The meaning of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ by the Pogues

I’ve often wondered about the lyrics to A Pair of Brown Eyes by the Pogues. You probably know the words, but here they are just in case:

One summer evening drunk to hell
I stood there nearly lifeless
An old man in the corner sang
Where the water lilies grow
And on the jukebox Johnny sang
About a thing called love
And it’s how are you kid and what’s your name
And how would you bloody know?
In blood and death ‘neath a screaming sky
I lay down on the ground
And the arms and legs of other men
Were scattered all around
Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed
Then prayed and bled some more
And the only thing that I could see
Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me
But when we got back, labeled parts one to three
There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes
I looked at him he looked at me
All I could do was hate him
While Ray and Philomena sang
Of my elusive dream
I saw the streams, the rolling hills
Where his brown eyes were waiting
And I thought about a pair of brown eyes
That waited once for me
So drunk to hell I left the place
Sometimes crawling sometimes walking
A hungry sound came across the breeze
So I gave the walls a talking
And I heard the sounds of long ago
From the old canal
And the birds were whistling in the trees
Where the wind was gently laughing
And a rovin’ a rovin’ a rovin’ I’ll go
For a pair of brown eyes

A bit of digging unearthed this interview with the man himself, Shane MacGowan, from an interview with Folk Roots in August 1987, published at Poguetry.com:

“It’s just about a guy getting pissed at a bar round here,” says Shane nonchalantly. “He’s getting pissed because he’s broken up with this bird and… you know how it is when you just go into a pub on your own to drink and it’s really quiet and you get this old nutter who comes over and starts rambling on you. So this old guy starts on about how he came back from the war, the First World War. Or the Second. One of them anyway. And he tells him about the ship he had out there and how he got out and came back and this girl had fucked off with someone else, a girl with a pair of brown eyes. Which is the same situation as the young guy sitting there listening to all this rubbish and the juke box playing Johnny Cash and Ray Lyman and Philomena Begley, classic London juke box tracks. And in the end he gets to the stage where he says fuck it, and he goes stumbling out of the pub and he walks along the canal and starts feeling really bad, on the verge of tears, and he starts realising that the old guy has had a whole fucking lifetime of that feeling, going through the war and everything, but his original reaction is to hate him and despise him. I’m not saying he goes back and starts talking to him but you know…”
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The meaning of ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ by the Pogues