"Promising Light" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
Time & all you gave
I was the jerk who preferred the sea
To tussling in the waves
Tugging your skirt, singing please, please, please

But now I see love
Tracked on the floor where you walked outside
Now I see love
Looking for you in this other girl's eyes

Time & all you took
Only my freedom to fuck the whole world
Promising not to look
Promising light on the sidewalk girls

But now I see love
There in your car where I said those things
Now I see love
Tugging your skirt, singing please, please, please

Time & all you gave
There on your cross that I never saw
Well beyond the waves
Dunking my head when I heard you call

But now I see love
There in the scab where you pinched my leg
Now I see love
There on your side of my empty bed


Lyrics submitted by slickboot

"Promising Light" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Promising Light song meanings
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  • +2
    General Comment"time & all you took
    only my freedom to fuck the whole world
    promising not to look
    promising light on the sidewalk girls"

    kimber, this is my take on the "sidewalk girls" stanza. the speaker is angry because he can't seem to get over this girl, and imagines all the things he is missing out on. the "sidewalk girls" represent all the girls he sees, and thinks are attractive, but cannot approach because of all the emotional baggage he's still carrying from the previous relationship.

    "promising not to look" means that he feels guilty for checking out girls, because on some level he still feels like he should be faithful to the girl he has lost, even though she is gone; he still feels like he belongs to her.

    does this make sense?
    NightNeverSleepson December 04, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis song goes to show you, even the simplest of songs can be beautiful. As far as what this song speaks to me, I look at it as if a guy has found the perfect girl but doesn't realize it so he leaves her, and he doesn't realize what hes let go until shes gone. And now hes trying to find a girl like her but he knows it's impossible.
    WheatFan432on December 28, 2004   Link
  • +2
    General CommentThis is one of my favorite songs; it's so easy to relate to the girl if you've ever given more than you've taken in a relationship.
    "time and all you took"- The only thing his girl took from him was his single, promiscuous life. Yet she promises not to pry, or ask questions, even if she is suspicious.
    "promising light on the sidewalk girls"- He can't be monogamous- in his eyes even the prostitutes appear promising to him. Obviously their "promise" is a facade compared to the honest promise of his girlfriend.
    "time and all you gave"- Here he states how he finally realizes how much more she gave than took.
    "there on your cross that I never saw"- The cross has multiple meanings. She is on the cross, being tortured, and he doesn't see it. The cross also implies a morality connected to her, that isn't part of his world. Lastly, she has a cross to bear, a heavy burden that she alone has to deal with.
    Anyway, that's how it means something to me...
    catbowlingon January 28, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthe correct version is "TO tussling in the waves." What that means is that the narrator, Beam, preferred the greater, unknown world, the sea, to the safety of shallow water, the waves, which represent a normal relationship.

    As to this stanza:

    Time and all you took
    only my freedom to fuck the whole world.

    What's he remembering are the reasons why he wanted to leave this girl in the first place...it's common, the way a man thinks he's closing off options to himself when in a steady relationship. In that sense, we can take "fuck" literally...the narrator says it with sarcasm because he realizes now how unfulfilling and foolish that idea is, but at the time, he imagined she was limiting him from other women, other chances...that's what she "took," but he realizes now it wasn't taken anything much at all. And:

    Promising not to look
    Promising light on the sidewalk girls

    That should, I think be taken as one sentence..."promising not to look promising light on the sidewalk girls." Meaning, he had to promise his girl not to look promisingly on other girls they passed, which again shows that during the relationship, he was always looking outward for something better.

    And then this gorgeous one:

    Time and all you gave
    There on your cross that I never saw
    Well beyond the waves
    Dunking my head when I heard you call

    His constant disdain for her, his rejecting her love, looking elsewhere, considering other paths, was putting her on a cross, torturing her. And the second half of that, I think, can be both metaphorical and literal. Whenever she wanted him, reached out to him, he would duck his head in an effort to escape instead of answering her love.
    kylesseyon July 27, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti definately think this is a song of yearning and regret. he's remembering what he had, all the times he ran away from love"i was the jerk who preferred the seato tussling in the waves". now he cant stop thinking about their lost love and how he regrets now fully apprecaiting what he had. he now has the freedom he wanted at the time, but now that coveted freedom seems inconsequential and tarnished. i love how the lyrics are seemingly simple yet so complex and layered with meaning.
    lally123on October 15, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThis is how I see it...

    "Time and all you gave
    I was the jerk who preferred the sea
    To tussling in the waves
    Tugging your skirt, singing please, please, please"

    He's reflecting and seeing that she actually gave him a lot of her love and time that he didn't see while they were together.
    The sea could represent freedom. He preferred freedom to being safe in the waves.
    Tugging your skirt seems pretty self explanatory; he was focused more on his physical needs than anything to do with her.



    "But now I see love
    Tracked on the floor where you walked outside
    Now I see love
    Looking for you in this other girl's eyes"

    He now sees how much he loved her by reflecting on her leaving him.
    Instead of finding love anywhere else, now, all he sees/wants is his lost girl.



    "Time and all you took
    Only my freedom to fuck the whole world
    Promising not to look
    Promising light on the sidewalk girls"

    As much as he blamed her for taking away his freedom, all she really took from him was an unfulfilling string of hook ups.
    He promised to remain faithful, despite his desire to stray.



    "But now I see love
    There in your car where I said those things
    Now I see love
    Tugging your skirt, singing please, please, please"

    He sees that he loved her when he remembers either when he told her of some sort of infidelity or just the fact that he was finished with her.



    "Time and all you gave
    There on your cross that I never saw
    Well beyond the waves
    Dunking my head when I heard you call"

    He never saw how much she gave and sacrificed for him.
    When he has his freedom he avoids her calls because of guilt for doing her wrong.



    "But now I see love
    There in the scar where you pinched my leg
    Now I see love
    There on your side of my empty bed"

    Maybe she pinched him when she found out that he was either leaving her or cheated on her.
    He sees that she loved him /he loved her in how hurt she was by his actions.
    She is gone and he is alone, and only then does he realize what he lost.
    ksuaveon June 02, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think that the part where it says, "I was the jerk who preferred the sea / To tussling in the waves" means that he preferred to "play the field" so to speak, instead of weathering the wear and tear of the relationship. I think it is a take on the expression "other fish in the sea." He preferred having options to committing to one person.
    I think that this song implies that "tussling in the waves" of a relationship is harder, but much more meaningful that enjoying a sea of options.
    And, for what its worth, this is just about my favorite song.
    inspire2318on August 06, 2009   Link
  • 0
    General Commentby far my favourite iron & wine song, lyrically.
    andsomeverseson May 24, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti love this song. so much.
    i just need someone to explain the
    "promising light on the sidewalk girls"
    part.
    kimberon October 07, 2004   Link
  • 0
    General Commentthanks, that helps with most of what i was confused about. i still don't get why it's a promising light on the sidewalk girls, if that makes any sense.
    kimberon December 28, 2004   Link

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