"Sodom, South Georgia" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
Papa died smiling
Wide as the ring of a bell
Gone all star white
Small as a wish in a well
And Sodom, South Georgia
Woke like a tree full of bees
Buried in Christmas
Bows and a blanket of weeds

Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, "God is good"
White tongues hang out, "God is good"

Papa died while my
Girl Lady Edith was born
Both heads fell like
Eyes on a crack in the door
And Sodom, South Georgia
Slept on an acre of bones
Slept through Christmas
Slept like a bucket of snow

Papa died Sunday and I understood
All dead white boys say, "God is good"
White tongues hang out, "God is good"


Lyrics submitted by feverdream

"Sodom, South Georgia" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

Lyrics powered by LyricFind

Sodom, South Georgia song meanings
Add your thoughts

56 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +7
    General Comment"White tongues hang out... God is good."

    White tongues are gravestones. The inscriptions are so pervasively - and in this case, hollowly - full of an unquestioning faith.

    "Papa died sunday, and I... understood. All dead white boys say... God is good." But Beam doesn't give us a perspective on a speaker that has much choice or freedom to think any other way; there is something in the tone that is, if not ominous, as already suggested, deeply, deeply resigned.

    That's the best word I can put to it: resigned. But there is a deeper beauty at work here, I would argue (as with most of Beam's work): "Papa died while my / Girl, lady Edith was born. / Both 'heads' felt like / Eyes on the crack in the door."

    This is, I think, a song about the circularity of existence - the coming and going, and the speaker being somehow caught in a place where he can't fight it, but still cannot help but wonder at the power of it. The pathos in certain lines - "Papa died smiling / Wide as the ring of a bell" and "Slept through Christmas / Slept on an acre of bones" - Reflects both an intense recognition of and resignation toward the events that he (the speaker) is forced to negotiate. It's a combination of awe and awfulness, a collision of the secular and sacred, that is the focus of this speaker's experience - and there is a sort of helplessness AND hopefullness bound up in his recognition of this.

    It's a celebration - of both life and death. I think the rest of the album carries this theme as well. It carried me through hurricane Ivan, and the loss of my home. Something about it is able to embrace the... wholeness... of so many apparently differentiated things. And I think this song is the best point of that whole album.
    broken-hallelujahon December 09, 2005   Link
  • +5
    General CommentThe lyric is small as a wish in a well, as sweetaddy said, which fits much better... As far as the title goes, Sodom was a biblical city that God chose to destroy because of its immorality, and he told Abraham of his plan. Abraham, whose nephew lived in Sodom, pleaded with God to spare the city, and God agreed to spare it if 50 righteous people could be found in the city. Only one righteous person could be found, and this was the nephew of Abraham.

    In the song, this could suggest that 'papa' is the only righteous person within the city. This explains why the rest of the city is described as a tree full of bees, buried in chirstmas bows and a blanket of weeds (a lack of respect/understanding of the holiday), and why they slept through christmas.
    Papa is described as 'gone all star white'- white robes clothed angels, and represent purity.

    I think that this describes Sam's ultimate understanding of the faith of his parents. When he says "Papa died Sunday and I understood
    All dead white boys say, "God is good"
    White tongues hang out, "God is good" I think he is realizing that there is a difference between seeming to be righteous, and actually living a righteous life- even though everyone in the city goes through the motions, only 'papa' understood what this faith really meant.

    This is unquestionably an intricately beautiful song.
    xac56on June 03, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Commenti would say that its an awakening story for the main character. He comes to see the devotion that people have to God eventhough they are dead, while "white tongues hang out". It doesnt really seem like a nice death to me from the way he describes it. And in my opinion, he realizes the reality of life and that there isnt a true God, because what kind of God would let people die? So i think he loses faith, and then says "God is good" from the perspective of the dead white boys. And he understands that he doesnt want to really be like them.
    kid with a cameraon September 07, 2005   Link
  • +2
    General CommentHmm...i've been listening to this song for many hours now... and i've read over all of your comments, but i'd like to offer a different perspective.

    papa died.... it seems that the father in this song may have been very devout, the words bell, white, and wishing well are all associated with things pure... (I realize wishing well is a stretch, but think of a child's facsination with them, that type of unjaded thought)

    and sodom, south georgia .... I think the title of the song here is very important, "woke like a tree full of bees" - the town, woke up just as busy as ever, never stopping to think of what may come when they actually pass away, and "buried in christmas bows and a blanket of weeds" suggests that they(general people) don't think of the consequence of thier lives because they feel they are good people ... they celebrate christmas (at least on the outside) but the blanket of weeds suggest to me that they forgot the meaning of the holiday a long ago ... and the singer is lamenting this...

    papa died sunday and I understood .... the significance of sunday here suggests that what the singer is understanding is what he feels the town is missing, that there are consequences to this life and there is more to the picture than merely surviving...

