The River

The River

performed by Garth Brooks
written by Garth Brooks and Victoria Shaw
released April 1992

You know a dream is like a river
Ever changin’ as it flows
And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores…and

I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

Too many times we stand aside
And let the waters slip away
‘Til what we put off ’til tomorrow
Has now become today
So don’t you sit upon the shoreline
And say you’re satisfied
Choose to chance the rapids
And dare to dance the tide…yes

I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

There’s bound to be rough waters
And I know I’ll take some falls
But with the good Lord as my captain
I can make it through them all…yes

I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
Like a bird upon the wind
These waters are my sky
I’ll never reach my destination
If I never try
So I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry

Yes, I will sail my vessel
‘Til the river runs dry
‘Til the river runs dry


If you did not live through the Garth Brooks era of the early 1990s, it is hard to describe it to someone else. The Mo Betta shirt wearing, ever-emoting, friends in low places having, rock & roll cowboy from Oklahoma was ENORMOUSLY popular in all quarters of American society and around the world. Looking back, it’s not hard to understand the appeal of his music but it can be difficult to understand the myriad and nature of ways it connected with its audiences, at the time it connected so strongly. It was a Zeitgeist thing.

As I was not finished with my education at this time, I can recall two occasions of studying The River in school. The first time it occurred was during an Earth Science class and we were learning about accretion and avulsion. I remember my teacher using the opportunity of studying rivers to also instruct us on dreams – with a distant look in his eyes. A year later, I revisited this song in a literature class (somewhere in between The Good Earth and The Hobbit. Perhaps the second setting made a little more sense for covering the topic of this song than the science class had a year earlier, but my teacher had the same distant look in her eyes. The song meant something to both of them, and whatever it was, they wanted to share it with us. They wanted our impressionable selves to dream.

So… what’s the deal with this song? The song is a mid-tempo country pop ballad in which a river is used as an analogy for the pursuit of one’s dreams. The song’s narrator proclaims that he will pursue those dreams “til the river runs dry” – meaning it will be a life-long pursuit.

What does Garth Brooks say about The River? From Wiki:

Garth provided the following background information on the song in the CD booklet liner notes from The Hits:

Of all songs, most of the letters I receive concern “The River.” It is a song of inspiration… a song that I will be proud of a hundred years from now. Victoria Shaw is a wonderful writer and a wonderful friend. And this is what happens when two dreamers get together and write from the heart. One of the greatest awards that this song has ever received was the fact that it was played at Dale Wehr’s funeral. Quite an honor, cowboy.

Additional personnel on the song included Kenny Malone on percussion, Edgar Meyer on acoustic bass, and Trisha Yearwood on harmony vocals.

Garth has stated that The River was inspired by childhood hero James Taylor.

Chart (1992)Peak
position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)1
US Hot Country Songs (Billboard)1

Year-end charts

Chart (1992)Position
Canada Country Tracks (RPM)35
US Country Songs (Billboard)43

::with a distant look in my eyes::

Here’s a live performance of the song and a look backward in time.

One thought on “The River

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