Billy was born within sight of the shipyard
First son of a riveter's son
And Billy was raised as the ship grew a shadow
Her great hull would blot out the light of the sun

And six days a week he would watch his poor father
A working man live like a slave
He'd drink every night and he'd dream of a future
Of money he never would save
And Billy would cry when he thought of the future

Soon came a day when the bottle was broken
They launched a great ship out to sea
He felt he'd been left on a desolate shore
To a future he desperately wanted to flee
What else was there for a riveter's son
A new ship to be built, new work to be done

One day he dreamed of the ship in the world
It would carry his father and he
To a place they would never be found
To a place far away from this town.

Trapped in the cage of the skeleton ship
All the workmen suspended like flies
Caught in the flare of acetylene light
A working man works till the industry dies
And Billy would cry when he thought of the future

Then what they call an industrial accident
Crushed those it couldn't forgive
They brought Billy's father back home in an ambulance
A brass watch, a cheque, maybe three weeks to live,
And what else was there for a riveter's son
A new ship to be built, new work to be done

That night, he dreamed of the ship in the world
It would carry his father and he
To a place they could never be found
To a place far away from this town,
A Newcastle ship without coals
They would sail to the island of souls.

Lyrics submitted by Novartza

Island of Souls Lyrics as written by Gordon Sumner

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Island Of Souls song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentIt's about the yearning many have for a more spiritual life and how
    sometimes our work takes us in an opposite direction.

    The shipbuilding was work that paid but was not fulfilling.
    "Her great hull would block out the light of the sun".
    Our need for connection, purpose, work that feeds our soul,
    doesn't steal it.

    denverizedon February 03, 2011   Link
  • 0
    General Comment. From All This Time, the album Sting recorded following his father’s death and the subsequent disappearance of his muse, I think he’s saying he wished life would have been different between his father and him. Perhaps he imagined he and his father were shipbuilders because ships are more glamorous than milk—his dad was a milkman. Being an observant and perceptive person, Sting couldn’t help but notice his father’s despair over working long hours for what he would have liked to be more money and consoling himself with drinking. Billy’s father dies in an accident. Sting’s father died of Cancer. I think the song suggests he loved his father very much but the lives they were leading made the relationship between them tenuous at best.

    The Island of Souls could be a heaven because it was a place to disappear in and no one was bothered by work—no coal on the ship—leisure sailing only.

    If I stretch to imagine a Sting with a wealthy father who was fairly content with his life, I might also see a son who perhaps took over the family business—maybe even with private reluctance, not wishing to upset the father he loved—experiencing song writing only as a weekend hobby and perhaps only performing at the annual community players’ productions.

    We are the splendid creatures we are because of the experiences we have had, not in spite of them
    sillybunnyon July 29, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI saw this movie! Yuck!
    You saw the 1933 screen adaptation of H.G. Wells’s “The Island of Dr. Moreau” starring Charles Laughton. It was the island of lost souls—not the island of souls. Completely different story!
    Oh ….. then, never mind ….
    sillybunnyon August 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentWhat a moody song!! Bagpipes at the intro sets the tone of the song and lyric paints a vivid picture. Not exactly a radio-friendly catcy song but excellent story telling in the back ground of a coastal town in England.

    And excellent intro to the album.
    focus007on October 20, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA comment on the phrase "A Newcastle ship without coals." Sting comes from Newcastle (so does Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits.) It is a city where ships are built and shipping is a major industry. And through history, coal was a major export. There is an old expression, "Carrying coals to Newcastle," meaning to do something that is foolish or pointless, because there were LOTs of coals already in Newcastle. So here we have a ship built in Newcastle, but not carrying coals, or other commercial cargo, but instead carrying Billy and his father to a spiritual destination.

    This is one of my favorite songs on my favorite of Sting's albums. I like the melancholy mood.
    SuXenon November 24, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationThis is about someone who is sad about the fact that his father - and him too - are not able to fulfill their dreams. Both seem to be trapped in a world that uses their workforce. A world they cant escape.
    The "bottle" migth be the reason, why his father cant escape the "cage" of the ship (his life, with his responsibilities - but without fulfillment). When the bottle "is broken" the ship he worked on for so long disembraks without him. His labour for nothing. At least not for something in the long turn. Thats why Billy cries for his father. He sees, that there is no escape for them (or at least for his father). They will always build stuff (futures) for other people. But they will fail themselves.
    When the father dies, it is an early end for him. The reaction of the world showes, that they care (a "cheque and a watch" is more than nothing). But of course that is not, what the father and Billy dreamed of.
    But they dont know, what they re dreaming of. A better life of some sort, sure. But Billy is only looking forward to this "island of souls" where he will meet his father again. I think, its Billys idea of heaven. Billy will work his life down like his father did. Because he does not know any better. And cant imagine.
    Its sad.
    But I can understand now.

    Go and figure out your dreams. Go and try to make them true. Or be Billy.
    Armitage75on November 15, 2019   Link

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