The Last Living Rose

Album: Let England Shake (2011)

Songfacts®:

  • PJ Harvey's tenth studio album, Let England Shake, finds her working through her complicated feelings about her home country of England (she was born in the town of Bridport in 1969). The first track on the album, "The Last Living Rose," is no different.

    Harvey starts the song by complaining about Europeans and then yearning to be taken back to the "beautiful England" of yore. She then details some decidedly non-beautiful details about the country, from the "damp filthiness of ages" to "stinking alleys" and "the music of drunken beatings."

    It's easy to read Harvey's observations as political statements, and many rushed to do so. Let England Shake did pretty well sales-wise, but it generated even more buzz among critics and hardcore music nerds - the kind of people who like to analyze and politicize. Many interpreted the song (and the album) as a statement against war and England's colonial history. In an interview with her hometown newspaper The Bridport News, Harvey made clear that that wasn't actually the case.

    "Because I don't feel qualified to speak from a political or journalistic point of view," Harvey said, "I just haven't got that information, unless it was all I did and all I studied, I couldn't write like that, I could only write about the things I do feel."
  • Harvey told NME that this hymn to England is, "A reflection on this country, seeing it up against other countries. I was very pleased with the words of that song because it does feel very picturesque, very filmic, in a way."
  • The song was written five years before Brexit, which was when 52% of English voters chose to leave the European Union. There had been resentment against the Union among some people for a long before that, though, which might be what Harvey is referencing with two lines in this song:

    Goddamn Europeans!

    and

    Past the Thames River, glistening like gold
    Hastily sold for nothing


    It's not clear if those are Harvey's feelings or if she's exploring other people's feelings in the song, but she seems to be singing about the loss of her native country's history while also wrestling with the dark aspects of that history.
  • Past the Thames River, glistening like gold

    The River Thames is the longest river contained entirely within the boundaries of England. It's the second-longest river in the UK.

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