"Four Winds" as written by and Oberst....
Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There's people always dying, trying to keep them alive
There are bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where

A squatter's made a mural of a Mexican girl
With fifteen cans of spray paint in a chemical swirl
She's standing in the ashes at the end of the world
Four winds blowing through her hair

But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
She just can't sustain the pressure where it's placed
She caves

The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran's mute
If you burn them all together, you get close to the truth still
They are pouring over Sanskrit on the ivy league moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun

Cast on a school of meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It's knocking over fences, crossing property lines
Four winds, cry until it comes

And it's the sum of man
Slouching towards Bethlehem
A heart just can't contain all of that empty space
It breaks, it breaks, it breaks

Well, I went back to my rented Cadillac and company jet
Like a newly orphaned refugee, retracing my steps
All the way to Cassadaga to commune with the dead
They said, 'You'd better look alive.'

And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps
In the black hills, the bad lands, the calloused east
I buried my ballast, I made my peace
Heard four winds leveling the pines

But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
She just can't remain with all that outer space
She breaks, she breaks, she caves, she caves


Lyrics submitted by HoldenC

"Four Winds" as written by Oberst

Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Four Winds song meanings
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  • +2
    General CommentSpent some time researching and came up with this analysis. I also changed the lyrics to what I think they should be.

    Summary: The fall of America/Western Civilization is imminent, but this isn't the good thing that some would have you believe. The resulting power vacuum will plunge the world into chaos ("she breaks, she caves"), where traditional methods (religion, secular knowledge) will be useless. However, Conor has "made his peace" with this and is ready for whatever's next. See below for more details.

    "Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
    There's people always dying trying to keep them alive
    There's bodies decomposing in containers tonight
    In an abandoned building where"
    -The first two lines are pretty self-explanatory; everyone's always fighting each other. Not sure what the next two mean, though.

    "A squatter's made a mural of a Mexican girl
    With fifteen cans of spray paint in a chemical swirl
    She's standing in the ashes at the end of the world
    Four winds blowing through her hair"
    -To me, this is where the meaning of the song really picks up. I believe that the Mexican girl represents our current civilization. Notice that the squatter used 15 cans of spray paint– 15 is the age of the "Quinceañera," a special celebration for Hispanic girls that marks their coming of age. Conor is saying that our civilization, as well, has reached maturity.
    -Meanwhile, the "girl" is standing in the ashes at the end of the world. Our civilization is either dead or even already destroyed, waiting for something new to arise. The "Four Winds" are a reference to the Book of Ezekiel, Chapter 37, in which God breathes the four winds into dead bones, making them live again and symbolically restoring the broken nation of Israel. What will the four winds bring to the ashes of our world?

    "But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
    She just can't sustain the pressure where it's placed
    She caves"
    -Many people call for "death to America" or what have you, but what happens when this so-called "Great Satan" is gone? I imagine something like a giant hole being ripped in a vacuum, and all of a sudden air rushes out. Think also of a flood of water bursting a dam. When America is gone, "she" (the Mexican girl, aka civilization) can't take the huge power vacuum that is left.
    -"Whore of Babylon" is another Biblical reference, one that refers to a great immoral nation which infects the rest of the world with its evil. Originally directed at Ancient Babylon, it has also been used to describe major civilizations such as the Roman Empire, British Empire, and more recently America.

    "The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran is mute
    If you burn them all together you get close to the truth still
    They are poring over Sanskrit on the Ivy League moons
    While shadows lengthen in the sun"
    -Traditional means of dealing with the upcoming death of civilization will be useless. Both religion (the Bible, etc.) and secular learning institutions ("Ivy League moons").

    "Cast off the school and meditation built to soften the times
    And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
    It's knocking over fences, crossing property lines
    Four winds, cry until it comes"
    -Going along with the previous verse, there is no way to stop the upcoming unraveling of civilization. As others have mentioned, this song relates to Yeats' poem "The Second Coming" very well. Yeats was saying that the "gyre" which held together the universe was unwinding, and that a cataclysmic change was coming. See Wikipedia for more info, it's pretty interesting.
    -"Crossing property lines" refers to national borders being meaningless when the world comes apart.

