The soldier asked my name and did I come here very often
Well I thought that he was asking me to dance
In my holy coat and hat and him in his red bonnet
We'd have made a lovely couple but we never had the chance

And now you say that you've got to go
Well if you must you must
I suppose that you need the sleep of the just

Well it was a powerful day and there were black crows in the road
And I kept my strong opinions to my chest
I suppose I should have told them that I was on fire for you
When the bus burst into flames outside some place, 'The Poet's Rest'

And now you say that you've got to go
Well if you must you must
I suppose that you need the sleep of the just

A girl woke up in a naked light and said "Oh no not again"
He even looked like her brother in the army but she never mentions him
He'll be tucked up in his bed tonight with his dirty pictures girl
Saying, 'You're some mother's daughter you know or is it
Immaterial girl?'

Now she's pinned up upon the barracks wall in her home town
All the soldiers taking turns with their attentions
And as they speculate what she'd look like beneath that thin nightgown
His family pride was rising up as he cast his eyes down

And now you say that you've got to go
Well if you must you must
I suppose that you need the sleep of the just

Lyrics submitted by Mopnugget

Sleep of the Just Lyrics as written by Elvis Costello

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Sleep of the Just song meanings
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  • +1
    General CommentI don't think so, because the singer/narrator is describing "the girl" too objectively. The first two verses (especially the first) sprang from an unpleasant confrontation Costello had with a young British soldier. Costello himself seems to be the "I." The latter two verses are, indeed, about an estranged brother and sister -- he's gone into the Army, while she poses for soft porn and sleeps around, and it's implied she drinks heavily or worse. In the last verse, the brother does not want to reveal to his fellow soldiers that the pin-up they're ogling is his sister ("His family pride was rising up"). A common misreading of the final verse is that it describes a gang rape, but "pinned up upon the barracks wall" is clearly about a picture, not a person. If I were trying to tie it together, I would say that Costello had an unpleasant encounter and tried to find compassion in his imagination; he gave a rude real-life soldier a poignant back-story that exists only in this song. The brother is still protective of his sister, while the sister is unconsciously drawn to a one-night stand because he resembles her brother.
    TokedDingoon July 16, 2013   Link
  • 0
    Song MeaningThe last two verses seem to be about a woman who poses for a soft-porn "pinup" photo, which winds up in the barracks where her brother in the army is stationed. I can't quite connect it with the first two verses - did the woman lose a man she loved in some kind of accident or attack on a bus, and then, being despondent, agree to make the pinup photo?
    cchaceon July 29, 2010   Link
  • 0
    My OpinionThat doesn't track for me. The narrator in the first verse is a female, right? The soldier is asking the narrator if she comes here often-- a pick-up line--and the narrator says they'd have made a lovely couple. I don't think EC would have said that about himself.

    So, here's my fanciful and humble opinion of this song's meaning. The narrator, we'll call her Vivian, is approached by a soldier in a bar. The soldier starts to try and pick her up when he recognizes her as a soft-porn, pin-up model he's seen hanging on his barracks wall, or takes her for a prostitute. He makes a snap judgement and brushes her off as a loose woman, says he has to go; it's past his bedtime or something like that, prompting her comment: "So, you say... I suppose that you need the sleep of the just," meaning you've decided you're guiltless and better than me.

    That leads Vivian to a memory of how she got to where she is now. She was in love with a soldier. They had a relationship. They may have been engaged or she might have been pregnant, but no one knew about it yet. One day she has a premonition of his death and sees a bad omen (black crows in the road) and realizes she should have told everyone they were together and in love (that I was on fire for you). Otherwise, if he dies and there's no knowledge of their love, she's just a slut. But before she can, he's killed when the bus he's on is bombed in front of a pub called "The Poet's Rest."

    She is disowned by her family and has no connection to his. She starts drinking and perhaps turns to prostitution to support herself. One day, Vivian gets too drunk and goes off with a young man who reminds her of the brother who now won't have anything to do with her. The young man takes compromising pictures of her and distributes them, some of which end up on the barracks wall in her hometown where her brother sees them and is outraged at her, even though he knows he indulges in pornography himself. The chorus points out his hypocrisy.
    krmerrellon July 11, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General Commentfirst rank studio production, shows the strength of his vocals
    sdz896542on November 10, 2016   Link

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