The Meaning of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic”

Van Morrison in the 1970s.

Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic” is perhaps the single song that best captures the artist’s talent for crafting peaceful tunes with poetic lyrics that showcase life through a spiritual lens. First appearing on the 1970 album Moondance, “Into The Mystic” is a timeless classic that has touched the hearts of many over the years, and continues to do so today.

On the surface, “Into The Music” may appear to simply be a song about sailing, and the musical arrangement floats along in agreement with that. Taking a closer look at the lyrics, however we find that the song has a deeper meaning that casts the image of sailing as a metaphor for one’s journey through life.

Right from the opening lyric, Morrison presents us with imagery that brings to mind sailing on a bright and sunny day, with a verse that can be heard one way as:

We were borne before the wind
Also, younger than the sun
‘Ere the bonnie boat was one
As we sailed into the mystic

Opening lyrics to “Into The Mystic”

However, the true beauty of this song is the duality that is presented here via the use of homophones, or words that sound the same but have different meanings.

On one hand, we imagine smooth sailing, being “borne before the wind”, and becoming one with the vessel. On the other, we have a more spiritual interpretation that suggests being “born before the wind”, and the bonnie boat being “won”, as in conquered like a challenge of life.

Van Morrison live at Montreaux Festival in 1974.

Morrison himself has acknowledged this aspect of the song, and notably addresses it in an interview included in Brian Hinton’s 1997 book Celtic Crossroads: The Art of Van Morrison, where he also offers his own interpretation of the song’s meaning.

Originally I wrote it as ‘Into the Misty.’ But later I thought that it had something of an ethereal feeling to it so I called it ‘Into the Mystic.’ That song is kind of funny because when it came time to send the lyrics in WB Music, I couldn’t figure out what to send them. Because really the song has two sets of lyrics. For example, there’s ‘I was born before the wind’ and ‘I was borne before the wind,’ and also ‘Also younger than the sun, Ere the bonny boat was one’ and ‘All so younger than the son, Ere the bonny boat was won’ … I guess the song is just about being part of the universe.

Van Morrison on the meaning of “Into The Mystic”, late 1990s

Speaking of this “Bonnie Boat”, Morrison’s lyrics are borrowed from “The Skye Boat Song”, a traditional Scottish song that chronicles the journey of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie in the late 19th century.

Being part of the universe is a feeling that many experience while sailing, as there is an inherent connection to nature that comes with being powered by the wind. This tie-in with an adventure by water with the experience of life itself makes “Into The Mystic” a lyrical masterpiece, both for those looking to ponder the meaning of life and for those enjoying a day out on the water.

And I wanna rock your gypsy soul
Just like way back in the days of old
And together we will float
Into the mystic

Lyrics from Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic”

Many artists have covered “Into The Mystic” over time, offering their own interpretations on Morrison’s classic. Notable versions include live covers by Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit, Zac Brown Band, and many more.

Listen to “Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison below.

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One thought on “The Meaning of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic”

  • September 28, 2022 at 7:17 pm

    Thank you for this insighful analysis. Spot on. When singing or hearing this song, the feeling comes right through, regardless of the optional word interpretations, and I’ll be it even comes through for someone who does not understand English too, since the sound of the words is so beautiful as well, and the melody so full of gut wrenching passion for life. My favorite part is “When that foghorn blows, I want to hear, I don’t to fear it”. I really hear that as “When they finally call me home, I’ll embrace it, and and accept it willingly”. It’s a beautiful seniment. Play this song when you’ve lost a loved one, or if /when you are feeling the years yourself. So many beatiful ways this song can be played too – good poetry works in many formats. A favorite, simple version using a depression-era style slide Dobro guitar which really adds some old world feel to it as well (search for “Into The Mystic A.C. Ward” cover). Van Morrision used horns to add that fog horn feeling perhaps, but the Dobro really shows how timeless the poetry of this song is.

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