    "And it's the psalm of man
    Slouching towards Bethlehem
    A heart just can't contain all of that empty space
    It breaks, it breaks, it breaks"
    -Another reference to "The Second Coming," specifically the last lines, where Yeats wonders: "And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
    -Bethlehem is the birthplace of Jesus. Yeats was convinced that a major event, on par with Jesus arriving on Earth, was imminent. "The Second Coming" basically describes the symptoms of this change and darkly wonders what it will be. Bright Eyes is embarking on a similar theme with this song.
    -I think the lyric is "psalm of man," and here's why: when a devout Jew dies, psalms are constantly recited over his body until the body is buried. Due to the religious imagery in the song, I think this meaning is appropriate. The "psalm of man" (i.e. mankind's death lament) is "slouching towards Bethlehem" to usher in the new age, whatever it may be.

    "Well, I went back, in a rented Cadillac, a company jet
    Like a newly orphaned refugee, retracing my steps
    All the way to Cassadega to commune with the dead
    They said, "You'd better look alive"
    -Conor is like a newly orphaned refugee because he realizes that nothing can stop the great changes that are happening? Not too sure about this part.
    -He went to Cassadaga, Florida to talk with some psychics, who also feel the great changes coming. They tell him to "look alive," or in other words "be ready."

    "And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps
    In the Black Hills, the Badlands, the calloused east
    I buried my ballast, I made my peace
    With four winds, levelling the pines"
    -Refers to the massacre of Lakota Indians the U.S. 7th Cavalry, which was ordered to take a group of Lakota to Omaha, Nebraska.
    -Some Native Americans claim that the Black Hills are the "axis mundi," or spiritual center of the world, which would be where things start unravel first.
    -Ballast was used by sailboat operators to weigh the ship down (to prevent capsizing) when there was no cargo. By burying his ballast, Conor is signifying that he is ready for something with real meaning (cargo) as opposed to the meaninglessness he feels now (ballast). He has made his peace with the upcoming cataclysm.
    -The "four winds levelling the pines" means that already the changes are happening, and the four winds of change are destroying what was there before.

    "But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
    She just can't remain with all that outer space
    She caves, she caves, she caves, she caves"
    -Basically sums up the song. "She" (referring back to the Mexican girl, which represents civilization) "just can't remain" once Great Satan is gone. Conor repeats the message for effect: She will cave.

    Read "The Second Coming" and Ezekiel Chapter 37 (both fairly short) and the meaning becomes somewhat clear, although the details leave plenty of room for more interpretation.
    benjam326on February 28, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentFour Winds is both a reference to Ezekiel 37:9 as well as a Neil Young song and slouching towards bethlehem is a reference to W.B. Yeats.

    I believe in the line "I went back by rented cadillac" is in reference to him returning to OMAHA to record parts of Four Winds and Cassadaga, OMAHA is often referenced in his songs whereas he has never mentioned checking into a mental hospital. The song "Lets not shit ourselves" references a time where he almost died from alcohol poisoning.

    I believe this song is about people trying to bring life to what is dead. Hence Cassadaga and the references to Ezekiel. But when you take evil out of the picture the fear of death goes away as well. Hence When great satans gone you can't remain in all that outerspace. Outerspace being the ivy league moons where people debate about religion or what will happen to the dead. Slouching towards bethelhem is a great poem to accompany this. Although being a christian I tend to disagree with what it's saying. AWESOME SONG! I was in the music video so be expecting that out soon!!

