Meaning of “Salt Water” by Ed Sheeran

Concerning the title/chorus of this song (“Salt Water”), Ed has revealed that “it’s basically playing out what the final moment would be, jumping into cold salt water and feeling at 3 or 4 degrees that you’re free”. It isn’t abundantly clear or direct what he means in that regard, such as by the term “final moment” for instance.

But to note, he further explained that this song “was written about some of the darkest nights into mornings, and the ‘what ifs’ surrounding those thoughts”. So when you combine that idea with what’s mentioned above as well as the nature of the lyrics themselves, it may well be that what Sheeran is referring is something like suicide, i.e. taking your own life.

The Sensitive Subject of Suicide

As an artist, Sheeran isn’t known for harping subjects such as suicide. And that may well be the reason why his explanation of this song is so convoluted. Indeed, under normal circumstances it would be hard to fathom that a musician as generally-likeable as Ed would drop such a song, which is why we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt. 

But first of all the entirety of “Subtract”, the album this track is derived from, is what he described as being about “grief and depression and stuff”

Second, it is arguable that songs indirectly espousing suicide may be some type of emerging trend. And third there are conspiracy theories, so to speak, that countries such as Canada are actually encouraging suicide amongst certain segments of its populations. In other words, if such powerful entities have come to support this act, then it’s inevitable that related views will come to be reflected in popular music.

The Lyrics of “Salt Water”

But that’s just a hypothetical interpretation of “Salt Water” because, to reiterate, the lyrics of this piece are heavily poetic and open to interpretation. For instance, it may not be that the vocalist telling “salt water” to “come and kiss” him alludes to suicide but rather said substance being somehow symbolic in another way of him overcoming his depression, i.e. ‘leaving everything’. 

Also, when Ed refers to his “one last breath” in the first verse, that may not be a literal observation but rather, as relayed, alluding to his effort to escape from a less-than-ideal past and painful present. 

And on that note, let’s conclude by saying that if there’s one idea that can be definitively ascertained from these lyrics, it’s that the vocalist is going through some type of serious suffering which, as firmly alluded to in the second verse, is psychological/emotional in nature. 

What’s up for debate rather is the course of action he takes to remedy the situation. Is the “salt water” a symbol of an overall effort on the part of the singer to make a power-move and hopefully change his life for the better? 

Or when he sings of “standing on the edge” and possibly “gazing into hell” yet proceeding forward nonetheless, is he literally referring to stepping into the afterlife?

“Come and kiss me, salt water
Oh, finally, I feel, at three or four degrees
I’m free in salt water
Embrace the deep and leave everything
It was just a dream”

The Team behind “Salt Water”

Ed Sheeran wrote this song with Aaron Dessner, who has been a hot property of late in large part due to his behind-the-scenes’ contributions to Taylor Swift’s ever-successful career. 

In fact the first time these two worked together apparently would have been on Run (Taylor’s Version) [From the Vault], i.e. Swift’s 2021 collaboration with Sheeran. 

So with that said, Dessner has also been heavily involved in the creation of the aforementioned “Subtract”, which came out through Asylum Records and Atlantic Records on 5 May 2023, not only serving as a co-writer throughout but also producing some songs, such as this one.

Salt Water

9 Responses

  1. Mike says:

    If you watch the video I think it is pretty clear it is about suicide, maybe even a close call with suicide for the composer.

    • Walt A says:

      Yes Mike it was abundantly clear to me also. I don’t think there’s any need for tight interpretation. It was as obvious as the nose on your face. But as with any song and any music it can be taken on number of different ways by the listener.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Love love love this song, it his talent, and voice. Lyrics kinda sad for me. Think it’s about suicide too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Obviously about suicide and grief…however we don’t know at the end of the video whether he jumped or walked away….if you watch all of his videos in succession from the Subtract album, he is slowly dying and having flashbacks of various parts of his the Hills of Aberfeldy (the last song) he is literally sinking into the ground (grave?) and then all of a sudden he’s swimming to the surface and saving himself…amazing album! It is helping me with the grief of losing my mom…

  4. Marge says:

    This album is really a great interpretation of how to overcome and move though pain of any loss or internal suffering. I am finding comfort in it every time I listen to it.

  5. Adrian says:

    I didn’t get the suicide reference at all. To me it seemed like salt water referred to tears: finally being able to cry and get past something bad like losing a loved one.

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes I hear the.same. you fall into what may be hell but its the salt water you emerge from stronger. I recently lost my job unexpectedly, it shocked me to the core (my hell I had to jump into) but am emerging stronger (my salt water)

  6. Anonymous says:

    I felt it was interpreting a suicide by drowning in the ocean. Interpreted by “come and kiss me, salt water” surrounded by the intensity of a surrounding ocean. “Embrace the deep (depths of the water) and leave everything”.

  7. momof2specialneedkids says:

    I felt this song was referring to the pain and darkness of losing someone and the line …come kiss me salt water referring to tears as they fall “kiss” the cheeks. Ed Sheeran has openly stated that he doesn’t like to cry and in the documentary Th Sum of it; on Disney Plus, his wife Cherry shares that she has rarely seen him cry. He’s expressing the loss being deep and that sometimes it feels like a dream when things remind one of the person who is no longer with them.
    I can understand the suicidal reference but I don’t believe this is what he was thinking about. Also since he doesn’t like to cry… think about when one is overwhelmed with sadness and sobs uncontrollably…it feels like one has cried out an ocean of emotions ie salt water.

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