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Wish you were here (Pink Floyd)

A real classic from Pink Floyd.

(and a good oportunity to remember this rule: WISH is always followed by the past tense, the subjunctive past tense. See explanations below)

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell

blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade
your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange
A walk-on part in the war
For a lead-role in a cage?

How I wish
How I wish you were here
We're just two lost souls
swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

SO YOU THINK YOU CAN...?= This is a common ironic expression that in fact means "I don't think you can...".

TELL HEAVEN FROM HELL= Know the difference between right and wrong. The expression TELL -A- FROM -B- means: know the difference, distinguish.
- I can't tell a male cat from a female cat, they look exactly the same to me.
- Kevin is really stupid, he can't tell a television from a poster on the wall.

BLUE SKIES FROM PAIN= The complete sentence would be "so you think you can tell blue skies from pain?". Again, I think you don't know the difference between a nice feeling or situation (blue skies) and a bad feeling or situation (pain). So you are not prepared to distinguished between what's good and what's bad, you're completely lost.

CAN YOU TELL...= Again, we have the same expression but in a different form: CAN YOU TELL -A- FROM -B-?, which means, "do you know the difference between -a- and -be-?

A GREEN FIELD= A piece of cultivated land covered with grass.

STEEL= A metal which is an alloy of iron and carbon, very hard, cold and stainless (it never rusts).

RAIL= A structure made of bars forming a barrier or guard; a railing. (see picture)

A green field is a nice thing, full of life, a steel rail is a dead thing, cold and artificial.

VEIL= A piece of light fabric hung to separate or conceal what is behind it; a curtain. Sometimes used by women to cover their heads, and in Islamic countries, maybe their faces too.

A smile is something nice that opens your heart to other people. A veil is something to conceal, to cover, to separate.

DID THEY GET YOU TO...= If someone gets you to do something, they convince you, force you or deceive you to do something.

TRADE= Exchange.

GHOSTS= The spirits of dead people that appear back in this world.

ASHES= The grey or black dust or powder that remains after something completely burnt.

COOL= Cold.

BREEZE= Light wind.

COMFORT= /kʌmfə*t/

WALK-ON PART= A minor role in a theatrical production, usually without speaking lines. So to play "a walk-on part in the war" means to be in a war but without doing anything really important.

LEAD-ROLE= A major role in a theatrical production (or any other place). To play the lead role is to be the most important person, the leader, the star.

CAGE= A small place completely closed with bars, usually to keep animals inside, like birds in a house or animals at the zoo. (see picture)

I WISH YOU WERE HERE= I miss you; I want you to be with me. We use the expression I WISH (+ past) to express a desire, something we really want.
The verb WISH (desire) is followed by the unreal past also called "past subjunctive". The subjunctive form of English verbs have almost disappeared, and now there is no difference between the simple past and the past subjunctive, but with the verb "to be" we can still make the difference, though that's disappearing too.
To be, simple past: I was, You were, He was, We were...
To be, past subjunctive: I were, You were, He were, We were...
- I wish I were rich (more correct) = I wish I was rich (getting more common, esp. in AmE)
With other verbs there's no subjunctive form, so we simply use the simple past after the verb WISH:
- I wish I had more friends.
- I wish you loved me.

FISH BOWL= A container made of glass with one or more fishes inside (see picture)

YEAR AFTER YEAR= Every year, all the years, without end.
We can also say "day after day", "time after time", etc. to express the same idea (always the same, never changing).

THE SAME OLD GROUND= Here we use OLD to express that it doesn't change, it's always the same. The sentence "running over the same old ground" means "doing always the same things", "our life doesn't change".

The lyrics allude to the original founder of the band, Syd Barrett, who went mad because of the drugs. They are asking him if he can tell the differences between heaven and hell, and between what is real and what is just a pretty imagination. The song's title is the band wishing they could be with the Syd they knew before. For me, it is definitely a song about a friend that we have lost through death or time or just because we have changed and drifted away from each other but we still miss them and we wish that we could still be friends with them. "We're just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year, Running over the same old ground. What have we found? The same old fears... Wish you were here."


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