    Edited by mellow_harsher on March 28 2007, at 03:18PM

    BrightEyesOfficialon February 06, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentMy Thoery: (feel free to add or debunk)
    I believe that this might be the calling for the end of civilization as we know it. I don't mean the end of civilization, just civilization as we know it. This comes from the "whore of babylon" line. Babylon referring to the beginning of civilization I think? This idea also goes along witht "The Second Coming" poem by Yeats that is mentioned

    Heres some other lines to think about relating to that:
    "Your class, your cash, your country, sect, your name or your tribe"
    "The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qu'ran's mute"
    Both lines have to do with modern ways of organizing civilization and controlling it.
    I also believe that the "great satan" is in reference to modern ideas of religion that use evil or satan(hellfire) to control/scare. It's also a play on words by saying that religion is a satan as well as stating that when satan is gone god will also be gone.
    So in the lines:
    "But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
    She just can't sustain the pressure where it's placed
    She caves"
    addresses both of those ideas.

    To my next point: The calling for the end of them.
    Bright Eyes has somewhat been coined as "apocalyptic folk". Apocalypse referring to a new beginning and all that jazz. I get the idea that it is believed by him/they that the aforementioned ways of organizing civilization can't sustain themselves therefore they "cave". They cannot survive with the changing modern ideas of morality.

    Why should we "burn them all together [to] get close to the truth" or why will they go away?
    Changing morality or a new zeitgeist.
    "There's people always dying trying to keep them alive"
    -war, crusades, terrorism, etc.
    "And I was off to old Dakota where a genocide sleeps
    In the black hills, the bad lands, the calloused east
    I buried my ballast, I made my peace
    With four winds, levelling the pines" - destruction of lives and wilderness in the name of modern civilizations/religion/country.

    In-spite of dogmas (nationalism, religion), that claim to have morality or the right stuff, somehow humans now understand that genocide and irresponsible environmental destruction are wrong.

    Are there holes in this theory, yes. Do some lines appear not to fit, yes. Could I have organized this better to convey my ideas, yes. So input would be appreciated.

    And also, Four Winds may refer to the fact that wind can blow from all directions when everything is destroyed. The image of the girl standing at the end of the world with wind in her hair also falls in place.

    And, any input on what the cover of the new Four Winds EP is. This may also shed some light on meaning for the songs on the EP.
    black eye eventon February 24, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentyes, he is referring to native slaughter, hence "where genocide sleeps"

    and slouching towards Bethlehem is a joan didion essay.
    Vaeon February 26, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAs a musician, I think you all read too deep into things...I mean sure he's a great song writer, but he's just adding to the pile, the pile that will be lost in time. I love bright eyes, as well as deceprideos...but just accept it for what it is. Stop trying to prove what his message is, that's not the point of music in the first place....idk, maybe I'm just blowing smoke. But I wouldn't want people trying to decipher my music, just get down to it. Its a great song....accept it for that.
    polekaton June 30, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI just learned how to play this on guitar, but I'm still working on memorizing all the lyrics. To help me remember them and to attempt to understand what the song's all about, I'm going to break the lyrics down into sections and interpret what I think Conor Oberst means to say, working section by section.

    Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
    There's people always dying trying to keep them alive

    (I think these two lines are an overall criticism of the human need for identity and the violence caused by the need to preserve these identities.)

    There are bodies decomposing in containers tonight
    In an abandoned building where
    A squatter's made a mural of a Mexican girl
    With fifteen cans of spray paint in a chemical swirl
    She's standing in the ashes at the end of the world
    Four winds blowing through her hair

    (This seems to be about a personal experience the Conor Oberst had, or perhaps it's a fiction he came up with. Either way it sets the Apocalyptic feel for the rest of the song.)

    But when great Satan's gone, the whore of Babylon
    She just can't sustain the pressure where it's placed
    She caves

    (This is section is a reference to Revelations, the last book in the Bible. In Revelations, there's a series of events that occur in hyper-metaphorical language and one of them is the downfall of the Whore of Babylon. What the Whore of Babylon is, is really up to you.)

    The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Qur'an is mute
    If you burned them all together you'd be close to the truth ===>

    (This is Conor Oberst speaking directly to the listener. Basically, that these religious texts have no value when it comes to seeking truth.)

