"Muddy Hymnal" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
We found your name across the chapel door
Carved in cursive with a table fork
Muddy hymnals
And some boot marks where you'd been

The shaking preacher told the captain's man
The righteous suffer in a fallen land
And pulled the shade
To keep the crowd from peeking in

We found your children by the tavern door
With wooden buttons and an apple core
Playing house
And telling everyone you'd drowned

The begging choir told the captain's man
We all assume the worst the best we can
And for a round or two
They'd gladly track you down

We found you sleeping by your lover's stone
A ream of paper and a telephone
A broken bow
Across a long lost violin

Your lover's angel told the captain's man
It never ends the way we had it planned
And kissed her palm
And placed it on your dreaming head


Lyrics submitted by slickboot, edited by JAlPrufrock

"Muddy Hymnal" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Muddy Hymnal song meanings
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18 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentI think the overall story is pretty much all there; it's the tiny nuances I love. For instance, all through the song I get a sense of it taking place at least a century ago - everything seems so archaic, the times of taverns and wooden buttons and captains and preachers. The mention of 'telephone' jars me, bringing me back to the present.
    Deiaon June 27, 2007   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationWe found you sleeping by your lover's stone
    A ream of paper and a telephone
    -- A ream of paper is useless without a typewriter. A telephone is useless without a cord, which it likely doesn't have out in the middle of a cemetery.

    A broken bow across a long lost violin
    -- A broken bow isn't going to make any music on a violin that isn't even there.

    Written word, spoken word, and music are all forms of communication. Sam has so poignantly expressed a complete inability to communicate here, despite the subject's desperate desire to bridge the gap between the living and the dead to be closer with his lost love.

    I see this song as a story, and I personally don't care if the lover was the captain's wife, the captain's fiancee, or the subject's wife. It's beautiful. This song is simple yet cryptic and incredibly beautiful. One of the songs that drew me in to Iron & Wine.
    virtuallypainlesson April 29, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think it's about a man that's lost his wife and loses his faith in god. he leaves his kids at the pub and goes to vandalise the church. the policeman finds him asleep at his wife's grave. his wife, now an angel, tells the policeman that "it never ends the way we had it planned." but she's still watching over him.
    sethbrownon August 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti think it's about a man that's lost his wife and loses his faith in god. he leaves his kids at the pub and goes to vandalise the church. the policeman finds him asleep at his wife's grave. his wife, now an angel, tells the policeman that "it never ends the way we had it planned." but she's still watching over him.
    sethbrownon August 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentalso, i love the line "a broken bow across a long lost violin"

    it's like, violin is sort of a symbol of despair and grief. like how if you're feeling sorry for yourself, people will joke and pretend to play a violin to score your tragedy.

    it's like he hasn't used his violin in such a long time, now he's come to play it he finds his bow broken. it's been so long since he's let his emotions out, he can't do it properly any more. the sound isn't beautiful and natural, but harsh and violent.
    sethbrownon August 01, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThat's a really great observation. I didn't get that at all but it makes sense. This is probably my favorite Iron & Wine song. I'm surprised nobody else has posted. Good job though.
    ThePromiseRing8on August 14, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love this song, it's not as great lyrically as some of the others but its got a great melody and tells an intresting story. My favorite part is "found your children by the tavern door/ with wooden buttons & an apple core/ playing house/ and telling everyone you'd drowned"

    Amazing.
    queenofheartson October 22, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI really like your connection with the violin but maybe instead of him going back and playing it only to find the bow is broken, he might have broken it while he was playing in his despair. or even the violin is like his heart because its still there and beating but cant be used because the bow is broken and won't be able to be repaired easily.
    breezybay11on March 01, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentA broken bow
    Across a long lost violin

    To me, the man is the broken bow, and the long-lost (dead) violin. Together, at one time, they combined to form something beautiful, and when she died, he was left without a crucial element of his life. In his despair, he became broken.
    kylesseyon July 27, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthe woman, I meant to say, is the long-lost violin.
    kylesseyon July 27, 2007   Link

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