"For Emma" as written by and Justin Deyarmond Edison Vernon....
So abruptly
Saw death on a sunny snow

For every life
Forgo the parable

Seek the light
My knees are cold

Running home, running home
Running home, running home

Go find another lover
To bring a, to string along

With all your lies
You're still very lovable

I toured the light so many foreign roads
For Emma, forever ago


Lyrics submitted by J.Diddy, edited by mysteriousmind

"For Emma" as written by Justin Vernon

Lyrics © KOBALT MUSIC PUBLISHING LIMITED

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For Emma song meanings
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  • +12
    General CommentThe song begins with the narrator introducing the perspective most likely of the man. He saw death on a sunny snow. usually you're used to seeing snow in a dark environment with clouds and what not. In this sense, it begs the question where did the snow come from? The song is obviously about the man's relationship with the girl, specifically, the end of it. It may have looked good, but been showering with cold snow inside. In this sense, we can take it that the man at the most opportune moment had his whole relationship symbolized by the snow falling.

    In this seemingly existentialist moment, he begins with "for every life.." to indicate some profound truth in this snow. The girl cuts him off to save it, and instead he sums it up with "Seek the light". The man is the journeyer, and we get the feeling he's more-less talking to himself, or talking to the moment.

    The woman on the other hand complains her my knees are cold, and in this sense the drive (which can be attributed with warmth) that the man has is lost within the woman. The legs which move us toward our goals, her's has gotten cold and instead of seeking the light as the man says - she moves away from it (running home, running home..). No longer does she want a part in the man's adventure. So she follows up, "Go find another lover/To bring a[long].. to string alone!" It's great what Justin Vernon has done by stopping the girl midword as if to reword it. She says bring a - stops, and rewords string along. She feels as though she's being manipulated in the man's adventure, and has had enough. Her knees are cold and wants to go home. Following this manipulation, she comments "with all your lies, you're still very lovable"

    The last sentence can most likely be attributed with the man's comment (and specifically, Justin's). He looked so long for his light, and his belonging to satisfy Emma. But before he could reach it, she got tired of it and turned cold
    joslin01on June 09, 2008   Link
  • +10
    General CommentI love this song and the entire cd For Emma, Forever Ago. Best impulse buy ever.
    jdeppsfavfan1on February 25, 2008   Link
  • +8
    My InterpretationFirstly, let me say that I know next to nothing about Bon Iver. All I know is what I’ve read on this page. However I have recently started listening to ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, and find this an extremely beautiful song both lyrically and musically. So for what it’s worth, here’s my outsider’s perspective.

    I agree in a broad respect with most people on here, who say that this song centres around a break-up between a boy and a girl (probably teenage, who knows). However I do not think it is so specifically about the break-up process itself, rather what came before it and, of course, after it.

    The song is on the surface quite obscure, and the lyrics seem to indicate loss, yet musically it is quite upbeat. The tight strumming of the guitar sets a fairly high pace, and the high-pitched singing (a standard for the album) lends a somewhat lighter feel to the scene that is set. Just my take.

    The song begins with a narrator saying ‘So apropos: saw death on a sunny snow’. This I think reveals a certain humour in the writer. ‘So apropos’ basically means ‘so, by the way’, and not ‘it’s so appropriate’ like some people on here seem to think. Anyway, he goes on to basically say ‘So anyway: saw death on a sunny snow’. This ‘death’ is both the writer indicating the death of his relationship with the girl in the song, but also his likening of the break-up to death, which I think most people can sympathize with; breaking up with your first girlfriend or the first person you really care about is never easy, and can to a young person feel like ‘death’ at the time. Yet, this moment of ‘death’ is handled in a very casual way, with the scene being introduced with a simple ‘So apropos’, or ‘so by the way’. It’s a mystery what this topic is ‘apropos’ of/to, but we can assume it was a similar subject to this song itself (maybe the preceding parts of the album? It would not surprise me if that were the case and the album had in a way been leading to this moment- this is effectively the title track after all). Yet despite all this, the use of ‘apropos’ as an introduction from a narrator watching the scene unfold shows the writer making light of this situation which so long ago seemed like ‘death’, thus indicating a mellowing of his feelings about the event. The part about the sunny snow I think can literally be attributed to the setting for this break-up- a sunny winter’s day in the northern United States. Perhaps it’s figurative, but in this song it appears to me to be quite literal. Why wouldn’t a young boyfriend and girlfriend go for a walk in the snow together?

    Moving on. These next few lines are without doubt the hardest for me to interpret. The male character (the singer, I suppose) says ‘For every life…’, and the female character (his girl) responds with ‘Forego the parable’. He says ‘Seek the light’, and she responds with ‘My knees are cold’. The segment ends with a voice, almost in the background, repeating ‘Running home, running home, running home, running home’. There are a couple of possible interpretations here, but I think the most likely is something that people seem to have hit upon on this forum. Essentially, he is saying these highfalutin sentences such as ‘For every life’ and ‘Seek the light’, but his girl doesn’t want to hear about these things, because she just doesn’t think that way, since she is more of a ‘normal’ teenager/person. He, as an intelligent teenage boy (and budding musician, assuming this song is autobiographical), is speaking in a rather flimsy manner about subjects which he does not yet grasp fully (life, seeking the light), and it is driving away this girl he is with, whom he truly does care about but cannot find enough in common with. When she utters ‘Forego the parable’, I see this as the writer again poking fun at himself by paraphrasing in a very sophisticated way what the girl must have been saying to him in response to his attempts at high-brow conversation (really, she probably said ‘what the heck are you talking about’ or suchlike). Her next retort ‘My knees are cold’ sees her again bringing the conversation back from a lofty topic (‘Seek the light’) to something more relevant to her; the fact that her knees are cold in this wintry setting. In a very teenage way, the two do not have the bravery or social skill yet to speak openly about what they’re thinking, so the conversation splutters along in this manner.

