"Arrow" as written by and James Gerard Mcdermott....
Stub towers in the distance, riders the blasted moor
Against the horizon
Fickle promises of treaty, fatal harbingers of war,
Futile horizons
Swirl as one in this flight, this mad chase,
This surge across the marshy mud landscape
Until the meaning is forgotten.
Hood masks the eager face, skin stretched
And sallow,
Headlong into the chilling night, as swift
As any arrow.

Feet against the flagstones, fingers scrabbling
At the lock,
Craving protection.
'Sanctuary!' croaks a voice,
Half-strangled by the shock
Of its rejection.
Shot the bolt in the wall, rusted the key;
Now the echoes of all frightfull memory
Intrude in the silence.
What a crawl against the slope
Dark loom the gallows
One touch to the chapel door,
How swiftly comes the arrow.

"Compassion" you plead, as though
They kept it in a box
That's long since been empty.
I'd like to help you somehow,
But I'm in the self-same spot:
My condition exempts me.
We are all on the run on our knees;
The sundial draws a line upon eternity
Across every number.
How long the time seems, how dark the shadow,
How straight the eagle flies,
How straight towards his arrow.
How long the night is
Why is this passage so narrow?
How strange my body feels,
Impaled upon the arrow.


Lyrics submitted by inpraiseoffolly, edited by Dobbo1

"Arrow" as written by James Gerard Mcdermott

Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

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Arrow song meanings
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5 Comments

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  • 0
    General Commentmind-numbingly chilling. probably my favorite van der graaf song.
    ledtheater9on September 21, 2009   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationTo me this song is very much about trying to find help or solace in something (substance, people, whatever) but that same something ultimately becoming your own downfall.
    Jurgenrapon March 28, 2013   Link
  • 0
    My InterpretationJurgenrap, I think you're possibly right, definitely about finding solace. Here's my thoughts:
    Basically, looks like initially a group is perhaps cast from their home or something, and now must trek "across the marshy mud landscape." This journey is so long that they can't even remember why they left/ had to leave in the first place ("until the meaning is forgotten"). Obviously all this trekking has left their faces "stretched and sallow."
    So, the group journeys onwards (into the chilling night, as it were), until they find another group or castle (something about VDGG always makes me think medieval times). They think "finally! Sanctuary!" so they try to get in, in an almost violent way (they've been journeying a long time! - think of "Scrabbling at the lock" -- which, sidenote, might be where The Ex got the title for their album of the same name). But, this second group ultimately rejects them, leaving the first group obviously shocked. It's much akin to finding a mirage in a desert and discovering it isn't real.
    Something tells me a similar thing has happened to the group which has rejected the first group, as they violently respond to the groups attempt at entry (swifty comes the arrow). What makes me think this? "I'd like to help you somehow, but i'm in the self-same spot, my condition exempts me" -- perhaps this group was recently attacked, and don't have resources to support the first group. Also, this attack has hardened the second group -- their "box of compassion" is empty. They trust no one.
    So, the first group cries "Compassion!" they beg of the second group to help them. They will not leave, so the second group is forced to shoot many arrows their way, impaling the narrator.
    Lustrum2112on November 06, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a song about death. The fugitive, whose desperate efforts to evade his pursuers are doomed to failure, provides a metaphor for the journey each of us makes through lives destined to end in death. Those lives are the numbers fated to be intersected by the line of time. Great music, great lyric and the greatest band.
    Dobbo1on December 20, 2015   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnother piece of genius writing from Hammill. I agree absolutely with Dobbo, this is a song about death, running through life, scrabbling every which way to escape the inevitable.It's on your tail, your options narrow down and it impales you in the end. (cf also the arrow of time and 'Time's Arrow' byMartin Amis)
    Paul825on April 11, 2016   Link

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