Cross-Eyed Mary is a hard rock / progressive rock song by Jethro Tull, a progressive rock band from the UK. It featured on the band’s 1971 album Aqualung. The song was also covered by the English Heavy metal band Iron Maiden in 1983.
Before understanding the Cross Eyed Mary lyrics meaning, you should learn what the title stands for.
Title – What does it mean?
The title of this song is like the title of a children’s story. This song is about Mary and her exploits or adventures. It is not directed at belittling anyone, or judging anyone. The song simply narrates a tale about Mary and her interesting life.
With the title explained, it is now time for Cross Eyed Mary lyrics meaning.
Verse 1 – What does it mean?
Who would be a poor man, a beggarman, a thief
If he had a rich man in his hand
Songwriter Ian Anderson is known to put a spin on traditional rhymes and poems. In this particular instance, the line “…a poor man, a beggarman, a thief” is an homage to a traditional counting rhyme from England. It is something that the children are taught to introduce them to the subject of mathematics.
These first two lines serve as a premise to the main character of the song Mary and her adventures. The use of a counting rhyme hints at the fact that Mary is a minor (it is further elaborated later in the song). Mary is probably from a privileged background who walks among the elitist crowd. Yet, she also maintains association with poor men, beggars and thieves. The nature of this association is revealed later in the song. For now, the listeners know that Mary is some sort of a bridge that connects the rich and the poor of London town.
And who would steal the candy
From a laughing baby’s mouth
If he could take it from the money man
Stealing candy from a “laughing baby’s mouth” could refer to Mary’s upbringing. Perhaps, she was denied what was rightfully hers at a very young age, which is why she acts the way she does. This line could also hints at the loss of innocence. The baby has outgrown its candy sucking days.
Mary provides some sort of service to the previously mentioned poor men, beggars and thieves. It seems to placate them enough to discourage them from committing crimes and stealing from the innocent. But whatever Mary provides them does not come from her own pocket. She somehow siphons off from other rich men to take care of the poor men’s needs. How does she do that? You will find out soon enough.
Chorus 1 – What does it mean?
Goes jumping in again
She signs no contract
But she always plays the game
The answer to how Mary bridges the gap between the rich and the poor is revealed here. In a way, the chorus holds the central theme of Cross Eyed Mary lyrics meaning.
Mary is a prostitute. The nature of her occupation is illegal, which is why “She signs no contract”. This also refers to the fact that her clients may fall in love with her, but she does not reciprocate their feelings. She is clearly popular, because she does her job well and “plays the game”. But it is only a job to her at the end of the day. There is no need for emotional attachment.
The use of the term “Cross-eyed” could imply that Mary is not seeing how dangerous her choices are. For her, this might be harmless fun. The term could also hint at her not being physically desirable by the males of her peer group. Perhaps she sells her body to older men because they make her feel desired and attractive.
She dines in Hampstead village
On expense accounted gruel
And the jack-knife barber
Drops her off at school
She has a lot of rich clientele who take her to expensive restaurants in Hampstead village, a wealthy vicinity in London. The meals are “accounted”, meaning, they are strictly professional and confidential. It is the songwriter’s way to mock Mary. She is a prostitute, but her work culture is very formal.
The use of “jack-knife barber” hints at an illegal practitioner of sorts. Since Mary is still in school, she is not allowed to sell her body for money. But she does. Her profession of choice carries an inherent risk of getting pregnant. If that happens, she cannot go to a licensed doctor for treatment. Instead, she must approach a quack to undergo abortion. This keeps her secret safe.
Despite living such an edgy lifestyle at a young age, Mary is dropped “off at school” as if nothing happened. This implies that no one around Mary knows what she is up to. She pretends to be a normal school girl during the day.
Verse 2 – What does it mean?
Laughing in the playground
Gets no kicks from little boys
These lines throw some light on why Mary is a prostitute. She apparently “gets no kicks from little boys”. This can imply two things. Either, boys her own age do not attract her. Or, the boys in school pay no attention to Mary (maybe because she is cross-eyed?).
Mary attends school like a normal girl, never letting anyone know about her side hustle.
Would rather make it with a letching grey
Or maybe her attention is drawn by Aqualung
Who watches through the railings as they play
Mary would rather have a sexual relationship with a “letching grey” than a boy her age. That means, Mary is more comfortable with old, lecherous men. Whether they are rich or poor, it does not matter. She is even attracted to creeps and sexual deviants like “Aqualung”. These sick people indulge in voyeurism and are attracted to girls who look mature but are legally still underage.
Chorus 2 – What does it mean?
Finds it hard to get along
She’s a poor man’s rich girl
And she’ll do it for a song
Mary is not a prostitute for money. She is in it for the fun of it. Even poor men can afford her services as she will sleep with them for little money. “…do it for a song” implies that Mary’s services cost little to no money.
She’s a rich man stealer
But her favour’s good and strong
She’s the Robin Hood of Highgate
Helps the poor man get along
Oh Cross-eyed Mary
Her diverse clientele includes both the rich and the poor. And she charges her clients accordingly. Her rich clients pay her sufficiently enough so she does not have to charge the poor clients much. She is like the Robin Hood of prostitutes.
Hope you have now understood Cross Eyed Mary lyrics meaning.
The Cross Eyed Mary lyrics meaning is not to be taken seriously. This song is a tale about a minor prostitute called Mary. She is young and wild, but the songwriter does not pass any judgements on her character. The idea of this song is not to look down upon Mary, but to enjoy an interesting story about an unusual character.