Down in the green hay
Where monkey and bear usually lay,
They woke from a stable-boy's cry.

He said, "Someone come quick!
The horses got loose, got grass-sick!
They'll founder! Fain, they'll die!"

What is now known by the sorrel and the roan?
By the chestnut, and the bay, and the gelding grey?

It is: stay by the gate you are given
And remain in your place for your season,
And had the overfed dead but listened
To that high-fence, horse-sense, wisdom...

"Did you hear that, Bear?" said monkey,
"We'll get out of here, fair and square!
They've left the gate open wide!

"So, my bride
Here is my hand, where is your paw?
Try and understand my plan, Ursula.
My heart is a furnace;
Full of love that's just and earnest.
Now you know that we must unlearn this
Allegiance to a life of service,
And no longer answer to that heartless
Hay-monger, nor be his accomplice
(That charlatan, with artless hustling!),
But Ursula, we've got to eat something
And earn our keep, while still within
The borders of the land that man has girded
(All double-bolted and tightfisted!)
Until we reach the open country
A-steeped in milk and honey

"Will you keep your fancy clothes on for me?
Can you bear a little longer to wear that leash?
My love, I swear by the air I breathe:
Sooner or later, you'll bare your teeth

"But for now, just dance, darling.
C'mon, will you dance, my darling?
Darling, there's a place for us;
Can we go, before I turn to dust?
Oh my darling, there's a place for us.
Oh darling,
C'mon will you dance, my darling?
Oh, the hills are groaning with excess
Like a table ceaselessly being set.
Oh my darling, we will get there yet."

They trooped past the guards,
Past the coops, and the fields, and the farmyards
All night, 'til finally

The space they gained grew
Much farther than the stone that bear threw
To mark where they'd stop for tea.

But walk a little faster
And don't look backwards;
Your feast is to the East, which lies a little past the pasture.

When the blackbirds hear tea whistling, they rise and clap,
And their applause caws the kettle black,
And we can't have none of that!

Move along, Bear; there, there, that’s that
(Though cast in plaster,
Our Ursula's heart beat faster
Than monkey's ever will).

But still,
They have got to pay the bills,
Hadn't they?
That is what the monkey'd say.

So, with the courage of a clown, or a cur,
Or a kite, jerking tight at its tether,
In her dun-brown gown of fur
And her jerkin of swan's down and leather

Bear would sway on her hind legs;
The organ would grind dregs of song, for the pleasure
Of the children, who'd shriek,
Throwing coins at her feet
Then recoiling in terror.

"Sing, dance, darling.
C'mon, will you dance, my darling?
Oh darling, there's a place for us;
Can we go, before I turn to dust?
Oh my darling, there’s a place for us.

"Oh darling,
C'mon, will you dance, my darling?
You keep your eyes fixed on the highest hill
Where you'll ever-after eat your fill.
Oh my darling, dear, mine,
If you dance,
Dance, darling, I'll love you still"

Deep in the night
Shone a weak and miserly light
Where the monkey shouldered his lamp.

Someone had told him
The bear had been wandering
A fair piece away from where they were camped.

Someone had told him
The bear'd been sneaking away
To the seaside caverns, to bathe.

And the thought troubled the monkey
For he was afraid of spelunking down in those caves,
Also afraid what the village people would say
If they saw the bear in that state;
Lolling and splashing obscenely,
Well, it seemed irrational, really: washing that face
Washing that matted and flea-bit pelt
In some sea-spit-shine, old kelp dripping with brine.
But monkey just laughed, and he muttered,
"When she comes back, Ursula will be bursting with pride."

'Til I jump up,
Saying: you've been rolling in muck!
Saying: you smell of garbage and grime!

But far out,
Far out,
By now,
By now,
Far out, by now, Bear ploughed
'Cause she would not drown.

