I became a thin blue flame
Polished on a mountain range
And over hills and fields I flew
Wrapped up in a royal blue
I flew over Royal City last night
A bullfighter on the horns of a new moon's light
Caesar's ghost I saw the war-time tides
The prince of Denmark's father's still and quiet
And the whole world was looking to get drowned
Trees were a fist shaking themselves at the clouds
I looked over curtains and it was then that I knew
Only a full house gonna make it through

I became a thin blue wire
That held the world above the fire
And so it was I saw behind
Heaven's just a thin blue line
If God's up there he's in a cold dark room
The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons
He bent down and made the world in seven days
And ever since he's been a'walking away
Mixing with nitrogen in lonely holes
Where neither seraphim or raindrops go
I see an old man wandering the halls alone
Only a full house gonna make a home

I became a thin blue stream
The smoke between asleep and dreams
And in that clear blue undertow
I saw Royal City far below
Borders soft with refugees
Streets a'swimming with amputees
It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart
It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart
Days are nights and the nights are long
Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs
And those still looking in the clear blue sky for a sign
Get missiles from so high they might as well be divine
Now the wolves are howling at our door
Singing bout vengeance like it's the joy of the Lord
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round
They're guilty when killed and they're killed where they're found
If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high
It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die
Where even Laurel begs Hardy for vengeance please
The fat man is crying on his hands and his knees
Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage
Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage
Lead pellets peppering aluminum
Halcyon, laudanum and Opium
Sings kiss thee hardy this poisoned cup
His winding sheet is busy winding up
In darkness he looks for the light that has died
But you need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find
And this whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck
And like good tragedy that's what we expect
At night I make plans for a city laid down
Like the hips of a girl on the spring covered ground
Spirals and capitals like the twist of a script
Streets named for heroes that could almost exist
The fruit trees of Eden and the gardens that seem
To float like the smoke from a lithium dream
Cedar trees growing in the cool of the squares
The young women walking in the portals of prayer
And the future glass buildings and the past an address
And the weddings in pollen and the wine bottomless
And all wrongs forgotten and all vengeance made right
The suffering verbs put to sleep in the night
The future descending like a bright chandelier
And the world just beginning and the guests in good cheer
In Royal City I fell into a trance
Oh it's hell to believe there ain't a hell of a chance

I woke beneath a clear blue sky
The sun a shout the breeze a sigh
My old hometown and the streets I knew
Were wrapped up in a royal blue
I heard my friends laughing out across the fields
The girls in the gloaming and the birds on the wheel
The raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay
Cicadas electric in the heat of the day
A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land
And the lake was a diamond in the valley's hand
The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts
They were coming together they pulling apart
And angels everywhere were in my midst
In the ones that I loved in the ones that I kissed
I wondered what it was I'd been looking for up above
Heaven is so big there ain't no need to look up
So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air
Only a full house gonna have a prayer



Lyrics submitted by black eye event

"Thin Blue Flame" as written by Josh Ritter

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

Lyrics powered by LyricFind


Thin Blue Flame song meanings
Add your thoughts

34 Comments

sort form View by:
  • +2
    General Comment:I love this song.. all 9 minutes of it!
    there's so much to interpret and a lot of symbolism..
    this is what I understand but I might be way off-

    --ok.. the first stanza seems to have some Shakespeare references… from Caesar’s ghost to the prince of Denmark (hamlet?)…and I was wondering if the “war-time tides” line has anything to do with the quote in Julius Caesar “there is a tide in the affairs of men…” -just a thought?

    --and then there’s the whole heaven/hell theme. Ritter mentions the small line between heaven and hell, “Heavens just a thin blue line” and he appears to be the only thing saving everyone from hell, “became a thin blue wire that held the world above the fire.”
    From there he questions God’s existence altogether and then concedes that God is there but not watching over us “If God’s up there… been a’walking away” I really like the lines- “Mixing with nitrogen… or raindrops go.” Nitrogen is French for lifeless so maybe that’s meant to add to the loneliness. A seraph is an angel, the highest order of angels. And seen as a caretaker of God’s throne so in those lines “Mixing with nitrogen… or raindrops go,” it seems not only did God abandon man but His caretaker left God, too.