    all dead white boys say "god is good" ... all white tongues hang out "god is good" ... this again is seems to be a picture of outward christianity (presumably, this is south georgia) ... all dead white boys seems to be sarcastic... all "spiritually dead" but outwardly pure walk around saying cliche things like "god is good" (we've all met them?). same deal with the tombstones... it's an outward show ...

    papa died while my girl lady edith was born ... both heads fell like eyes on a crack in the door .... continuation of life, and possibly a reference to the passing of sin from generations to the next (to follow along the theme of the singer beginning to understand life's perdicament) ((very powerful imagery))

    and back to "sodom, south georgia" "slept on an acre of bones, slept through christmas" suggests that most likely all of the people of the town have had similiar experiences as that of the singer... but after a little while, and or feeling very "spiritual" because of ritual things like christmas ... the people lose the truth and continue to spiritually sleep through christmas.. (christmas in the tune seems to refer to the whole of jesus focused christianity.. not just the holiday as we know it) ...

    i like the word resignation (broken-hallelujah) to describe the mood here... in a time of such confusion and pain, and being faced with realization of the human condition it is hard to not feel helpless and thus resigned ....

    anyway, i'm not sure if that will come off as clear as i would have hoped, and forgive any spelling errors, i just plowed through .. hehe... i should be studying for finals... if you have any questions feel free to contact me , or post here ... let me know what you think ... it's a great song.
    Mjc209on December 13, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commentmaybe Sam Beam could tell us...someone call him...
    Wilsongon March 15, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General Commenti'll call.
    sofreshon March 17, 2005   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe reason why you all can't figure out why the town is named "Sodom" is that you assume the beautiful music and peaceful lyrical imagery means the song is supposed to be taken in a positive note. It isn't. The song, while indeed beautiful, is actually pretty negative. The music and lyrics are filled with regret, hidden below the surface. Allow me to explain based on how I hear the lyrics, not just the music.

    The father of the narrator (whether the narrator is Sam Beam himself or just some fictional character for the song, I don't know) is a member of the KKK. Probably one of the senior members. He's killed a lot of people, a fact he's been able to keep hidden from the law, and now that he's on his deathbed, away from jail or any sense of earthly comeuppance, he's relieved to have essentially gotten away with it. He may have even just confessed his crimes, pleased to know that it's too late for any arrests.

    The narrator, on the other hand, does not share his father's racism, and intends on raising his newborn daughter differently. As one generation ends in violence and sin, another is born anew, ready to help right the wrongs of the past. The narrator loves his father, however, if only because he's his father. The recognition of his newfound responsibility raising his daughter the right way, combined with his surprisingly loving feelings toward his despicable father (whom he can't help by marvel at how precious he is in death), fills the narrator with a newfound understanding on the power each individual holds to make the world a better place, to save the "Sodom" of racist south Georgia that he lives in.

    The real key in understanding how I came to this conclusion is the constant reference to the color white; such a motif is not a coincidence, but a direct clue as to how the song is to be interpreted. With that in mind, the rest of the song has to be viewed through those lenses, in particular the interpretation a few lines:

    -"buried in Christmas bows and a blanket of weeds"

    The Christmas bows alludes to the perception of happiness and wholesomeness in the average day of Sodom, the way the town would like to view itself. What could be less evil than presents on Christmas day? And besides, whatever evil there is is pretty well hidden, beneath that blanket of weeds.

    -"woke like a tree full of bees"

    But if whatever was hidden beneath that blanket of weeds was revealed, it would cause quite a stir, yes? Everyone would be agitated and panicky, the quiet disturbed by someone or something shaking the nest. But what could rattle everyone so?

    -"slept on an acre of bones...slept like a bucket of snow"

    An acre of bones is a lot of bones; probably a few hundred people, if not close to a thousand. If there are that many dead bodies, why does the town of Sodom sleep so soundly? Imagine if your town lost hundreds of people, it would be a local crisis. And metaphorically, there's no reason to say "a bucket of snow" unless you want to highlight the whiteness of those who sleep. A bunch of white southerners sleeping soundly while the bodies of hundreds rot beneath them, in a town named after an Biblical city of "immorality".

    -"white tongues hang out"

    The few people said that the white tongues are tombstones, but tombstones don't "hang out" of anything, that's what actual tongues do. And tongues are used in speech, it's how we talk.

    Maybe Papa's tongue "hung out" while he was "smiling". Maybe he peeled back the "blanket of weeds" to reveal the "acre of bones" beneath the wholesome "Christmas bows", setting everyone off like a "tree full of bees". See where I'm getting at here?

