Imagine by John Lennon - an Analysis of the Song


There is some elegant structuring here. Each of the three verses begins “Imagine” and answers with an empathetic comment. And each verse is more challenging than the one before. So, we have:

  1. Imagine there’s no Heaven – It’s easy if you try
  2. Imagine there’s no countries – It’s not so hard to do
  3. Imagine no possession – I wonder if you can

Let’s just look again. There can be nothing greater than Heaven, but John saw that it is easy if you try to imagine it away. And so it is. Countries – much lesser than Heaven, yet much harder to get rid of, though, to an open mind, not so hard to do. Finally possessions – as petty as we can get, but John realised that most of us could not imagine a world with no possession – I wonder if you can – excellent writing, John!

This crescendo of challenges that forms the opening of each verse is answered by a similar set of three imaginings to close each verse. This time, we have:

Imagine all the people…

  1. living for today
  2. living life in peace
  3. sharing all the world

These are also fascinating. In context, living for today is not an apology for Hedonism. It is not ‘living for the moment’ in a selfish way. It is in fact very much an echo of the Sermon on the Mount – ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin’. Then, living life in peace – here is the realisation that most people merely want to live out their lives peacefully. John had previously written Give Peace a Chance, a protest song for peace. But in Imagine there is no protest, no blame, only hope. Finally, sharing all the world is not about dividing out the spoils. It follows naturally from an opening of borders, a geographical sharing, the consequence of living at peace, without countries. This song stands up on every level.

Now the chorus – You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one – Look how he doesn’t instruct. He merely acknowledges that you, the listener, might not yet have considered these things, but others have. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one – only ‘I hope‘, no unrealistic expectation, no instruction.

And throughout the whole lyric, there is no anger, no frustration. Nothing but patience, hope and concern for humanity at large.

(This equanimity does not pervade every song on the Imagine album, but John Lennon was always a complex character. He gave us Imagine, as the title track of his signature solo album, and we can be sure it was no accident).

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