Cemetry Gates (sic), the fifth track on The Smiths’ 1986 album The Queen Is Dead, features references to Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats and John Keats in this account of a battle of literary knowledge set in a cemetery. “Keats and Yeats are on your side”, says Morrissey to his friend, strongly thought to be long time associate Linder Stirling, and then plays his trump card, “but Wilde is on mine”.
What follows is Morrissey and companion’s feelings of sadness at the deaths of all the people whom they “gravely read the stones” of before the singer ridicules his friend for claiming the words “ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn” as their own. Morrissey states that he has “read well” and has “heard them said a hundred times, maybe less, maybe more”. The line that his friend quotes is actually a misquote of a line from Shakespeare’s Richard III. The actual line, from Richard III, Act V is: “The early village-cock / Hath done salutation to the dawn”.
This misquote is almost definitely deliberate and adds to Morrissey’s smirking about him feeling he knows more about literature than his friend. By misquoting Shakespeare and deliberately misspelling the word ‘cemetery’ in the song’s title as ‘Cemetry’, the song suggests that Cemetry Gates is about two people who know less about the English language and it’s literature than they claim.
Morrissey goes on to tell his friend that if they “must write prose and poems, the words they use should be your own” and warns against plagiarism or taking on loan. His friend then tricks the narrator into believing that lines the narrator opines are words that could only be their own before his companion produces “the text from whence it was ripped”. The narrator, perhaps in embarrassment that he has been fooled and does not know the text, denounces the writer as “some dizzy whore, 1804”. The line ‘quoted’ by Morrissey’s companion in the song, to my knowledge, does not actually exist in a work of English literature. Here Morrissey is ironically reflecting the (mis)quote from Richard III.
Following much sniping, the song ends with Morrissey holding strongly to his belief that he knows more about English literature than his friend with the closing lines, “Keats and Yeats are on your side, But you lose because Wilde is on mine”. The message that Morrissey is very cleverly conveying in the song is that nobody is ever truly an expert on English literature, nobody is as well read as they think and that everything that is said, despite the narrator of the song’s plea not to plagiarise or take on loan, will almost definitely be taken from somewhere else.