"One Of These Things First" as written by and (gb 1) Nick Drake....
I could have been a sailor, could have been a cook
A real live lover, could have been a book.
I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock
As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.
I could be
Here and now
I would be, I should be
But how?
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.

I could have been your pillar, could have been your door
I could have stayed beside you, could have stayed for more.
Could have been your statue, could have been your friend,
A whole long lifetime could have been the end.
I could be yours so true
I would be, I should be through and through
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.

I could have been a whistle, could have been a flute
A real live giver, could have been a boot.
I could have been a signpost, could have been a clock
As simple as a kettle, steady as a rock.
I could be even here
I would be, I should be so near
I could have been
One of these things first
I could have been
One of these things first.


Lyrics submitted by foxyurchin, edited by smallwonderrobot

"One of These Things First" as written by Nick Drake

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC

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One Of These Things First song meanings
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  • +9
    General CommentI think it's important to look at the connotations of the things that he could have been... while I agree with all the interpretations here, they are very surface-level. I don't think he's referring to a literal alternative life (or carnation) but more contemplating metaphorically the fact that life is a series of choices that lead us to be who we are. With this specific person he could have been very different, things could have gone differently. But he wasn’t, and they didn’t. Even though he could try put things back together now… it’s too late. He should have been these things first, before the relationship ended.

    In the first verse he looks at what kind of person he could have been in general. “First” here refers to before he met the person in verse 2.

    He could have been an explorer (a sailer), a provider (a cook), a lover, someone who spent their time gaining knowledge about the world (a book). He could have been simply something to show others the direction they should go in (a sign post), he could have been simply something to show others the stage of their life they were at (a clock). He could have been simple and unremarkable (a kettle), he could have been strong and reliable (a rock). He could still be any of those things but doesn’t know how to change.

    In the second verse he looks at what kind of a person he could have been during a specific relationship. Here “first” refers to before the relationship ended.

    He could have been the person’s support (a pillar), an escape route from something else, or entrance into something different (door), could have been the unchanging constant that reflected what the other person was and belonged to the other person completely without taking anything from the relationship himself (your statue), could have just remained a friend (as difficult to be as all these other things). Then their relationship would have lasted a lifetime. He could have been, he should have been… before the relationship ended.

    In the final verse deals with the end of the relationship. The “first” here refers to before he had the experiences he had. Before he had had certain experiences, he would have had the choice to do either of these things (which are complete opposites). However after the experiences, the choice is no longer his. He could have been the one pointing out the problems, annoying and controlling (a whistle), he could have been the opposite, singing all the praises of the other person, trying to please them (a flute). He could have just kept giving and giving (a real live giver) or he could have ended it by just kicking the other person out of his life (a boot). He repeats that he could have been a signpost and a clock but this time meaning specifically to the other person – he could have been their warning sign, could have told them where they were heading, could have told them who they were. He could have made them aware of the days that passed, the commitments in life, time running out, kept them busy in between other things. Could have just been simple and unremarkable to the person, could have been a strong and reliable thing in that person’s life.

    Even now, divided by time and/or physical distance, he can still be those things to the person. But he should have been those things before they broke up… now it’s too late. The choices he made defined him and there is no way that he could be something other than what he is, there is no way the relationship could have gone any way other than how it did.
    tally1302on May 29, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song is awesome. the music itself is so light and whimsical, it reminds me of ice skating in a park.
    littlewingon December 23, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General Commentdante23: Nick did not have many lovers. In fact, he barely had a girl"friend" acording to Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… He had awesome singing ability, but that did not translate into having many women as he was a painfully shy person, often recording his vocals facing the wall so the sound techs couldn't look at him.
    hidispenseron June 11, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThank you, dante23 for finally getting over Garden State and recognizing the song's true meaning. The song, to me, screams Buddhism and reincarnation; the title gives it away. I'm so glad someone else recognized the song from the album where it came from rather than a from a cliché indie-type movie soundtrack. Nick did have 'lovers' but also had great difficulty establishing relationships. You're right; the vivacity found in the second verse probably came from someone who made him very happy.
    Allison~!@on July 27, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Comment"A whole long lifetime, could've beent he end"--such a beautiful lyric that describes a typical man's fear of commitment to one person. A whole long lifetime is frightening because that mean's you have to invest yourself into one person over a long period of time.

    And while that's admirable and should be the standard in love, the downside is that when you lose that person or that person loses you, the years of invested time to that commitment pretty much destroys the being of the other after they've lost that person.

    Now that may not be true, but the fear of how that would feel like is what a lot of men feel when they ponder a lifetime commitment with someone.

    Being with one person until the end is probably the manliest thing a man could do. Not many men have that virtue. I think Nick Drake (or the voice he created in the lyric) is really questioning his worth if he cannot be with someone until the end given that it can be inferred that he (the voice in the lyric) is no longer with that person.
    mydreamqueston August 15, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnother reason why the Garden State soundtrack is so damn good.
    rachelllon September 27, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm surprised that not more people have commented on this song. It's such a great, peaceful song. It's simple and so happy. I agree with what you say rachelll
    HardkoreSaiyanon January 04, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm surprised that not more people have commented on this song. It's such a great, peaceful song. It's simple and so happy. I agree with what you say rachelll
    HardkoreSaiyanon January 04, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm surprised that not more people have commented on this song. It's such a great, peaceful song. It's simple and so happy. I agree with what you say rachelll
    HardkoreSaiyanon January 04, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI'm surprised that not more people have commented on this song. It's such a great, peaceful song. It's simple and so happy. I agree with what you say rachelll
    HardkoreSaiyanon January 04, 2005   Link

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