First the outside-legs of the bear
Up and fell down in the water like knobby garters.
Then the outside-arms of the bear
Fell off as easy as if sloughed from boiled tomatoes
Low'red in a genteel curtsy.
Bear shed the mantle of her diluvian shoulders,
And, with a sigh, she allowed the burden of belly
To drop like an apron full of boulders.

If you could hold up her threadbare coat to the light
Where it's worn translucent in places,
You'd see spots where almost every night of the year
Bear had been mending suspending that baseness.
Now her coat drags through the water,
Bagging, with a life's-worth of hunger, limitless minnows
In the magnetic embrace,
Balletic and glacial of Bear's insatiable shadow.

Left there!
Left there!
When Bear left Bear,

Left there!
Left there!
When Bear stepped clear of Bear...

(Sooner or later, you'll bare your teeth...)


Lyrics submitted by delial, edited by mstepanian

Monkey & Bear song meanings
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68 Comments

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  • +12
    General CommentFor lack of another interpretation on this site, here is mine... I hope someone points out to me the things I've added in and missed out of the meaning, because there may be some :-)

    Anyway, I think it's a discussion on the nature of freedom, wrapped up in a kind of 'creation narrative'. The name Ursala comes directly from the fact that 'Ursa' is Latin for 'Bear'... thus the 'Ursa Major' constellation being called the 'Great Bear'. Given Joanna's oft-displayed celestial fascination, I think the story that's so wonderfully woven here, then, is of the origin of that constellation.

    The song is about a cunning and duplicitous monkey's exploitation of a performing bear... promising friendship and freedom, but all the while keeping her trapped in the old slavery as she works towards the unattainable dream, "A-steeped in milk and honey", offered in Monkey's words. He feigns love, pretends that he is working for Bear's good - "My heart is a furnace/ Full of love that's just and earnest" - but his intention is to keep her boxed in. This is seen in his being troubled when she gets a taste of life outside his control, and in his scheme to dissuade her from getting away at that point... in reality, he is using her performances for his own profit (thus the irony in 'But still/ They have got to pay the bills/ Hadn't they?/ That is what the monkey'd say').

    There is a hopelessness in that: the promise is amazing, but the bear's present reality is that she is bound by fancy clothes (so opposite to the freedom of the wild), a leash, the tragic dancing for the pleasure of the children who love her for her intrigue, but are terrified of her; and really, despite Monkey's words, there is no indication that if Bear stays where she is, she will ever come out of this cycle. That is a lonely and constricted place, the kind of place where oppression makes one fade away to death.

    The meaning therefore comes down to the conflict between the desire for freedom, and the consequence of escape... also the tragedy of slavery within an illusion of liberty. I think the comment of the song on this topic may be seen in comparing and contrasting the start of the song and conclusion. The first few stanzas give the warning of the horses who escaped through an open gate, and died in their indulgence; the proverb is to "stay by the gate you are given", not to seek change or look beyond what you are told and offered, for fences keep us safe. But Bear, if she sees past the illusion that keeps her going in her slavery, is really in a place where she is as good as dead anyway. So the message of the song is perhaps a reckless one: as she breaks free in the final imagery, there is no indication of what happens to her, beyond the purely positive portrayal of her vivid and exhilarating liberation, totally separate and oblivious to Monkey and his scheming. We do not know what happens when time moves on, as it must, and she steps out of the seaside caverns. We only know that she had no choice, and that only in this is there any meaning or fulfillment. There is a strong and overriding caution of the cost of escape in the mirroring story of the horses... but in accepting that and plunging into it Bear transcends it, and finds herself eternally free in her existence shining in the night sky, a testimony to light the way and give direction to all those who hear her story and come after her.

    This presents a message that though it is safer to stay locked in the places and mentality in which we are already positioned... perhaps by the cords of society's attempts to lock up our potential through a facade of convincing lies and elusive, unattainable hopes... we do have an option of breaking out. This is both foolish and wonderful - vital. The ideal ending, the image of Ursala's freedom, implies that it is worth anything. The only advice offered about how one may pull this off is in the revelation that Monkey is a liar... perhaps we do not have to listen to the "You've been rolling in muck!... You smell of garbage and grime"... perhaps the bear is stronger than the monkey...

