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 Lyrics as written by Phillip David Charles Collins Anthony George Banks

Lyrics © CONCORD MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Driving The Last Spike song meanings
Add Your Thoughts

8 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +2
    General Comment

    This 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 Comment

    Knowing 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 Comment

    I 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 Comment

    Agreed.

    Smokleron January 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Agreed.

    Smokleron January 21, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    The 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 Comment

    Greatest lyrics Genesis ever did, and this coming from a confirmed lover of the Peter Gabriel era.

    Anglagard1on August 22, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I 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

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

More Featured Meanings

Album art
Holiday
Bee Gees
@[Diderik:33655] "Your a holiday!" Was a popular term used in the 50s/60s to compliment someone on their all around. For example, not only are they beautiful, but they are fun and kind too ... just an all around "holiday". I think your first comment is closer to being accurate. The singer/song writers state "Millions of eyes can see, yet why am i so blind!? When the someone else is me, its unkind its unkind". I believe hes referring to the girl toying with him and using him. He wants something deeper with her, thats why he allows himself to be as a puppet (even though for her fun and games) as long as it makes her happy. But he knows deep down that she doesnt really want to be serious with him and thats what makes him.
Album art
Mountain Song
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell gives Adam Reader some heartfelt insight into Jane’s Addiction's hard rock manifesto "Mountain Song", which was the second single from their revolutionary album Nothing's Shocking. Mountain song was first recorded in 1986 and appeared on the soundtrack to the film Dudes starring Jon Cryer. The version on Nothing's Shocking was re-recorded in 1988. "'Mountain Song' was actually about... I hate to say it but... drugs. Climbing this mountain and getting as high as you can, and then coming down that mountain," reveals Farrell. "What it feels to descend from the mountain top... not easy at all. The ascension is tough but exhilarating. Getting down is... it's a real bummer. Drugs is not for everybody obviously. For me, I wanted to experience the heights, and the lows come along with it." "There's a part - 'Cash in now honey, cash in Miss Smith.' Miss Smith is my Mother; our last name was Smith. Cashing in when she cashed in her life. So... she decided that, to her... at that time, she was desperate. Life wasn't worth it for her, that was her opinion. Some people think, never take your life, and some people find that their life isn't worth living. She was in love with my Dad, and my Dad was not faithful to her, and it broke her heart. She was very desperate and she did something that I know she regrets."
Album art
Mountain Song
Jane's Addiction
Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell gives Adam Reader some heartfelt insight into Jane’s Addiction's hard rock manifesto "Mountain Song", which was the second single from their revolutionary album Nothing's Shocking. Mountain song was first recorded in 1986 and appeared on the soundtrack to the film Dudes starring Jon Cryer. The version on Nothing's Shocking was re-recorded in 1988. "'Mountain Song' was actually about... I hate to say it but... drugs. Climbing this mountain and getting as high as you can, and then coming down that mountain," reveals Farrell. "What it feels to descend from the mountain top... not easy at all. The ascension is tough but exhilarating. Getting down is... it's a real bummer. Drugs is not for everybody obviously. For me, I wanted to experience the heights, and the lows come along with it." "There's a part - 'Cash in now honey, cash in Miss Smith.' Miss Smith is my Mother; our last name was Smith. Cashing in when she cashed in her life. So... she decided that, to her... at that time, she was desperate. Life wasn't worth it for her, that was her opinion. Some people think, never take your life, and some people find that their life isn't worth living. She was in love with my Dad, and my Dad was not faithful to her, and it broke her heart. She was very desperate and she did something that I know she regrets."
Album art
No Surprises
Radiohead
Same ideas expressed in Fitter, Happier are expressed in this song. We're told to strive for some sort of ideal life, which includes getting a good job, being kind to everyone, finding a partner, getting married, having a couple kids, living in a quiet neighborhood in a nice big house, etc. But in Fitter, Happier the narrator(?) realizes that it's incredibly robotic to live this life. People are being used by those in power "like a pig in a cage on antibiotics"--being pacified with things like new phones and cool gadgets and houses while being sucked dry. On No Surprises, the narrator is realizing how this life is killing him slowly. In the video, his helmet is slowly filling up with water, drowning him. But he's so complacent with it. This is a good summary of the song. This boring, "perfect" life foisted upon us by some higher powers (not spiritual, but political, economic, etc. politicians and businessmen, perhaps) is not the way to live. But there is seemingly no way out but death. He'd rather die peacefully right now than live in this cage. While our lives are often shielded, we're in our own protective bubbles, or protective helmets like the one Thom wears, if we look a little harder we can see all the corruption, lies, manipulation, etc. that is going on in the world, often run by huge yet nearly invisible organizations, corporations, and 'leaders'. It's a very hopeless song because it reflects real life.
Album art
Blue
Ed Sheeran
“Blue” is a song about a love that is persisting in the discomfort of the person experiencing the emotion. Ed Sheeran reflects on love lost, and although he wishes his former partner find happiness, he cannot but admit his feelings are still very much there. He expresses the realization that he might never find another on this stringed instrumental by Aaron Dessner.