I looked out across
The river today
I saw a city in the fog
And an old church tower
Where the seagulls play
Saw the sad shire horses
Walking home in the sodium light
Saw two priests on the ferry
October geese on a cold winter's night
And all this time
The river flowed
Endlessly
To the sea

Two priests came round
Our house tonight
One young, one old
To offer prayers for the dying
To serve the final rite
One to learn, one to teach
Which way the cold wind blows
Fussing and flapping in priestly black
Like a murder of crows

And all this time
The river flowed
Endlessly
To the sea

If I had my way
I'd take a boat from the river
And I'd bury the old man
I'd bury him at sea

Blessed are the poor
For they shall inherit the earth
One is better to be poor
Than a fat man in the eye of a needle
As these words were spoken
I swear I hear the old man laughing
What good is a used up world,
And how could it be worth having?

And all this time
The river flowed
Endlessly,
To the sea.

All this time
The river flowed
Father, if Jesus exists,
Then how come he never lived here?
Yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah

Teachers told us
The Romans built this place
They built a wall and a temple on the edge of the
Empire garrison town
They lived and they died
They prayed to their gods
But the stone gods did not make a sound
And their empire crumbled
Till all that was left
Were the stones the workmen found

And all this time the river flowed
In the falling light of a northern sun
If I had my way
I'd take a boat from the river
Men go crazy in congregations
They only get better one by one
One by one
One by one, by one
One by one

I looked out across
The river today
I saw a city in the fog
And an old church tower
Where the seagulls play
Saw the sad shire horses
Walking home in the sodium light
Two priests on the ferry
October geese on a cold winter's night


Lyrics submitted by Novartza

All This Time Lyrics as written by Gordon Sumner

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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All This Time song meanings
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16 Comments

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  • +6
    General CommentSting can remember being by his father's side when he died. In a moment of rare intimacy between the two men, he took his father's hands in his own for the first time since early childhood.

    [Sting]: "I looked from his eyes to the cross on the wall and then down at his two hands cradled in mine. It was then that I received something like the jolt of an electric shock, because his hands and mine were identical. 'We have the same hands, Dad. Look.'"

    Sting recalls suddenly becoming a child again, "desperately trying to get his attention." His father, who ran a dairy, then looked "down at the four separate slabs of flesh and bone, and said: 'Yes, son, but you used yours better than I used mine.'"
    sillybunnyon August 29, 2006   Link
  • +4
    General CommentThis whole album is fantastic, tho I have to be in just the right mood to listen to it.

    Sting has made it pretty clear what this song is about. But what is so great to me about it is the sharpness with which he paints his images. I spent some time in northern England and actually found myself one day at the mouth of the River Tyne (just outside Newcastle) as it flowed out to sea. As I stood in the shadow of an old Roman fort; I looked out across the river and saw "a city in the fog and an old church tower where the seagulls played." It was one of those awesome/surreal moments in life--a moment with a true soundtrack. The song came into my head, and all the pieces fell into place.
    SmoothFroggieon August 01, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentSting wrote this song as part of a concept album, "The Soul Cages," written as a tribute to his father who died then. At times of loss, people question their belief in the afterlife and things like that. This song, and the entire album, are a masterpiece by one of the most talented songwriters of our era.
    Novartzaon May 27, 2004   Link
  • +3
    General CommentWhat a cynical philosophy of his father's and his life Sting presents here....
    Similar to the theme on the first track of this album Soul Cages, where the boy just wants to escape this miserable town. The townsmen build the ships, sweat in miserable conditions but never see any glory in it. They are told by the rich people who employ them, and their priests....it's ok, you don't want to be rich. It's harder for a rich man to enter into heaven than a camel can pass through the eye of a needle.
    From the Bible...“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”

    Silly Bunny above points out that Sting's dad was a dairy farmer. I guess Sting found it easier to point out that the blue collar life sometimes breaks men's spirits and they are told to wait for heaven.
    But the workers have lost faith in God as well. "If Jesus exists how come he never lived here?"
    Or, why would we want to inherit to inherit a used up earth?

    I guess this song is about exploitation. And if Sting's father had a tenth of the genous that Sting had, imagine the waste if it never got a chance to flourish. I guess, it's this anger that came up with the grief of losing his father. Merging with Sting's interest in helping the exploited or weaker people in the world....his politics and philosophy and personal story all merging.

    I love the line "and all that was left was the stones the workmen found"
    Isn't there another song where he says the same thing....in all our works, nothing remains???.
    denverizedon February 03, 2011   Link
  • +2
    General Comment[Sting]: "'All This Time' sounds kind of poppy," he continues, "but it's a serious attempt to look at ritual and the inadequacy of ritual in our lives. The young guy is trying to deal with the death of his father, and instead of going through the Catholic last rites, he wants to bury his old man at sea. He looks at the river as a symbol of continuity. The song basically says, 'Well, the Romans were here 2000 years ago and their religion was very important, but it went. Then Christianity happened and that seems to be inadequate now. Let's look for bigger systems of continuity, like the river, this old religion.' The song is a kind of black comedy. I'm not really anti-religious. I'm just poking some light-hearted fun and also asking pragmatic questions about it."
    sillybunnyon August 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentTo me, it seems like Sting is wondering about relgion and his sprituality.. and the whole concept throughout history, and then he juxtaposes the river, which symbolizes life, which goes on regardless of empires... etc
    Daraon July 21, 2002   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt feels like Sting is saying that they way you practice religion isn't important, as long as you hold respect for...I dunno. God? Nature? Maybe just life itself.

    Anyway, I love this song.
    emilieheidelon January 04, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment[Sting]: All This Time (1991) is from 'The Soul Cages', which is about the death of my father, so its pretty dark as a record but on this song the words are foiled by this fairly jolly tune. That's something I like to do quite a lot, combine dark subject matter with up music. No, its not based on a dream. The lyrics seem surreal, but they are all images I remembered from my home town (Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne): ferries, priests, shire horses. I grew up by the shipyards. I just wanted to escape. I suppose it was quite a surreal place, though. It is the landscape of my dreams.
    sillybunnyon August 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment“All This Time” was appropriately about a man wishing to bury his father at sea as an individualized last show of respect. Instead, he suffers through learned and learning priests who subject the expired one to their canonized rituals. All of those rites, however, have their foundation in the existence of an invisible savior who has too little effect on the real world. For that matter, no faith in any god has ever prevented an individual’s or worshiping culture’s ultimate demise—including the fall of the Roman empire which founded Sting’s own childhood home of Wallsend in northeast England.

    [From Rock & Holy Rollers: The Spiritual Beliefs of Chart-Topping Rock Stars in Their Lives and Lyrics by Geoffrey D. Falk.]
    sillybunnyon September 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentYes, this song is definitely about burying his Dad.

    But don't you find it strange that this song is the biggest one to come off of the Soul Cages? I find Mad About You, Jeremiah Blues, Why Should I Cry For You, and The Soul Cages to be far superior songs.

    All This Time is great on the live concert DVD "All This Time" but I find it to be VERY boring on "The Soul Cages".
    proppenatoron January 25, 2007   Link

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