describes that there is just one actress then, "Enter Number two: a movie queen to play the scene while bringing all the good things out in me." He also draws a parallel between himself and the hero of a dime store novel saying, "When you reach the part when the hero comes, the hero would be me and heroes often fail," which means that he failed her by falling for someone else. He alludes to the fact that his first love will not take him back because it would be too painful: "And you won't read that book again because the ending just too hard to take." He explains that he does not understand why their feelings towards each other changed "the feelings gone and I just can't get it back." The song is about falling for someone else, not being able to help it and saying good bye to the old lover while trying to explain.
    KittenThinkson December 07, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentIt's also frankly honest about his own egotism ("Like a movie star burned in a three way script"). I've been there. I loved a girl and couldn't see how my own egotism got in the way of seeing how it was killing love. Welcome to the human condition.
    groupingon July 03, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General CommentIt's a brilliant song. I can't find the right words to even begin to describe it. Every time I play it, it helps me think about the dark and light side of every relationship.
    Dreamwevron August 14, 2002   Link
  • +3
    General Comment"And I will never be set free
    As long as I'm a ghost that you can't see"
    "And if you read between the lines
    You'll know that I'm just trying to understand
    The feelings that you lack
    I never thought I could feel this way
    And I've got to say that I just to get it
    I don't know where we went wrong
    But the feeling's gone
    And I just can't get it back "


    I think these are the most telling lines. I think this song is about someone he is very much in love with and its all of a sudden falling apart. he feels like a ghost to her, she's not seeing him the way she used to and he'll never be set free again until she sees him again. Also he's saying he's never felt this way about anyone before and he's trying to understand how she lost the love for him and how to get it back. Its like his final acceptance of a love lost.
    littlewingon July 27, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Commentone of my favorites
    nobody1984on May 26, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentRecently heard this song for the first time and I am blown away. One of the greatest melodies ever made.

    I've read the song was inspired by his divorce, and from the lyrics I think he's both happy and sad about the divorce. He mentions their differences and why they couldn't work, but also "I just can't get it back" suggests he's tried to, but just can't continue loving her the way he did.

    I will definately be buying this album, hoping there are others that are even nearly as great as this.
    originlon December 14, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General Commentoriginl- you are dead on. Many people interpret this as a song of regret. It is not. It is a song of sorrow, not regret. Leaving his wife is something he understands that he must (unfortunately) do. He is sad about it and has sympathy for his wife. But leave he must before something worse and regrettable happens.

    KittenThinks- you are close, but not quite.

    While the narrator may have eventually acquired "feelings" for other women (which may be what he is referring to in "I never thought I could act/feel that/this way".....I am not sure), that is not what caused this relationship to fail.

    The most important and powerful words in the song are in the last verse:

    And if you read between the lines
    You'll know that I'm just trying to understand
    The feelings that YOU lack

    These lines are so powerful and personal that Lightfoot's (now grown up) children from this broken marriage have requested that he use the line "the feelings that WE lack" (which changes the true meaning of the song, IMO) when he now performs this in concert. Gordon has honored their request. What can you say, he is a great guy. Anyway, this passage is the song's biggest clue about what is going on here.

    Your "movie queen is another woman" explanation almost works. But the narrator is the one who is "burned in a three way script". If the "movie queen" (number 2 in the script) was a mistress or another lover in waiting, then it would be the wife who was burned, not the narrator.

    The correct explanation (which I learned from this forum....this passage always confused me before I discovered this forum) is that the 3 way script involves himself (#1), the woman he dated and married (#2- the movie queen), and the woman his wife became and now is (#3). The third verse is about informing his wife he is leaving and why, and she counter offers to be (or essentially pretends to be) the movie queen again to save the marriage.......and he says "but for now love, let's be real".......in other words, let's stop pretending, this will not work in the long run, you lost your feelings for me, it has taken a long time but I have accepted that, I have now lost my feelings for you, and now it is time for me to move on.

    Below is a guide for some of the key metaphors in the song. With these metaphors understood, this enigmatic song becomes crystal clear

    feelings- sexual interest

    castle dark/fortress strong/chains upon my feet- having a strong libido, but allowing your sex life to be under the control of someone no longer interested in sex

    hero- for the welfare of your children and out of respect for your wife, remaining faithful in a committed relationship with the wife through very challenging circumstances. The hero "fails" when he realizes he can no longer carry the burden of the circumstances.

    So the failure in the relationship is due to incompatible libidos (which may have lead to another woman).

    One thing is for sure.......Gordon Lightfoot (who was on the road quite a bit himself)has much more quality of character than Tiger Woods. Tiger could learn a lot from listening to Lightfoot's music.

    Audiophile65on December 27, 2009   Link
  • +2
    MemorySaw Gordon Lightfoot in concert in 1973 as a student at University of Colorado. Didn't know that five years later this would become the song I would associate with breaking up with the person I took to the concert.

    In the concert he also sang a song titled Beautiful. When he introduced it he said that a major cosmetic firm had offered him a very large sum of money and royalties to base a fragrance line around it. Turned them down as he wanted listeners to associate it with a special person and a time in their life and not a product. I think this song is a similar gift to the listener, something that becomes theirs.
    skidaddyon October 28, 2010   Link

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