"Passing Afternoon" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
There are times that walk from you like some passing afternoon
Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
And she chose a yard to burn but the ground remembers her
Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

There are things that drift away like our endless, numbered days
Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
And she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings
Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves

There are sailing ships that pass all our bodies in the grass
Springtime calls her children until she let's them go at last
And she's chosen where to be, though she's lost her wedding ring
Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds

There are things we can't recall, Blind as night that finds us all
Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls
But my hands remember hers, rolling around the shaded ferns
Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I'd never learned

There are names across the sea, only now I do believe
Sometimes, with the window closed, she'll sit and think of me
But she'll mend his tattered clothes and they'll kiss as if they know
A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone


Lyrics submitted by sethbrown

"Passing Afternoon" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Passing Afternoon song meanings
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  • +4
    General Commentthis song makes me speechless....
    well done.
    kassettenmaedchenon April 14, 2004   Link
  • +4
    General Commenti spent a great deal of time thinking about this song.
    Sam compares the narrator of the song to the different seasons
    summer, autumn, spring and winter = the narrator
    also, the Bougainvillea flower is a metaphor for the woman's heart.

    according to me, this is what the song is saying

    There are times that walk from you
    Like some passing afternoon
    there are instances in your life where things escape you

    - he then proceeds to retell his personal experience with that


    Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
    And she chose a yard to burn
    But the ground remembers her
    Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms

    -he meets a married woman and has an affair with her
    she chooses to end it
    but he still remembers her
    their love (children) moves (stirs) her heart



    There are things that drift away
    Like our endless numbered days

    -he restates that there are things that drift away (this love in particular)

    Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
    And she's chosen to believe
    In the hymns her mother sings
    Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

    -he complicates her life/marriage (messes up her bed)
    and she chooses to believe
    in the morals/beliefs of her mother (ie: trying to salvage the marriage)
    so she tries to pull out the love that was once in her marriage


    There are sailing ships that pass
    All our bodies in the grass


    Springtime calls her children until she lets them go at last
    And she's chosen where to be
    Though she's lost her wedding ring
    Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds

    he (springtime) holds onto their love (children) until she lets it go
    and she chooses where she wants to be (with her husband)
    even though she lost her wedding ring (her love for her husband)
    somewhere near her misplaced heart (which is currently dead/dormant)


    There are things we can't recall
    Blind as night that finds us all


    Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls
    But my hands remember hers
    Rolling around the shaded ferns
    Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I'd never learned
    There are names across the sea
    Only now I do believe
    Sometimes, with the window closed, she'll sit and think of me
    But she'll mend his tattered clothes
    And they'll kiss as if they know
    A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

    he tucks the love to sleep
    but his hands remember hers
    he doesn't understand why she chose to go back to her husband
    but out of everyone she knows
    even though she's now faithful to her husband (the window has been closed) he still hopes that she thinks of him
    but instead she tries to mend the marriage with her husband
    and she'll kiss him
    but they'll both know they're together only because they're afraid of being alone.


    well that's my interpretation.. this song is simply beautiful.
    honeyplumon January 06, 2010   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis song is stunning. Notice how there's different seasons in each verse, and the progress of the gardening (first there's blooms, then there's fallen leaves, then there's jars of seeds). All beautifully reflected in the wistful memories. Phenomenal song.
    smallwonderroboton April 06, 2005   Link
  • +3
    General CommentThis song is, in my opinion, written from the perpsective of a man who lost his wife to another man. The author and said woman are together during the summer when it was warm and her "Bougainvillea blooms". Then she left him and her children in the autumn, which "blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made." This line comes from the popular phrase "you made your bed, now you have to sleep in it." The "perfect bed she made" was the love the author and woman used to have, but autumn messed it up. The woman has chosen to be with the new man, but the author finds closure in the fact that she still thinks of him while ignoring the outside world. "Only now I do believe
    Sometimes, with the window closed, she'll sit and think of me" The last line of the song means that she chose to be with the new man only because she was afraid to be alone.
    Reciprocity92on December 08, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General CommentIf you break apart the song by lines based on the first 4 verses/sections it is somewhat interesting. Here it is:

    There are times that walk from you
    Like some passing afternoon
    There are things that drift away
    Like our endless numbered days
    There are sailing ships that pass
    All our bodies in the grass
    There are things we can't recall
    Blind as night that finds us all

    These set the tone for that particular verse in my opinion all of course have to deal with how time passes us by and it being both odd how we remember various experiences throughout our lives and how we forget some.

    Next section:

    Summer warmed the open window of her honeymoon
    Autumn blew the quilt right off the perfect bed she made
    Springtime calls her children until she lets them go at last
    Winter tucks her children in, her fragile china dolls


    These lines give an analogy for the breakdown of a life being like a year. Perhaps this is simply a comparison to the narrator's story/memory to a single year. It could also be simply the way the narrator remembers the woman being described in this song. It is possible that a series of events happened over a year but I don't think that is the case...

    Next section:

    And she chose a yard to burn
    But the ground remembers her
    And she's chosen to believe
    In the hymns her mother sings
    And she's chosen where to be
    Though she's lost her wedding ring
    But my hands remember hers
    Rolling around the shaded ferns

    Informs the listener to the state of the woman in those parts of her life or during that "year".

