I am Jeremiah Dixon
I am a Geordie boy
A glass of wine with you, sir
And the ladies I'll enjoy
All Durham and Northumberland
Is measured up by my own hand
It was my fate from birth
To make my mark upon the earth

He calls me Charlie Mason
A stargazer am I
It seems that I was born
To chart the evening sky
They'd cut me out for baking bread
But I had other dreams instead
This baker's boy from the west country
Would join the Royal Society

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Now you're a good surveyor, Dixon
But I swear you'll make me mad
The West will kill us both
You gullible Geordie lad
You talk of liberty
How can America be free
A Geordie and a baker's boy
In the forests of the Iroquois

Now hold your head up, Mason
See America lies there
The morning tide has raised
The capes of Delaware
Come up and feel the sun
A new morning has begun
Another day will make it clear
Why your stars should guide us here

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Lyrics submitted by redmax

Sailing to Philadelphia Lyrics as written by Mark Knopfler

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Sailing To Philadelphia song meanings
Add Your Thoughts


sort form View by:
  • +5
    General Comment

    Mark Knopfler told an interviewer that the song was inspired kind of by accident: He had been doing a lot of traveling between Europe and the states and landing in Philly a lot. At the same time, he was reading Thomas Pynchon's mammoth (700+ pages) historical novel "Mason and Dixon" about the two surveyors sent to America in the 1700's. The book made an impression which was paralled by, and coincided with, his own flights westward to Phildadelphia from the Old World.

    Knopfler has this ability to capture complexity and polarity in his songs. Of course Mason-Dixon connotes lots of imagery about dark periods of history: Certainly the times of slavery, but in this case it's more about the excitement, trepidation and ugliness of the Europeans' conquest of the American wilderness and its native peoples. Knopfler captures the glory of the opportunity, as well as the darkness of the fear and loss of the experience. He also captures the differences of the two men. It's an amazing convergence of poetry, music mood and a good, multilayed story. Knopler is an under-appreciated genius - - as well as a likable down to earth guy. Don't dig too deep for a central truth - - just let the waves of the song and story wash over you. Life is complicated and beautiful and we never know exactly where the path (in this case, a literal one) leads - - for both good and bad.

    mwatson42hlon October 12, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General Comment

    zer0vector is correct that this has nothing to do with the later connotations of the Line. It's simply a description/character study of these two surveyors on their journey West to create what will become part of American history. The mood of trepidation mingled with optimism in verse two works fantastically -my kind of poetry!

    ShineYouDiamondon August 30, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment

    This song is obviously about Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, two British astronomers sent to the new world to survey the border between Pennslyvania and Maryland to settle a bet or a territorial dispute or something of that nature. The original line had nothing to do with North-South/Slave-No Slave, it was drawn over 100 years before the Civil War, and did not extend farther east or west than the borders of Pennslyvania. It later got the colloquial usage as the North-South line, but despite what some say, I don't think that is what this song is about.

    zer0vectoron October 17, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Knopfler along with James Taylor make this song a beautiful one, no matter what it means

    Tmo2199on March 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    omg the guitars on this song are awesome... Knopflers slow strat playing. sighs. I agree with zer0vector about the meaning.

    Samborafpon August 25, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    Mark Knopfler is truley an underated genius and has been sucsesful with bands and solo. He has one of the greatest talents when it comes to finger picking and amazing guitar riffs. This song shows he has the ability to take a song, slow it down and make it beautiful such as he did with Brothers in Arms with Dire Straits.

    ImNeilYoungon July 30, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment

    I agree with most of the above discussion, but where I depart would be on the Mason-Dixon Line's significance in the writer's mind. Of course, the history is central to the significance of the song. Few might recall the purpose for drawing the line, but most would appreciate what the line represents in American history.

    Many outside of America look at us as a great experiment - one to emulate when we succeed. My guess is that too few Americans (including myself) knew for whom it was named, however everyone appreciates what it marked as a pivotal juncture in American history.

    It is terrific to now appreciate it a bit further, but most who study American history would unequivocally understand the significance of the Mason-Dixon Line. And fully appreciate the significance of the boundary line as an important juncture American and world history - as I'm certain the author fully understood when writing this great song.

    Czaremboon March 23, 2013   Link
  • 0
    My Interpretation

    Mark Knopfler has said this song was inspired and informed by Thomas Pynchon's book on the subject. Short of actually reading it, here's what I've come up with so far about its meaning :

    The song can be taken as a prologue to what Mason and Dixon would do once they reached America. Its title and content suggest the setting is the ship carrying them towards Philadelphia to start their work, a voyage which took place in Autumn, 1763. The use of present tense give the lyrics an involving immediacy.

