“Cemetry Gates,” by The Smiths

Song touches on the unfairness of death, yet ultimately is about love

“Cemetry Gates” by The Smiths is, on the surface, a song about two people who enter a cemetery to examine the gravestones. However, there are numerous ways in which you can dissect the deeper meanings that singer-songwriter Morrissey may have intended to convey.

Opened cemetery gate symbolizing that people have entered the cemetary

Credit: flickr.com

The song begins with the singer and his companion meeting at a cemetery’s gates on “a dreaded sunny day.” Morrissey uses satire in many of his songs, and by calling the sunny day “dreaded,” he’s possibly poking fun at the fact that many people consider him overly melancholic. The lyrics begin with (cemetery is intentionally spelled “cemetry”):

A dreaded sunny day

So I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

A dreaded sunny day

So I meet you at the cemetry gates

Keats and Yeats are on your side

While Wilde is on mine

As they enter this fictional cemetery, Morrissey and his companion notice that the gravestones of poets John Keats, William Butler Yeats and Oscar Wilde are inside. If you read these lyrics with a romantic eye, the inclusion of these writers makes sense. Morrissey doesn’t specify, but he could be at the cemetery with his lover. If that is the case, then perhaps their trip to a cemetery may be a nod to the idea of everlasting love, or, “‘Til death do us part.” Keats was one of the more prominent Romantic poets, and Yeats was an important figure in 20th-century literature. The inclusion of Oscar Wilde could be a reference to Morrissey’s own sexuality because he has never publicly identified as being gay or straight. Wilde himself was convicted in the Victorian era of “gross indecency” with men.

The second stanza begins:

So we go inside and we gravely read the stones

All those people, all those lives

Where are they now?

Photo of The Smiths band who sing Cemetry Gates

The Smiths
Credit: plagueofangels.blogspot.com

If you’ve ever been to a cemetery, you’ve probably thought similar things. It’s a very somber feeling to read people’s names on the stones and think about who they could’ve been. Morrissey also uses a bit of clever wordplay here, as they “gravely” read the stones. The lyrics continue:

With loves, and hates

And passions just like mine

They were born

And then they lived

And then they died

It seems so unfair

I want to cry

These are thoughts that come to mind when we think about how unfair death seems to be. I like that Morrissey mentions that every person who’s been laid to rest here had loves, hates and passions. Nobody likes to think about the death of a loved one. But it’s important to remember them and everything they held dear in life.

Though the song is about a cemetery, it’s quite an uplifting song. I think “Cemetry Gates” is ultimately about being in love. And, of course, when a loved one dies, it seems utterly unfair, and we ask ourselves, “Why?” However, the main reason that the death of a loved one is so horrible is because we were able to feel so strongly for them. The spectrum of emotions is what makes us human, and there is some comfort in that.

You can find the full lyrics to “Cemetry Gates” here and watch a live performance of the song below.

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