The tadpole buoyant as basalt
The seahorse horsing in assault
The owlet in his greenery
The narwhal in his cup of sea
They all believe
They all believe

But collusion bleeds through back alleys
From parapets that end on feet
When one is weak they discretely meet
They throw the bones into the street
And they progress
And we retreat

And all the books our fathers wrote
Are in the middle of the road
Little by little, we implode
History brittle, brown and broke
We can't remember what was spoke
So we stare in wonder at the smoke
What it begets is born alone
We know not now what we have known

Ladies, breathe deep against your whalebones
For your children come home made of stone

The terror seething sees a way
Or like the wheezing of the bay
In miniature agonies
They travel westward on the breeze
Bring us all to our knees

The dappled horse, the sorrel mare
With eyes that do not see but stare
Beneath boots as black as malachite
He drives the nag into the night
Into the night

And all the baby boys we've born
With eyes averted from the storm
Sent off to die in perfect form
We know now what we have known

Satellite photos rhetoric
See how the euphemisms stick
And when they come back broke and burned
Those who return have no return


Lyrics submitted by lutti

What We Have Known song meanings
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15 Comments

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  • +1
    General CommentBut collusion bleeds through back alleys
    From parapets that end on feet
    When one is weak they discretely meet
    They throw the bones into the street
    And they progress
    And we retreat

    Should, imo, be:

    But collusion bleeds through back alleys
    From parapets that end in feet
    When one is weak we discretely meet
    We throw the bones into the street
    As they progress
    We retreat

    Maybe I have a different version though?
    Whatsifsowhatsiton November 11, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWell, maybe the malachite is just to show the once-black boots are actually just dirty with greenish muck/mud... could also be a military thing ... :/
    Whatsifsowhatsiton June 25, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTruly one of my favorite of Joanna's songs. The way her voice crumbles at "sent off to die in perfect form" makes the moment all the more heartbreaking.

    I wish this song made it to MEM, it deserves to be heard.
    blucowon November 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentSome of the lyrics in one of the stanzas are incorrect. I believe it should be as follows:

    The dappled horse, the sorrel mare
    With eyes that do not see but stare
    Beneath boots as black as malachite
    He drives the nag into the night
    Into the night
    autumnwakeon April 06, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis song is so beautiful. The fragility of her voice in her earlier songs gives them the most ethereal element; when I listen I feel like I should be holding my breath so I don't blow her down.

    I don't think I know a song that matches these lyrics. They are so deliberate and perfect.
    growtallon September 24, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love how she says "Beneath boots as black as malachite"
    Malachite is green.
    awfulatollon November 13, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI love how she says "Beneath boots as black as malachite"
    Malachite is green.
    awfulatollon November 13, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentDoes anyone have any ideas as to what this song means? I'm specifically interested in the "black" malachite, to be honest.
    Whatsifsowhatsiton April 26, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOh... I once thought it was about people being sent off to the army...

    "Ladies, breathe deep against your whalebones
    For your children come home made of stone"

    Aside from the interesting fun fact that she uses whalebones in "Colleen" as well... I think this could be about how they come back made of stone as in... their hearts hardened by what they experienced, and how that must be hard for the mothers.

    "And all the baby boys we've born
    With eyes averted from the storm
    Sent off to die in perfect form
    We know now what we have known"

    Could be something like... the baby boys that they raised so safely, trying to shield them from the tough world outside, are now sent off to fight in the war and possibly die (in perfect form, because they would have to be fit).
    By the way, this should also be "we know not now what we have known", but I'm not sure what she means. I have some thoughts, but I don't wanna speak them because I'm too unsure.

    "And when they come back broke and burned
    Those who return have no return"

    I always heard "those who return have not returned", to be honest, and thought that was meant to say how they had changed, so they're different people now and have thus in a way not returned.
    If it is "Those who return have no return", that could mean something like how they can't erase their experiences to go back to the person they were before.

    It feels to me like there might be some images of the war itself in the rest of the song, but I'm not too good at figuring out imagery like that :( and I dunno what the malachite would be, either.
    Whatsifsowhatsiton April 26, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think there's a tad too much focus on the military imagery of the song.

    I find the opening stanza the most clear basis for the song's antithetical depiction of human "nature". Several animals of (I assume) docile natures in their habitats, holding some vague universal belief.

    Meanwhile, man is faced with increasing troubles that hinder our ability to relate to, or even know, [each other and] that which we were hardwired to be. So we stare at the smoke, the spectacle, accepting the absurdity of human culture, whalebones crushing the body (for who's aesthetic pleasure?), one's value being defined by their untimely death in combat without real reason.

    While Joanna never seems to be too "timely", the clear focus on war could possibly, just a bit, relate to the War on Terrorism the western world is obligated to be in currently. Since the song was first released studio recording in 2003, it's possible.

    I'm sick and my brain is stale. But the phrase, We know not now what we have known, is ringing pretty true in college right now. Why is it so hard to shake off the incongruities we're taught as custom in the teenage years and ... whatever. It starts with personal authenticity.
    tinylittlewordson September 07, 2008   Link

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