    The song begins with Jeremiah Dixon introducing himself. As a Geordie boy like Mr Dixon, and indeed Mr Knopfler, I'll start by defining what this means. A Geordie is a person from the North-East of England, and Geordie is the accent and dialect they speak. Definitive enough? Not really, because the area involved depends on who's defining it. It's always centred on the city of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the industrial communities along the river's lower reaches, but its size can range from this discrete area right up to the whole of the traditional counties of Northumberland and Durham, all the way from the Scottish Border to the River Tees. And though the Geordie accent is distinctive, it does very significantly within that area. Born along the region's lower edge, Dixon bears a Border surname (like Armstrong, Nixon, Elliot, Johnstone, etc.), so its likely his male-line ancestors at least had always lived within the Geordie catchment. In keeping with the stereotype of Geordie males even to this day, Dixon is partial to drink and women (and probably in that order). He's a surveyor and astronomer, and to have charted an area the size of the counties of Durham and Northumberland would have been no small feat. In 'To make my mark upon the earth' he's presumably thinking forward to marking out the Mason-Dixon line (they were transporting marker stones with them from England for that purpose).

    Next comes Charles Mason's introduction. The senior of the two, this son of a baker has become an astronomer, and an expert in measuring longitude - latitude was easy enough using the sun and stars, but longitude was a far more intractable problem in the days before accurate chronometers. The West Country is England's south-west peninsula, stretching from Gloucestershire, where Mason was raised, down to the tip of Cornwall. In the only part of the song which leaps into the future, Mason's subsequent membership of the Royal Society is mentioned. The Royal Society is an august old English institution comprising the leading scientists of the day, and is only ever joined by invitation. For the son of a baker to achieve fellowship in those class-conscious days must have been a rare achievement.

    The chorus describes the Tyne as 'coaly' (reprising an old Tyneside folk song, though I'm unconvinced the word exists in the real world) because of the river's association with coal exports. As son of a coal mine owner, this association would have been well-known to Dixon. Northumberland and Durham was one of the earliest mining areas, and a lot of the coal produced was carried down the Tyne on its way to London and other east coast ports. ('To carry coals to Newcastle' is an expression still used for a pointless activity, even though the coal trade in the area is now effectively finished.) The coal industry in Dixon's day was still some way short of its peak, and he'd have no idea how 'coaly' the river would be a hundred years hence. It's only recently that the first salmon in centuries has managed to cough its way up past Newcastle into the purer waters upstream, and even then it was presumably utilising some sort of aqualung. Although the line starts with 'we', this phrase really seems to belong to Dixon. An interesting geographical parallel here is that the lower Tyne's position in England (England rather than Britain) is equivalent to the Mason-Dixon Line's location in the continental US (and even moreso within its colonial-era boundaries).

    Following the first chorus, we're given a sense of the two men's different characters - Mason's measured, even downbeat wariness against Dixon's ebullient optimism (Geordies do tend to be optimistic in the face of all reason, perhaps an attitude born of necessity). Yet they must both have been brave, determined men, facing as they were several years' arduous work on what was for them the edge of the known world. Dixon seems full of the idea of American independence (Geordies have a long tradition of radicalism in politics), while the more conservative Mason calls him 'gullible'. Since Philadelphia was the place where the Declaration of Independence was signed just 13 years later, 'talk of liberty' was presumably already in the air, perhaps even among their fellow passengers. It would be interesting to know what the Iroquois people made of Mason and Dixon and their team marking out a straight line across 'the forests of the Iroquois', land which any normal person would already know well. Even moreso when it was all just to settle a territorial dispute between two English families.

    And early one morning comes their first sighting of America. An eager Dixon calls Mason up from below decks to 'feel the sun' - as an astronomer, Mason is more used to the night sky. The Capes of Delaware are on the horizon, marking the entrance from the Atlantic into the Delaware river estuary. The unpredictable ocean crossing is behind them, and Philadelphia, where they will receive their instructions, is only 'another day' upriver. 'A new morning' conveys not only the time of day, but also the promise of this opportunity for them both to achieve something of consequence, and perhaps also the optimistic feel of America moving towards Independence. 'Your stars should guide us here' suggests Mason's astronomy bus also an almost astrological guidance towards their destiny.

    The two men's endeavours would result in a line of astonishing accuracy. You can't help but wonder what they would have made of the division it came to signify, with all its consequences for human beings of colour.