    -"all dead white boys say 'God is good'"

    To me, this is the biggest clue as to what the song is about: if white boys think God is good, what do "black boys" say? "God is not good"? If so, why would they think that? Sam Beam felt the need to point out that this is what WHITE boys think, not just any boy, so that's not to be ignored. And given that the line holds great importance in the chorus, it's essentially the central line of the whole song.

    A dying white boy would think that God is pretty good if he never had to answer for what he did, or believes that he won't in the afterlife either. And that's what the narrator finally "understood": his racist, murdering father died believing he was morally righteous. He'd better not let Lady Edith feel the same way, and since she has just been born, he has all the time in the world to make sure their similarities end in how their limp heads fall (Papa's falling because he just died, Edith's falling because she can't hold her neck up without her father's help).
    enough5on August 08, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI've read all of the other comments, and they've really helped to clear things up. I don't know that I have anything to add in that respect. Instead I'll just marvel.

    The first few times I listened to the album, a few songs stood out. This was not one of them. And then I heard it late at night, sitting in bed, and I was just awestruck. It's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard. It makes me feel like I'm slowly drifting into sleep, or death..

    More than that, I'm on the verge of tears almost every time. All I can think about is my own father, the fact that I'll someday lose him.. and that maybe this is what it will feel like. But it's beautiful, it's sad but accepting, and so utterly peaceful.

    Enough5 has an interesting interpretation. After looking past my initial emotional response, I can see what he's talking about. It makes a good deal of sense. At first I had thought that the "white" motif was in reference to the pallor of death, but I did think there was something a bit off with that perception. The "white" imagery, the mention of snow and Christmas, seems especially strange when one considers that this is taking place in South Georgia, where snow would be extremely rare (and snow is often associated with Christmas). Even the music has a wintry feel.. at least for me. Perhaps I'm biased since it frequently snows in the winter here.

    I guess I see it as having a dual nature: there's the negative aspect which enough5 has mentioned, but the song as a whole evokes some rather strong emotions in the listener. The first time I listened to it I got the impression of both deep love and deep sadness. Repeated listens bring out a sense of resignation, pure wonder at life, and little bitterness.
    margoloveon September 28, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song's pretty straight forward--it's about the contrasts one faces in light of the death of a parent, particularly about spirituality and the mystery of existence. Contrast is a common tool Beam uses, and the one he builds in this song between the two extremes of the spiritual insights he confronts in the death of this person and the spiritual deadness of the living is central, I think, to interpreting it. I don’t think it’s so much about God, or specifically the Christian religion, as it is about the speaker in the song seeing something ineffable in the death of a parent and the birth of a child and contrasting that against the relative lack of spiritual insight people generally have.

    The first stanza is delivered without bitterness—beautiful images in a way. Having seen a parent die of cancer, it evokes the terrible sadness, relief and awe of that event. The peacefulness of this person's death—a smile heard for miles—that's a great metaphor, and it speaks to the potential influence of this person on his community (and the potential impact of his death on the oblivious community).
    The juxtaposition of death with Christmas and winter universalizes Beam's theme here. Sodom, of course, refers to one of the notorious “cities of the plain” from the book of Genesis, which were destroyed by two angels of God with fire and brimstone because of its denizens’ debauchery. In Genesis 18, God tells Abraham, “I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant,” after which, Abraham bargains with God for the fate of the city, finally getting Him to agree not to destroy it if there are at least 10 good men residing there, which it turns out, there isn’t. The result is in Genesis 19: “The Lord rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah. He utterly destroyed them, along with the other cities and villages of the plain, wiping out all the people and every bit of vegetation….. Abraham got up early that morning and hurried out to the place where he had stood in the Lord’s presence. He looked out across the plain toward Sodom and Gomorrah and watched as columns of smoke rose from the cities like smoke from a furnace.” So, Sodom, as a metaphor, represents a place that is godless in two states—first as a community that chooses this state, and then later as a literal hell, a desolate mass graveyard, when it experiences the fulfillment of that choice, or ultimate absence of God as an object of His wrath.
    I think the point of the title is to universalize the theme—perhaps the real event was in south Georgia, but as "Sodom," it could be any town—the point is not the “place” so much as the people who make up the town (a collective, like “a tree full of bees), and the dead, frozen terrain is a metaphor for their spiritual deadness. It is also an ironic image because it doesn’t snow in South Georgia, but this only serves to universalize the image even further and offers another contrast, this time against the firey fate of the historical Sodom. As such, the metaphor simply serves to contrast the reality of human disconnection with experience against the now “holy” status of the dead man, or the awe of death and the possibility of heaven; after all, he's "Gone all star white," which on the simplest level is a description of his age (white hair) and the pale complexion of the dead. But it also suggests this holiness—like an angelic being—and the common idea of the dead person moving toward a bright light, moving in the direction of heaven. Nonetheless, this is not necessarily because “Papa” was any better than anyone else when he lived. Perhaps he was, but that isn’t the point—it is his death that makes him this way because it is in his death that the speaker in the song is given spiritual insight.
    The dead man's status throws into relief the status of the living man's—all are fallen, so every place is a kind of Sodom. The fact that the town awakes like "a tree full of bees," busy about the business of preparing for the holiday, but oblivious to the loss of one of its members illuminates the sad reality that we live in community, but by its very nature, community separates and isolates us—in Sodom, there is no real “community,” only proximity. The most vivid example of the “sin” of the historical Sodom occurs when the Angels are staying as guests at Lot’s house and all of the men of Sodom come to his door demanding to have access to his guests so that they can gang-rape them. This is dehumanizing behavior; likewise, the indifference of the townspeople in the song is a sort of dehumanization as well.
    The contrast between the busy town scene and the death scene is the product of the speaker’s awe, who, like the speaker in Auden’s poem “Stop all the clocks…” sees the death as something that should inspire everyone to stop in recognition.

