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

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Sailing To Philadelphia song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentMark 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 Commentzer0vector 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 CommentThis 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 CommentKnopfler along with James Taylor make this song a beautiful one, no matter what it means
    Tmo2199on March 07, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentomg 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 CommentMark 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 CommentI 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 InterpretationMark 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 CommentThis 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

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