    --then Josh talks about war fought in the name of God in the next few lines: “Streets swimming with amputees… not the other way around”

    --then there’s the Laurel and Hardy theme… those 2 were a comedy duo a long time ago (slapstick comedy, Hardy was fat and the Laurel was skinny) but Hardy ended up dying (Ritter addresses his death with the “It’s a hell of a heaven…” line) pretty young of a stroke after losing over a hundred pounds- “the fat man is crying…” which threw Laurel into a depression. The duo was already fading troubles and after Hardy died Laurel quit altogether: “Back in the peacetime he caught roses on the stage Now he twists indecision takes bourbon for rage” shows their success and eventually Laurels depression. Halcion, Laudanum and Opium are all drugs. The rest of the stanza talks about how our society loves to hear about tragedy

    --suddenly there’s a quick tone change and he sings about happier things, “all wrongs forgotten…” “…suffering verbs put to sleep…” “…good cheer.” yet it all seems sort of fake. And the line “Oh it’s hell to believe there ain’t a hell of a chance” makes it seem like the only reason he sings about happier things is: it’s better to fool yourself into thinking things might work out than know they won’t.

    --and finally there’s obviously a major reference to poker (especially in the last stanza) but I’m not sure why..
    “A RUN of Three Sisters and the FLUSH of the land
    And the lake was a DIAMOND in the valley’s HAND
    The STRAIGHT of the highway and the scattered out HEARTS”
    ..not to mention the constant “royal blue” and “full house” reference.

    phew.. those are just my thoughts, awesome song anyway, Josh never lets me down.
    i'd love to hear others' thoughts...
    bubbagumpon June 23, 2006   Link
  • +2
    General Comment:I think many are underplaying the poker references. It's like he's looking for a royal flush, a perfect hand, something completely unbeatable. This is paralleled to the idea of heaven, a perfect hand for a perfect place. Royal blue religious overtones in a king arriving, he sees himself wrapped up in it, seemingly a messenger of god's will on earth, as the king come to complete the royal flush. When he talks about looking over the curtain it makes me think of peering behind the curtain of a show to see the inner workings.

    Then he becomes a thin blue wire, referencing religion's self professed morality, that the church teaches people morality, that it saves them. He however sees again behind the curtain to understand how cold and hollow the religious rules are as they are based on some heaven/hell punishment reward system. This can be seen in referencing Heaven as a thin blue line(referring to the police), also the thin blue line could be referring to the line in the earth's atmosphere which plays strongly in the song. This would serve to further remove holy mysticism and god from religion and is strengthened by referring to nitrogen where neither seraphim nor raindrops go. Essentially what he's saying is there is no city in the sky just the stratosphere, troposphere, and various gasses. He also sees god as being removed from our lives (he made the world in seven days, ever since he's been walking away).

    Third stanza is the biggest but in the first half (before the laurel and hardy interlude) it seems to be a straightforward affair about religious extremist violence. Then in referring to Laurel and Hardy he uses the line 'halcyon, laudanum and opium' which strongly evokes, for me at least, the 3 gifts of the wise men, gold, frankincense and myrrh. But these three gifts, where two are narcotics and one references the idea of nostalgia, thinking back to an ideal, earlier time which works nicely into looking for the light that has died. The last part seems to build on that narcotic bliss with heroes that could almost exist, and gardens like a lithium dream suggesting the unreality of this depiction. After seeing the horrible things being done in the world, and in the name of religion, he retreats to this fantasy.

