Don McLean’s Vincent Song tells the Story of Van Gogh Better than One Thinks

Don McLean wrote the song Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) many years after Van Gogh’s tragic death, but a closer look at the lyrics reveals how deep McLean’s words dive into Vincent Van Gogh’s life story. As if McLean was able to tap into the tormented soul of the artist in those horrifying moments.

Starry Night – Vincent Van Gogh

Comparison between the lyrics of Don McLean’s hit song Vincent and the actual life and works of Vincent Van Gogh.

Here is a comparison between the lyrics of the song Vincent and Vincent Van Gogh’s Actual Life:

Expressing Van Gogh’s ability to sit and be immersed in nature as some of the other Impressionists of the time is somewhat misleading.“Look out on a summer’s day.” Many of Van Gogh’s famous works were painted when he was in an asylum at Saint-Remy, so most of his work was done from memory. Starry, starry night.
Paint your palette blue and grey,
Look out on a summer’s day,
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul.
Shadows on the hills,
Sketch the trees and the daffodils,
Catch the breeze and the winter chills,
In colors on the snowy linen land.

These are references to some of the more famous Van Gogh paintings:
Flaming Flowers: The Sunflower Series
Swirling Clouds: Starry Night
Field of Amber Grain: Wheat Field with Crows
Weathered Faces: The Potato Eaters.
Starry, starry night.
Flaming flowers that brightly blaze, Swirling clouds in violet haze,
Reflect in Vincent’s eyes of china blue.
Colors changing hue, morning field of amber grain,
Weathered faces lined in pain,
Are soothed beneath the artist’s loving hand.
This is Van Gogh’s tragic predicament. Even though he loved painting, his paintings could never love him back.

Van Gogh attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest, which ultimately led to his death two days later.

For they could not love you,
But still your love was true.
And when no hope was left in sight
On that starry, starry night,
You took your life, as lovers often do.
But I could have told you, Vincent,
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you.
Van Gogh’s artistic legacy is contained within his paintings, drawings and writings. They are everlasting and will never “forget” the style that created them. They are Van Gogh’s eyes that watch the world. This is all metaphorically speaking though. Starry, starry night.
Portraits hung in empty halls,
Frameless head on nameless walls,
With eyes that watch the world and can’t forget.
Like the strangers that you’ve met,
The ragged men in the ragged clothes,
The silver thorn of bloody rose,
Lie crushed and broken on the virgin snow.
Finally, McLean talks about Van Gogh’s ultimate suffering: his struggle with his mental state of delusion and insanity. Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they’re not listening still.
Perhaps they never will…

About the Author

Amitai Sasson of is an art world traveler on a mission to seek out the beauty and passion of the art world. As an avid enthusiast of art and oil paintings, he contributes to as Chief editor and writer.