What does "Castle on the Hill" by Ed Sheeran mean?
"Castle on the Hill" Lyrics Meaning
I was going to explain "Run Up" by Major Lazer, but got a few paragraphs in and realized that I needed something a little bit more substantial to write a full blog post about it at the 2AM time that I'm writing right now. That being said, "Castle on the Hill" by Ed Sheeran was the perfect alternative. I enjoy the music he puts out, and I'm excited for the rest of the Divide album to come out. I've already explained "Shape of You" on this blog and "Castle on the Hill" on my YouTube channel, and I encourage you to check out both of those explanations, the latter of which you can find just below here.
"Castle on the Hill" Meaning
Overall, "Castle on the Hill" is a nostalgic look back at childhood. Ed Sheeran is traveling back to his home in Farmlingham, Suffolk. The song covers a variety of memories--some good and some bad--but leaves us with the desire to also revisit our childhoods and to think back about the "good ol' days."
In the first verse, Sheeran sings, "When I was six years old, I broke my leg / I was running from my brother and his friends." Obviously, this sounds like a bad memory for Sheera. Perhaps he was being teased or bullied, and it resulted in him, at a very young age, breaking his leg. But he is able to find the good in the experience: "And tasted the sweet perfume of the mountain grass I rolled down." He almost sugarcoats the experience, remembering something beautiful that now outshines the memory of the pain.
This memory is so powerful to him that he sings, "I was younger then; take me back to when I . . . ." and he leads in the pre-chorus.
Here he continues the above line by singing, "Found my heart and broke it here / Mdae my friends and lost them through the years." Again, he's almost marrying the good and the bad memories to make a conglomeration that he'll overall smile on as he recalls his childhood when he sings, "And I've not seen the roaring fields in so long, I know I've grown / But I can't wait to go home." He's been traveling as a musician for a while, and he's ready to go back to where he came from, at least for a little bit.
Here, again, he indulges in the nostalgia as he sings, "I'm on my way / Driving at ninety down those country lanes / Singing to 'Tiny Dancer.'" "Tiny Dancer" is a slow, peaceful and atmospheric piece of music sure to evoke feelings of nostalgia, something it seems to be doing effectively for Sheeran.
When he sings, "And I miss the way you make me feel, and it's real," I don't think he's just talking about a woman. The next line is "We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill," and based on the variety of friends his younger version spends time with in the music video, I think the "you" and the "we" refers to his old friends or even (in a weird way) to the region itself.
In the second verse, Sheeran sings about some of the trouble he got into as a teenager. He sings, "Fifteen years old and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes / Running from the law through the backfields and getting drunk with my friends." While some may think this an odd thing to glorify, experimentation and getting into trouble are commonly glamorized aspects of childhood. Sheeran, here, is dabbling in that practice and letting people know that those experiences were, if not formative, at least memorable for him.
He continues, "Had my first kiss on a Friday night, I don't reckon that I did it right / But I was younger then; take me back to when." This carries on the same theme as the first two lines of the verse and prepares the listener to again continue into the pre-chorus.
But this pre-chorus is different. In this one, Sheeran sings about more of the ways he and his friends would get in trouble. He sings, "We found weekend jobs; when we got paid / We'd buy cheap spirits and drink them straight." Of course, he's romanticizing illegal activities if they're still under 18, but it still serves as a valuable juxtaposition to who he and his friends have become. He sings, "Me and my friends have not thrown up in so long; oh, how we've grown." Things have changed, and they've either learned a few lessons or mellowed with age and maturity.
The bridge is a listing of a few different friends and what has happened to them in their lives: "One friend left to sell clothes / One works down by the coast / One had two kids but lives alone / One's brother overdosed / One's already on his second wife / One's just barely getting by." Notice that several of these can be interpreted either negatively or positively, which brings us back to this theme Sheeran seems to keep coming back to--this idea that the negative and positive can be mixed together in our memories and be seen as something overall positive and nostalgic.
He finishes the bridge by singing, "But these people raised me / And I can't wait to get home." It's as if he's saying that despite the ambiguities of their "fates" or where they are now, we were a family of sorts, and Suffolk makes me feel close to them, so I want to return home.
Deeper Meaning of "Castle on the Hill" by Ed Sheeran
I think the confusing part for me in this song is that he never makes a very convincing case for why going back home is such a good thing. Nearly every good memory in this song he mixes with a bad memory that seems to either outweigh it or weigh the same in his mind.
I believe he's looking back fondly at the good and the bad, but I'd like to question why anyone would look back fondly on a truly bad experience. We can be grateful for the lessons we have learned, but if we want to revisit it, maybe there's something wrong with how we're remembering the experience.
That doesn't mean that I don't like Sheeran's song or don't think it's valuable to be nostalgic at times, but I would like to warn all reading this that unlimited nostalgia can be bad for a person. It causes us to see an unreal version of the past, which can lead to dissatisfaction with the present--a very real danger for anyone.