    TrueThomason March 20, 2013   Link
  • -1
    General Comment

    This is a good song on the album, but in my opinion, there is no better version than the live one on the Ragpicker's Dream bonus disc. Try to hear it, if you get the chance.

    diluna25on May 25, 2006   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
Love in a Vacuum
'Til Tuesday
Well, in my opinion this song is about being a young & maybe a little naive &/or introverted girl and finding yourself loving a man who is at first very charming, carefree & outgoing, and seems at first to be without limits, as in "There was a time you opened up every doorway you didn't mind if everything wasn't your way" then that man starts to gradually become more introverted & shows their more possessive/obsessive side to you as the relationship progresses, even while they keep up the appearance of being carefree & outgoing to everyone else, "Don't pull away that goes against what you told me I look in your eyes I realize what you've sold me is love in a vacuum" so you confront them about the way they're acting and of course they deny it, "I think you've changed but you insist that that's not true" quite possibly they are an addict of some sort, my guess would be cocaine, &/or showing very obsessive behavior towards you (early on in the video for this song we see the man hanging a picture up, it is a very large portrait of Aimee & it is prominently displayed in his/their apartment for the duration of the song), thus their "love in a vacuum", "You look so strange, so distant that you're hardly you Now I can see how you have been acting different You say it's me but I know that it isn't it's love in a vacuum" but still you are in love with them and don't want to leave them and you know that they are truly in love with you and they don't want you to leave them either, maybe they are convinced you can save them from themself, maybe they are so broken that the possibility of an overdose &/or suicide attempt is very real and you want to get through to them that their behavior not only dangerous but it is also just pissing you off and if they don't wise up they run the risk of loosing you, as in the lines "You will be lonely if you leave me alone", so you want to save them but can't get through to them due to the addiction &/or emotional problems they have, "Love in a vacuum and that's not enough love in a vacuum You will be lonely you'll be the only one who feels this way You will be lonely if you leave me alone You will be lonely you'll be the only one who feels this way it's just not enough" you want them to understand that the love they are giving you is not enough when it is filtered through the vacuum of their drug addiction &/or emotional impairment, "You will be lonely you'll be the only one who feels this way it's just not enough and just wait you will be lonely Love in a vacuum Love in a vacuum and that's not enough Love in a vacuum". 'Love In A Vacuum' for me is a hauntingly truthful acute argument on the loneliness of obsession and almost inevitable loss of love that follows people who are broken in some way or another; the obsessives, the coke heads, the drunks, addicts or the just-plain-old emotionally broken; a razor sharp, lyrically driven, deceptively poppy, yet ultimately-depressing-in-the-best-way song. Quintessential Aimee Mann.
Album art
Taylor Swift
The song 'Fortnight' by Taylor Swift and Post Malone tells a story about strong feelings, complicated relationships, and secret wishes. It talks about love, betrayal, and wanting someone who doesn't feel the same. The word 'fortnight' shows short-lived happiness and guilty pleasures, leading to sadness. It shows how messy relationships can be and the results of hiding emotions. “I was supposed to be sent away / But they forgot to come and get me,” she kickstarts the song in the first verse with lines suggesting an admission to a hospital for people with mental illnesses. She goes in the verse admitting her lover is the reason why she is like this. In the chorus, she sings about their time in love and reflects on how he has now settled with someone else. “I took the miracle move-on drug, the effects were temporary / And I love you, it’s ruining my life,” on the second verse she details her struggles to forget about him and the negative effects of her failure. “Thought of callin’ ya, but you won’t pick up / ‘Nother fortnight lost in America,” Post Malone sings in the outro.
Album art
Light Up The Sky
Van Halen
The song lyrics were written by the band Van Halen, as they were asked to write a song for the 1979 movie "Over the Edge" starring Matt Dillon. The movie (and the lyrics, although more obliquely) are about bored, rebellious youth with nothing better to do than get into trouble. If you see the movie, these lyrics will make more sense. It's a great movie if you grew up in the 70s/80s you'll definitely remember some of these characters from your own life. Fun fact, after writing the song, Van Halen decided not to let the movie use it.
Album art
The Night We Met
Lord Huron
This is a hauntingly beautiful song about introspection, specifically about looking back at a relationship that started bad and ended so poorly, that the narrator wants to go back to the very beginning and tell himself to not even travel down that road. I believe that the relationship started poorly because of the lines: "Take me back to the night we met:When the night was full of terrors: And your eyes were filled with tears: When you had not touched me yet" So, the first night was not a great start, but the narrator pursued the relationship and eventually both overcame the rough start to fall in love with each other: "I had all and then most of you" Like many relationships that turn sour, it was not a quick decline, but a gradual one where the narrator and their partner fall out of love and gradually grow apart "Some and now none of you" Losing someone who was once everything in your world, who you could confide in, tell your secrets to, share all the most intimate parts of your life, to being strangers with that person is probably one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. So Painful, the narrator wants to go back in time and tell himself to not even pursue the relationship. This was the perfect song for "13 Reasons Why"
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."