    Inspired by this story, perhaps today is the day when we can throw off the wearisome restraints of conformity, and step blindly into an unknown which is frightening, perhaps fatal, but which is good, for it typifies truth and the Freedom we have always dreamed of - and in the true tradition of all story-telling, this ideal is worth everything.
    Anneliseon November 04, 2006   Link
  • +3
    General CommentIt never actually states that the bear is shedding her skin or fur or transcending her body in any way. I think the last few verses simply mean that she is shedding her costume, which metaphorically is like shedding her skin I suppose, but not necessarily by literal interpretation. She simply swims until the costume (that has burdened her for so long) literally falls off her body, allowing her stomach and shoulders to stretch and breathe with unbridled, new-found freedom.

    Then she uses the discarded threadbare coat to catch minnows in the sea to finally eat bountifully like the monkey always promised she would.

    The final verse, when Bear left Bear, seems to imply that she is leaving her old role (and the costume that represented it) behind to become a new bear, a free bear, no longer oppressed or controlled.

    The song sees to be a fable depicting the nature of freedom, the illusion of control, and the futility of trying to make someone (or some animal) be someone they are not, or act in ways against their nature.

    The very last line about burying your teeth, almost seem to imply that she might eventually seek revenge on that damned monkey. Or it could just mean that she is finally free to act like a real bear rather than a hay-fed circus act.
    hudsuckeron February 17, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentpoor bear.. damn monkey!
    fjordingon October 05, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General Comment>Regarding the bit about 'baring her teeth'

    The song is full of bear the animal, bear as in put up with, bare as in show, bare in not much there, etc. Lots of wordplay as in so many other songs on Ys.

    Question: if the transcription is correct, does anyone have a theory why Bear appears uppercase in some places and lowercase in others?
    eigenv1on March 22, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentTHis is the only song I've heard off the new album. It is not yet released in Australia. It's a very brave move. I didn't enjoy this song. Maybe it'll grow on me.
    Gazeffon November 02, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAs to the music, I love it... it is incredible... I was saying to a friend today that this artist is incredibly clever, and it's so intricate and abstract and profound and strange and beautiful, all at once! I love the way she uses language and pictures and stories. This music strange, it had to grow on me, and sometimes I cringe, but it is artistically wonderful... so well controlled that beauty is skillfully retained. It is richer every time I play it... I am utterly fascinated by minutiae of all its facets... I love it how some things in the world captivate you and make you see beauty from a totally unexplored angle, and this is one of those.
    Anneliseon November 04, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentOr unless you're on a songs meanings site? Hehe :-P

    Actually, I must agree... I like getting the meaning behind people's words when they're this clever, and some of my friends at school and I had fun exploring it all. But part of the charm of Joanna's work is in its first impression... it just sounds really good, and the words are all so tasteful and so artistic... aaahhhhh, love it!

    Just as a note, the comments at the end weren't necessarily my perspective, just what I thought the song was implying.

    Anyway, sorry. If you didn't like it, I suggest you don't read it again ;-)
    Anneliseon November 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentPretty straightforward song, beside the fate of the bear. I suppose "when bear stepped free of bear" reffers to the constellation. Very celestial album.
    blucowon November 23, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General Commentfjording: as Annelise pointed out, the name of the site is "song meanings." If you're just coming here to say OMG I LIEK THIS SONG, I think you might be missing the point. Annelise, I thought that was splendid. Now do the last three songs! ;)
    valruson December 05, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnneliese, you outdid yourself on this one.

    My take is that if you are on the lam, pick the right partner. Reminds me of those placemats in the Chinese restaurants with the 12 zodiac signs...if you are a rat, do not marry a cat.
    eigenv1on December 14, 2006   Link

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