    Finally he wakes from the dream, essentially waking up from the search for a mystical heaven and sees that it's all around him, wrapped in royal blue and full of angels. More card references here and he decides that he's done trying to search out this heaven in the sky, done looking for a royal flush. What he needs is a full house, an earthly hand with connotations of human connection.
    squidyjon August 09, 2010   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:"Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs"

    that line is incredible.
    theAliceon March 27, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:I love the line

    "Heaven's so big there ain't no need to look up"

    To me that says that the world we live in is as beautiful as any heaven could be, so we should enjoy it while we're here. I agree that this is one of the most moving and beautiful songs ever written.
    mattcordenon May 08, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Comment:For what it's worth, the title of this song is a S.T. Coleridge reference. From Coleridge's poem "Frost at Midnight":

    "Sea, and hill, and wood,
    With all the numberless goings on of life,
    Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
    Lies on my low burnt fire, and quivers not"

    I might be inclined to think that this were merely coincidence if not for the other seeming references to Coleridge's poetry scattered throughout The Animal Years (for instance, the albatross in "Monster Ballads," which can be seen as an allusion, albeit a frequently used one, to Coleridge's famous "Rime of the Ancient Mariner").
    ka_roskoon April 28, 2012   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:I think this song is about the hypocrisy in religion.

    "Heaven’s just a thin blue line
    If God’s up there he’s in a cold dark room
    The heavenly host are just the cold dark moons
    He bent down and made the world in seven days
    And ever since he’s been a’walking away"

    Josh seems to be questioning the dependability of believing in a God when we live in a world full of hatred and injustice. He finds that instead of relying on salvation in Heaven, he seeks solace through embracing his life on earth.

    amazing song. incredible album.
    amateurxxstandingon May 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:another masterpiece. i could teach class for a week just dissecting this song, and actually may do so! thanks bubbagump for your (marvellously lucid and very much along my thoughts) comments, and ameteurxx for a great summing up--very much what i think.

    i do wonder --i'll have to study this a bit more-- whether there really is the reference to the holy land, or just the middle east, that i think there is --royal city as jerusalem perhaps?-- the missiles, amputees, refugees seem to fit. and i absolutely love 'bringing justice to the enemies not the other way around'. george w please take note!
    wookie007on January 09, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:In addition to what everyone else thinks...I think this song has similar meaning to that of Girl in the War. I think it's another anti-war song.
    Here is my interpretation:

    In the first verse, he is travelling from our world over to the war sites. The references to Hamlet means we should learn from our past. The ghosts of the current war will come back to haunt us.
    The second verse, the elusive "I" is hovering 'above the fire' - the battle fields. God is off in some remote room, not able to see/not wanting to see what we have created.
    In the third verse, we are in the thick of the fighting. There is depression, bloodshed, terror. At the end of that verse, Ritter talks about the formation of a paradise Royal City. The "royal city" we, as America, are planning for Iraq. But like the last line, its hard to believe there aint a hell of a chance.
    The last verse is how things should be...back at home. At home is where everything makes sense. It's the feel of the hometown that he is trying to get across in this song. No matter how much we try to make the Iraqis embrace democracy, what they, as well as us, really need is to allow for what works best for each of us.

    That is just an overview of my thoughts on this song. The beauty of songs is that they can mean something different to different people.
    jlynnsayzon February 01, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:not being american myself gives me a slightly different perspective on the anti-war message; just like girl in the war which still (and always i suspect) will be about the loss of faith and the destructuveness of violence to the human spirt, and antiwar in general, not just irag in particular. it's a bigger picture. we (and i mean the whole of the west here) have been meddling in other people's affairs for far too long, and generally screwing up the middle east (or at least helping!) for over 2000 years.

    what a shame we can't seem to do what is right.
    wookie007on February 04, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General Comment:not being american myself gives me a slightly different perspective on the anti-war message; just like girl in the war which still (and always i suspect) will be about the loss of faith and the destructuveness of violence to the human spirt, and antiwar in general, not just irag in particular. it's a bigger picture. we (and i mean the whole of the west here) have been meddling in other people's affairs for far too long, and generally screwing up the middle east (or at least helping!) for over 2000 years.

    what a shame we can't seem to do what is right.
    wookie007on February 04, 2007   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