    The ‘Running home, running home, running home, running home’ line demonstrates to us a further sample of what the writer has been showing us for the entire lyric so far: snapshots of his relationship; he tries to converse with the girl, but it doesn’t chime that well with her; running home is a memory he has of running back to his home most likely from his girlfriend’s house, or another meeting spot he might have arranged with her. Since it is cold here, it is better to run, and that running home with adrenaline and happiness coursing through him is a memory that he cherishes in itself.

    The next couple of lines are also a little tricky. The girl says ‘Go find another lover…to bring a-…to string a-long’. Perhaps the boy is having trouble getting up the courage to sleep with the girl (it happens), or maybe he is too shy to commit to her and be a proper ‘boyfriend’, embarrassed about what his friends at school might say about her or their relationship (again, happens). Therefore she feels fed up with his fancy words that have no emotional follow-through, so she tells him to go find another girlfriend to string along. Given that this is all written for the perspective of (again, we assume) the boy, these couple of lines show him being rather harsh with himself. Though young boys are bound to get nervous and lack confidence with girls in the way he appears to be doing, he is demonstrating the girl’s frustration with him by using words harsher than what she may have actually said at the time. The writer seems mad with himself for wasting his chance, but that madness is diluted with the next line…

    ‘With all your lies…you’re still very lovable’ utters the girl. Here, the girl gives the writer a break (really the writer giving himself a break, thanks to him mellowing out over time), stating that despite all his aimless, complicated thoughts and speeches from earlier in the song (which she equates to lies, since she could not understand them), he is still a lovable guy. This leaves us with both a positive impression of the girl and the boy, indicating that despite there being no question he messed things up with her back then, there is also some redemption in the fact that she saw beyond his teenage bullshit and saw the good guy inside.

    The final verses of lyric wrap up the affair described previously. The boy states ‘I toured the light…So many foreign roads…For Emma, forever ago’. His proclamation that he has ‘toured the light’ tells us that he has tried his best to make himself a better person, a better partner, as he has grown up, learning from this relationship with the girl early in life. This journey across ‘the light’ has taken him down ‘so many foreign roads’ i.e. ways of thinking and behaving which he had not previously considered as a teenager, and beyond that age, going down many roads, thinking in many different ways about the way he treats other people, the way he portrays himself with is words and actions, up to this current point (where he is now singing about the journey so far). He dedicates this effort to ‘Emma’, which we can safely presume is the name of the girl in this song, and states that she comes from a time which feels like ‘forever ago’ because so much has changed in his life that she, and his old life as an insecure teenager in the freezing snow seems like another world to his current one.

    The song then plays out in a manner which is almost triumphant, reinforcing my feeling that this, while wistful and nostalgic, is not intended as a depressing or sad song. The slide guitar initially increases subtly in volume, emphasising the past, and the unchangeable sorrow that can go with it, but is taken over by what sounds like trumpets or some other brass instrument. The trumpets arpeggio upwards, portraying to us the musical equivalent of a sunrise, or a victory won before fading slowly away, the ultimate message being that although there was a girl that this boy cared deeply about long ago, whom he lost due to his inexperience and insecurity, that loss has helped him to become a better person through learning, and for that he is grateful.

    Sorry that that analysis was so long, it’s just a very interesting song to me…
    saygoodbye1911on October 04, 2011   Link
  • +6
    General CommentBest Bon Iver song bar none... listened to this as my plane landed in Beijing and Bon Iver quickly became the theme of my semester abroad. I went there thinking I would impress a girl back home by showing how cultured I was... she definitely ended up smashing some dude the whole time I was gone. Classic.

    "So many foreign roads, for Emma, forever ago"

    smokinnateon March 09, 2009   Link
  • +3
    My OpinionThis song is absolutely hauntingly beautiful, reminding me of every love I ever left, and the effect i may have had.
    keephercloseon March 30, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Commenti've read an interview with Vernon about this specific song. He says the "running home, running home, running home" part is about him running to the cabin...that it was the only place that felt like home to him.
    YouKnowStuffon June 22, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this is being looked into way too much. I'm from Wisconsin and in winter there are many sunny days with lots of snow. Maybe the other parts have an existential meaning, but many times songwriters or poets can write things with one simple meaning and then people go and over analyze it. I just like the way the words go with the music so well.
    bleufonceon November 13, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthis song is a memory
    the lyrics are not actually what was said at the time
    they convey the chronology of his memory

    essentially:
    when he thinks of his break up, he thinks of walking with her in the snow-->
    the essence of their conversation--> when they parted ways (Running Home)-->
    a few of her last words

    him: seek the light = change your mind girl
    her: ...my knees are cold = I'm making an excuse to leave now

    the last line simply means their lives went separate directions
    Dnogson March 20, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentfor those that haven't heard it, check out the 'myspace transmission' of for emma. its heart wrenchingly brilliant, equal to if not bettering the album version
    brindleon April 29, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentthe slide guitar in this song still hurts. :/.
    YouKnowStuffon July 09, 2009   Link

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