Poetry 4 October 2018 | 16:51

The poetry of The Pogues

04 October 2018 16:51

It’s National Poetry Day, so, naturally, I’ve been thinking about The Pogues – and about one of their songs in particular, ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’.

Among Pogueologists, ‘Rainy Night’ is often discussed in terms of its background. It came out of the recording sessions that the band did with some guy called Elvis Costello, acting as their producer, in 1985 – but it didn’t come out easily. Costello preferred a version that used an oboe in certain bridging passages. The Pogues’ Shane MacGowan preferred a version that used a cornet. When the song was put on the Poguetry In Motion EP in 1986, it was MacGowan who won out – although there have been several different mixes, with different blends of oboe and cornet, released since then, often as bonus tracks on other albums.

But this record-keeping shouldn’t get in the way of the record itself, and particularly its lyrics. Much like The Pogues’ most famous song, ‘Fairytale of New York’, ‘Rainy Night’ tells the story of a love affair gone wrong, although it is much more oblique and, therefore, more open to interpretation. When MacGowan sings that he ‘took shelter from a shower’ and ‘stepped into your arms’, some think he means the arms of a girl. Others think it’s the warm, tight embrace of a whiskey bottle. For his part, MacGowan told The Quietus in 2012: ‘I had no idea what it was about.’

Music video for The Pogues’ ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’

In any case, the last couple of verses – and particularly the last few lines – may be my favourite ending to any song. Not only are they cutely self-referential: ‘Now this song is nearly over / We may never find out what it means.’ They’re also overflowing with the sadness and goodness of romance: ‘Still there’s a light I hold before me / You’re the measure of my dreams.’ Here they are in full:

Sometimes I wake up in the morning

The ginger lady by my bed

Covered in a cloak of silence

I hear you talking in my head

I’m not singing for the future

I’m not dreaming of the past

I’m not talking of the first time

I never think about the last.

Now this song is nearly over

We may never find out what it means

Still there’s a light I hold before me

You’re the measure of my dreams

The measure of my dreams.

Happy National Poetry Day, folks.