    Next section:

    Wooden spoons, her children stir her Bougainvillea blooms
    Sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves
    Somewhere near her misplaced jar of Bougainvillea seeds
    Naked arms, her secrets still like songs I'd never learned

    All lines have something to do with the children in this song. Not all lines stand alone well particularly the last two but I think they are appropriate for my theory of breaking the song apart a bit. The lines still have to do with the children in relation to the narrator and the woman.

    The last verse is taken separately.

    There are names across the sea
    Only now I do believe
    Sometimes, with the window closed, she'll sit and think of me
    But she'll mend his tattered clothes
    And they'll kiss as if they know
    A baby sleeps in all our bones, so scared to be alone

    This is the reflection of the narrator. Based on this break down I think this song is about one or some combination of three things:

    It seems extremely clear it is about a marriage that ended for some reason. Given the lines about children it almost seems like they had children then as the nest emptied the love between narrator and woman faded. The only problem I see with this is the last verse. When you take the song as a whole but keeping the breakdown of sections into consideration and tie in the last verse it almost seems like there was a happy marriage that had children in it or planned to be in it. Then as time passes for various reasons this relationship sours I think it is either due to the death of the child/children or even possibly an abortion.

    It also seems clear that the second man (not the narrator) the woman ends up with knew both the narrator and woman. "They'll kiss as if they know a baby sleeps in all our bones..."

    That all being said my last idea which is the one I lean closest to is the following: Narrator and woman are married, things are great, they have a kid or kids, they get divorced due to an affair on the part of the woman. It isn't that she is simply lusting after this other man that is presumably a friend of the family, but perhaps the man she loved and married isn't quite the same anymore or even simply the love they had has changed over time. A Bougainvillea is a flower that blooms all year obviously this could be a metaphor for an everlasting love but the woman's seems to have dried up. Maybe the kid leaves or is messed up from the divorce the ending of the song suggests that everyone understands that they all in various ways abandoned a child through perhaps a series of coincidental actions. But regardless, all their actions were chosen. Meh, just a theory and certainly not flawless I'm tired of typing though.
    cyclonus29on September 16, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti gather that this song is about how our lives are so temporary (endless numbered days, sailing ships that pass, things we can't recall) and how we're scared as human beings that we don't remember everything and that everything in our lives isnt permanent.

    this is such a brutiful song.
    tactforwiton June 26, 2004   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI agree with Sam and Way. The song seems to follow a progression through her life, from when they married. Springtime is left off, because thats childhood and the characters arent together then. Summer is linked to a honeymoon, autumn is domestic and God-fearing, winter brings death and loniness.
    dagwoodon September 29, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentimpermanence impermanence impermanence
    koolairdon October 31, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI first heard this song while taking a cross country road trip through South Africa and since then I have been able to think of nothing else while listening to this song.

    It was one of those beautiful contemplative days, with the bright blue sky stretching endlessly across green pasture, marked by the occasional colorful mud round house, usually surrounded by vinyards, or pastures with goats and sheep. Very appropriate scenery for listening to Iron and Wine. I started thinking about the stories of the women living in the round houses and this is the story I came up with to accompany the song:

    All of this is sung from the point of view of her husband, who only gets to see his family once a year because he has taken a job in the city.

    She was born as a servant to a wealthy white land owner during apartheid. During the youth uprisings of the 1970s, she and some other radical youth from the African National Congress (including the husband) burned the landowners estate, but she felt great remorse for it afterward (and she chose a yard to burn, but the ground remembers her)

    Despite the fevor of their youth, she has been forced to settle down to a traditional, quiet life. Like most of the other women, she only gets to see her husband once a year, but she chooses to stay in the country and dedicate her life to raising children.

    She is devoutly christian, as many South Africans are, (and she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings) and uses her faith to comfort her through her dissapointment in life.

    She was hoping that at least one of her children would stay with her to comfort her in her old age, but all of them get scholarships to the university with the fall of apartheid and leave her alone. To comfort herself, she takes a lover. (lost her wedding ring)

    The last two verses are her husband lamenting that she cannot be near him. He has no remorse over the fact that she has taken a lover, because he has taken lovers as well, but he still pines for the quiet, intimate country life that he cannot have, and curses the capitalist system that prevents poor Africans from building lifelong intimate relationships with their families.

    When the line "there are names across the sea" came up, it gave me chills. I live in America, and South Africa is about as far as you can possibly get from the United States. But I am sure that this has been the life story for so many African women, and I was glad that this song could connect me to them, even if I will never know their names.
    imaginaryordinaryon January 09, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMaybe it's just 'cause I'm like not good at interpreting stuff at ALL, but when I first heard this song was the season 4 finale of House, Wilson's Heart. It plays while Wilson is saying goodbye to his love, Amber, while she dies. When I hear it now, the "passing afternoon" and "sailing ships that pass" remind me of how all things come to pass. And "she chose a yard to burn" means she chose a place to settle, with Wilson, and as she died she burned him. "Sunday pulls its children from the piles of fallen leaves" I take that as good things [children] coming from dead/bad things [dead leaves]. Due to Amber's death, Wilson and House's frienship would never have been tested and they would have stayed being mediocre friends. This episode is SO SAD. Every time I watch it I cry. :/ I don't know, this is all very relative to House, but it's what it makes me think of.
    everybodyliesxon January 29, 2009   Link

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