Leaving my family behind me
Not knowing what lay ahead
Waving goodbye, as I left them in tears
Remembering all we'd said

I looked to the sky, I offered my prayers
I asked Him for guidance and strength
But the simple beliefs of a simple man
Lay in His hands, and on my head
My head

I gave everything that they wanted
But still they wanted more
We sweat and we toiled
Good men lost their lives
I don't think they knew what for

I sold them my heart
I sold them my soul
I gave everything I had
But they couldn't break my spirit
My dignity fought back
Fightback
Just fightback

Can you hear me
Can you see
Don't you hear me
Don't you see

We worked in gangs for all we were worth
The young boys pulling the wagons
We were digging the tunnels, shifting the earth
It was then that it happened

No-one knew how the cracks appeared
But as it fell they all disappeared
Stone fell like rain

Can you hear me
Can you see
Don't you hear me
Can you breathe

The smoke cleared, the dust it settled
No one knew how many had died
All around there were broken men
They'd said it was safe, and they'd lied
You could hear the cries, you could smell the fear
But good fortune that day was mine
And it occurred to me that the heart of a good man
It seems is hard to find

Can you hear me
Can you see
Don't you hear me
Don't you see
How we worked, how we worked like
The devil for our pay
Through the wind, through the snow
And through the rain

Blasting and cutting through Gods country like a knife
Sweat stinging my eyes, there has to be a better life

But I can hear my children's cry
I can see the tears in their eyes
Memories of those I've left behind
Oh just still ringing in my ears
Will I ever go back again
Will I ever see her face again
'cause I'll always remember that night
As they waved goodbye to their fathers

We came from the North
And we came from the South
With picks and with spades
And a new kind of order
Showing no fear of what lies up ahead
They'll never see the likes of us again

Driving the last spike
Lifting and laying the track
With blistering hands
And the sun burning your back

But I can hear my children's cry
I can see the tears in their eyes
Oh memories of those I've left behind
Still ringing in my ears
'cause I'll always remember that night
As they waved goodbye to their fathers

We followed the rail, we slept under the stars
Digging in darkness and living with danger
Showing no fear of what lies up ahead
They'll never see the likes of us again

Can you hear me
Can you see
Don't you hear me
Don't you see


Lyrics submitted by Demau Senae

"Driving the Last Spike" as written by Phillip David Charles Collins Anthony George Banks

Lyrics © CONCORD MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC

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Driving The Last Spike song meanings
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8 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentThis song is pure genius. It's about Irish immigrants who left they're families and home's to come to England and build the railways. Lyrics by Collins - his best ever in my opinion.
    timbo.hon January 05, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentKnowing nothing about the authors intention I envisioned this as a story about people building the railroads in the United States.

    Much of the description of the dangers involved and the fact that the workers were lied to and treated like insignificant cattle rang true in this context as well.
    soze_umamaon May 13, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with Timbo, probably the best song that Phil has ever written. I've worked for the railway for years and I know how difficult it can be for the tracklayers now but back in the 19th century it must have been hell.

    The verse, 'We came from the North and we came from the South with picks and with spades and a new kind of order, showing no fear of what lies up ahead. They'll never see the likes of us again', just sends shivers up my spine. It's genius.
    Delta-Von June 03, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAgreed.
    Smokleron January 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAgreed.
    Smokleron January 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThe sleeve note for the song says it all. Great lyrical work by Mr. Collins. Proves that when he wants to he can measure up to the more complicated lyrics of Tony Banks.
    Jibril_Abdullahon August 12, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentGreatest lyrics Genesis ever did, and this coming from a confirmed lover of the Peter Gabriel era.
    Anglagard1on August 22, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI dusted this one off recently after hearing of the new tour. I’ve been listening to it for a few weeks. The song is so brilliant. I got to thinking there had to be more to it than just a story about the Navvies.

    To me, the key to unlocking the secret is found in the chorus. The narrator is asking a rhetorical question, “will you learn from my mistakes?”

    But what are his mistakes, and who is he talking to?

    The song tells not one, but three stories from the perspective of three successive generations. The first is literal, the second stories are more metaphorical. The generations are represented as such:

    The grandfather leaves his family and goes to work on the railroad.

    The father leaves his family and goes to war, then upon returning puts all of his efforts into his career.

    The son is a musician, leaving his family for a life on the road.

    Each story is being told concurrently and starts at the beginning. The verses progressively walk through each stage of each of the characters’ lives: young adulthood (innocence), adulthood (experience), and old age (enlightenment). Adulthood is separated by the conflict in each of the stories, when each character suffers a midlife crisis (the tunnel collapsing) losing both the vitality and the naivety of his youth. He realizes the meaning of life is to be a good person and put your family and those you love first.

    Each generation believes they are the greatest generation but inevitably fails to live up to its promise. So the lyric: “ they’ll never see the likes of us again” is a double entendre. In the first instance, displaying the hubris of youth. That is, “we were the greatest generation.” The second instance is meant to be ironic, “we were a generation of fools.”

    Except, in the case of the son, his story is not yet told, so he is asking both himself and his generation, “will we learn from the mistakes of the past?”

    So the song concludes with the chorus which is all three stories asking the listener, “are you going to learn from our mistakes?”

    Driving the last spike is a metaphor for finishing what you started, living up to the promise of your youth and the promise of your generation. It is a double entendre for putting the final nail in your own coffin. Putting the final ending on your own story.

    The tunnel represents tunnel vision. And its collapse marks the point in life when we realize that our youth is over.

    There are some wonderful tidbits in here if you look for them. I’ll break down my interpretation of the end of the song or “old age” section.

    “How we worked, how we worked like
    The devil for our pay
    Through the wind, through the snow
    And through the rain”

    Simply put, we put our life’s work ahead of everything else.

    “Blasting and cutting through Gods country like a knife
    Sweat stinging my eyes, there has to be a better life”

    In this case, God’s country is a metaphor for life, and we wasted it on work and looking for something better when we had it pretty good all along.

    “But I can hear my children's cry
    I can see the tears in their eyes
    Memories of those I've left behind
    Oh just still ringing in my ears
    Will I ever go back again
    Will I ever see her face again
    'cause I'll always remember that night
    As they waved goodbye to their fathers”

    Now as old men, all are the haunted by memories of leaving their families and there is no chance to go back and fix it.

    “We came from the North
    And we came from the South
    With picks and with spades
    And a new kind of order
    Showing no fear of what lies up ahead
    They'll never see the likes of us again”

    This is a prideful exclamation, “we were the greatest generation.”

    “Driving the last spike
    Lifting and laying the track
    With blistering hands
    And the sun burning your back”

    The significance here is the sun burning your back, symbolizing turning away from enlightenment and happiness. The Buddha always meditated facing the east, or the rising sun.

    “But I can hear my children's cry
    I can see the tears in their eyes
    Oh memories of those I've left behind
    Still ringing in my ears
    'cause I'll always remember that night
    As they waved goodbye to their fathers”

    Regret for his choices sneaks into his memories once again.

    “We followed the rail, we slept under the stars
    Digging in darkness and living with danger
    Showing no fear of what lies up ahead
    They'll never see the likes of us again”

    He concludes ironically, we were not the greatest generation, we simply did what we had to do to survive, and we sacrificed true happiness along the way.

    “Can you hear me
    Can you see
    Don't you hear me
    Don't you see”

    Or for all I know, it could just be about a railroad accident.
    gnarlyborison March 15, 2020   Link

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