    ==> still
    They're poring over Sanskrit under Ivy League moons
    While shadows lengthen in the sun

    (Conor comments that although these religious books have no value as truth, people are still studying them in their original languages (ie. Sanskrit) at Ivy Leagues Universities, while the onset of a metaphorical night is upon them.)

    Cast on a school of meditation built to soften the times

    (I'm not entirely sure what the "school of meditation" is, but I would guess it is referring to those who are studying the "Sanskrit" at the "Ivy League moons". In my opinion, the line that the "school of meditation" is "built to soften the times" do so by keeping the ideologies of these religions out of conflict with one another.)
    wreath142on March 05, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think the lines about the Bible, Torah, and Qur'an being blind deaf and mute
    Is a pretty obvious statement. The "school of meditation" part, I think
    is referring to the other end of the spectrum
    On one hand there are the radical fundamentalist Christians (in the US mostly)
    And there is radical Islasm in the middle east, and the conflict between the muslims and jews
    (Israelis and Palestinians)

    On the other hand there is the school of meditation (Buddhism, New Age beliefs, etc.) meant to soften the times
    Rather than belonging to these radical religions that preach hell and torture and war, and End Times etc. these New Age religions are meant to "soften the times" (be peaceful, tranquil and all-inclusive)

    But they just hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds.
    As the world is destroyed by global warming, and warfare, and these radical religions, Buddhism and New Agism
    just serve to help people deal with pain personally, but the spiral is unwinding (the earth is dying) and time is dragging on, and unless we get our act together on a physical scientific basis... it could be too late for our children or their children to have the life they could have.
    TheThornBirdson April 16, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIm not going to tell you what this song means to me although it means alot. what i will say is that i think that its crazy to tell someone they are reading too deep, someone can read as deep as they like into "roses are red" granted arguing over who is right and wrong and using demanding demenors when speaking is wrong. Its what a song means to somone and to tell someone not to look into is as much as they want to or wish or can is rude bigheaded and not very musician like. So let us all rejoice in music any way we wish with this OPEN forum.
    TheIncompleteConfessionsOfAHopefon June 18, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentA song about what went wrong. There was an age of enlightenment, but we'll have one again as long as those three disgusting near-east religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) keep fucking us up.
    TheThornBirdson July 28, 2009   Link
  • +1
    My InterpretationThis song's lyrics really jumped out to me, since I do a lot of missions work at the Pine Ridge reservation, I've been to wounded knee three times, and I'm currently making a series of documentaries on different Native American reservations.

    Four winds- This is also applicable to the four colors of the medicine wheel and what that represents (research it)

    Black Hills, and Badlands are both very close to the Pine Ridge reservation. And yes, the Oglala Lakota were moved from the Black Hill to Pine Ridge when they discovered Gold.

    So "Old Dakota where the genocide sleeps. Black Hills, Badlands, Caloused east (?perhaps east coast?).... Burried my ballast (figuratively - Anything that steadies emotion or the mind), made my peace, heard four winds leveling the pines"....

    There's an old church on the Pine Ridge reservation - at wounded knee, that's been destroyed and torn down. There's actually been at least 2 massacres at wounded knee. 1 in the 1800s that movies are made of, and the other in the early 1970s, where again many innocent native americans died at the hand of US Marshals. This church still has a foundation and a couple walls, the dirt floor is now a mass grave. Many famous artists (such as Johnny Cash and the Beatles) have come to wounded knee, to this very church, to "pay their respects" to the injustice done to Native Americans.

    It's a very spiritual, sacred and symbolic place. I met and talked to an older lakota man there who's older and younger brother were shot by marshals in the '70s and are buried just outside the foundation of the church. I got some of this information directly from him. Anybody can go, walk on the the grounds, and see the monuments. It's free.

    The first time I was at Wounded knee, I actually slept in the sanctuary of "First Church of Wounded Knee", and there's still bullet holes in the ceiling from the US Marshals in the '70s.

    So, unless you've been to pine ridge (four winds, leveling the pines), buried your ballast and made your peace at wounded knee, it's difficult to know what he's talking about.
    selftitleddemoon February 03, 2012   Link

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