Of course I know this song from the days of the Beatles, but I didn’t pay attention to the words other than “across the universe”. Who knew it was this interesting? So I did a little digging into the significance. Let’s hear it from John, the writer.
I was lying next to my first wife in bed, you know, and I was irritated. She must have been going on and on about something and she’d gone to sleep and I’d kept hearing these words over and over, flowing like an endless stream. I went downstairs and it turned into sort of a cosmic song rather than an irritated song; rather than a ‘Why are you always mouthing off at me?’ or whatever, right? …But the words stand, luckily, by themselves. They were purely inspirational and were given to me as boom! I don’t own it, you know; it came through like that. I don’t know where it came from, what meter it’s in, and I’ve sat down and looked at it and said, ‘Can I write another one with this meter?’ It’s so interesting: ‘Words are flying [sic] out like [sings] endless rain into a paper cup, they slither while they pass, they slip away across the universe.’ Such an extraordinary meter and I can never repeat it! It’s not a matter of craftsmanship; it wrote itself. It drove me out of bed. I didn’t want to write it, I was just slightly irritable and I went downstairs and I couldn’t get to sleep until I put it on paper, and then I went to sleep.
It’s like being possessed; like a psychic or a medium. The thing has to go down. It won’t let you sleep, so you have to get up, make it into something, and then you’re allowed to sleep. That’s always in the middle of the bloody night, when you’re half awake or tired and your critical facilities are switched off.John Lennon, 1980
All We Are Saying, David Sheff
Part of the song’s chorus – ‘Jai guru deva, om’ – is a Sanskrit phrase which roughly translates as ‘Victory to God divine’. It was likely inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom The Beatles had met in August 1967. The Maharishi’s spiritual master was called Guru Dev. ‘Jai’ is a Hindi word meaning ‘long live’ or ‘victory’, and ‘om’ is a sacred syllable in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions.It’s one of the best lyrics I’ve written. In fact, it could be the best. It’s good poetry, or whatever you call it, without chewin’ it. See, the ones I like are the ones that stand as words, without melody. They don’t have to have any melody, like a poem, you can read them.John Lennon
Rolling Stone, 1970
Okay, that makes sense, the Sanskrit part. Actually, this is what got me to pay attention. I’m looking and listening to this amazing version by Rufus Wainwright and I figure I’m going completely deaf. What is he saying?
You can see a lot of ink on what people think John meant on this link here, if you’d like. I’m not sure I buy any of them. But what I realize is how much it doesn’t make sense! If you allow people and words and thoughts and ideas to pass through you, it’s going to change you. Nothing’s going to stop that from happening.
Everything changes our world.
Even seeing and hearing a song again for the first time.