    Christmas provides another ironic contrast to the holiness issue—It's the high Christian “holy day, and yet spirituality has very little to do with it for most people. This informs the next stanza, which is an enormously ugly image in what most consider a "beautiful" lyric:

    Papa died Sunday and I understood
    All dead white boys say, "God is good"
    White tongues hang out, "God is good"

    There is a parallel here—the "dead white boy" is Papa, but is also the spiritually dead people in the town—Sodom, which is everytown. The "white tongues hang out" is an ugly metaphor that recalls the stark reality of death and further emphasizes the spiritual deadness of those townpeople, who may voice such religious rhetoric in the course of celebrating the holiday, but they are in reality spiritually “dead white boys” with dead “white tongues” that “hang out.”

    The second stanza sounds very personal, and I think it’s about the circular quality of life and death—a new life replacing the old, lost one. More significantly, Beam is aligning birth and death as relative emotive experiences that suggest this ineffable human quality. Interesting parallel between a head falling in death and the way a newborn cannot hold its head up…

    The next section, where the town…

    Slept on an acre of bones
    Slept through Christmas
    Slept like a bucket of snow

    Of course every place exists “on an acre of bones” in the sense the living creatures have died and fallen to the earth or been buried for millions of years; however, this is another contrasting metaphor—this time it focuses on the new life contrasted against eons of death and also recalls the mood/sentiment on the relative insignificance we lend to birth in the same sense as the passing of a life. As such, the song is an ironic celebration of perhaps the two most significant and defining events of human existence. Perhaps the biggest contrast of all is between the spiritual hope that is intrinsic to both the experience of the passing of a life and the beginning of a new one rarified against the vast history of death and the rational conviction of mortality as our final destination.
    Jabbertxon November 20, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI don't know if anyone has said this yet but this is how I see it:

    * Experiencing death, or being around death makes people think about their mortality and realize that they too will die some day, which as a result, brings out their religion.

    Allow me to explain...

    okay so he starts by telling us that his father died and in the second stanza:

    "And Sodom, South Georgia
    woke like a tree full of bees
    buried in christmas bows
    and a blanket of weeds"

    After his father died, the whole town "woke like a tree full of bees" and realized that death is a very real and scary thing. He describes the town as "buried in christmas bows" indicating that they are focusing only on gifts and material items on the most holy day of the year.

    "Papa died and I understood
    All dead white boys say, "God is good."
    White tongues hang out, "God is good."

    He is describing his realization that only after someone dies do people begin to whip out their bibles and praise, "God is good." it is the fear of death that drives people to christianity.

    "Papa died while my girl
    Lady Edith was born
    both heads fell like
    eyes on a crack in the door

    And Sodom, South Georgia
    Slept on an acre of bones
    Slept through Christmas
    Slept like a bucket of snow"

    Here he says the town "slept through christmas" which is supposed to be the most holy day of the year. but since no one died it's of no importance to them.
    When his daughter was born, Everyone just "slept like a bucket of snow." Instead of praising God for bringing life into the world, they only respond to death because it makes them realize that they too are mortal and will die some day.

    Personally, I completely agree with Sam Bean. People use religion now a days as more of a safety net. They think:"hey, if i go to church and every once and a while and seem to look like I care about what's in the bible then i'll go to heaven and I don't have to worry about a thing!"
    which is complete bullshit.
    personally, I am not a religious person in any way. but i am still disgusted by people who think they are better than me because they are following this so-called "word of God." when in reality they aren't even doing that. they just consider themselves loving christians in a time that concerns death in order to put their minds at easy when asking themselves the question, "am i going to heaven?"
    cataclysm98on September 22, 2008   Link

Add your thoughts

Log in now to tell us what you think this song means.

Don’t have an account? Create an account with SongMeanings to post comments, submit lyrics, and more. It’s super easy, we promise!

Back to top
explain