"Belated Promise Ring" as written by and Samuel Ervin Beam....
Sunday morning, my Rebbecca sleeping in with me again
There's a kid outside the church kicking a can
When the cedar branches twist she turns her collar to the wind
The weather can close the world within its hand

And my mother says Rebbecca is as stubborn as they come
They both call to me with words I never knew
There's a bug inside the thimble, there's a band-aid on her thumb
And a pony in the river turning blue

They say, "Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"
My Rebbecca says she never wants a boy
To be barefoot on the driveway as they wave and ride away
Then to run inside and curse the open door

I once gave to my Rebbecca a belated promise ring
And she sold it to the waitress on a train
I may find her by the phone but with a fashion magazine
She may kiss me when her girlfriends leave again

They say, "Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"
I think I could never love another girl
To be free atop a tree stump and to look the other way
While she shines my mother's imitation pearls

Sunday evening my Rebbecca's lost a book she never read
And the moon already fell into the sea
Saw the statues of our fathers in the courthouse flower bed
Now they blend with all the lightning-tattered trees

They say, "Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"
My Rebbecca said she knew I'd want a boy
A dollar for my boardwalk red balloon, to float away
She would earn a pocketful to buy me more

Lyrics submitted by Mellow_Harsher

"Belated Promise Ring" as written by Samuel Ervin Beam

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Belated Promise Ring song meanings
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  • +5
    General CommentI think jazzy has it down pretty much exactly, but i would like to point out a few other things I noticed.

    (and yes, I do agree this is about a girlfriend, not a child at all. the lyrics just don't support it)

    I agree that he is in love with a strong will, independent, "free spirit" type of person. but I also think the beauty of the song is that he is portraying himself as "in love" but it's a passionless "idea" of love, that isn't going anywhere.

    "I once gave to my Rebecca a belated promise ring"

    Why is the ring "belated"? He makes it sound like an afterthought - he's loved her and only now given her the ring? She knows he is not really the one for her, because although he thinks he loves her, she can see the truth of the matter so....

    "And she sold it to the waitress on a train"

    It doesn't mean that much to her, and he doesn't seem completely upset about it. Not because he is too in love with her to look past her faults, but he only -believes- himself to be in love with her.

    "I may find her by the phone but with a fashion magazine
    She may kiss me when her girlfriends leave again
    They say, "Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"
    I think I could never love another girl
    To be free atop a tree stump and to look the other way
    While she shines my mother's imitation pearls"

    The whole feeling of this stanza is uncertainty. he "may" find her, she "may kiss" him when she is finished with other things, but he is clearly not a priority in her life, and he only -THINKS- he could "never love another girl". The mention of the imitation pearls bring another visual of something beautiful but completely fake and valueless.

    So in conclusion, I think it has a sort of dreamy, airy quality about it (as many of his songs do) and I get this thread running through the song of a sort of lazy romance...he "loves" her, but without any passion or intensity, it's just this attraction that he can't help, while the very same free spirit and intelligence that he admires in Rebecca is what turns her off to him. It may be a general misunderstanding of women in general ("they both [the women, Rebecca and his mother] call to me with words I never knew")

    They are both in a relationship, but it has no future and both of them know it won't last, so they are focused on enjoying the present and acknowledge that nothing will come of it.
    maladroitmortalon September 09, 2009   Link
  • +3
    General CommentI looooove this song. I'm addicted, I think.

    I took it to be pretty open-and-close, apart from the metaphors that are probably over my head :-)

    My take on it is that this song is written from a guy's perspective. He's in love with a girl named Rebecca, and though there are flaws and faults, even things that might break them up years from now, he ignores them Because he's so lovestruck, her flaws don't even register with him:
    "And my mother says Rebecca is as stubborn as they come
    They both call to me with words I never knew"
    From a different standpoint (his mother's perspective), Rebecca is very, very stubborn, yet he hadn't noticed on his own because of his infatuation with the girl.

    He wants a boy when he has kids, but Rebecca doesn't. This issue is never resolved in the song, illustrating how nearsighted the narrator is being about this relationship. He's pretty much all set to be married, but Rebecca's still got some wild oats to sow:
    "I once gave to my Rebecca a belated promise ring
    and she sold it to the waitress on a train".
    He's more committed than she is, and frankly, she doesn't care and won't be rushed. And fool-in-love that he is, he'll wait patiently.

    "They say, "Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"
    In response to his situation (being in love with this independent, strong-willed girl) the narrator is told that life always throws more at you than you're really built to handle. He is gentle and attentive, while Rebecca is blunt and strong-willed. I took this statement to have a positive connotation: if life is the reason he’s in love with her, it feels like “they” are saying his fate is sealed, and he is destined (or doomed) to be with her.

    @ the people who say "my Rebecca" means that he's probably her father, I disagree. I think he just calls her that as an affectionate term. The best example that comes to mind is (don't judge me) from Everybody Loves Raymond. When a married guy finds out that his ex-girlfriend was being set up for a date, he said, "you can't do that." When asked why not, he answered, "because she's my Stefania". So it isn't only fathers who use that term. it's like sweetheart or something like that-generally neutral in defining a relationship. In the context of this song, I'd say that they're romantically involved, because
    1. He gave her a promise ring. I've never heard of a girl getting one from her father.
    2. The fact that they're sleeping in together (thanks to unkleknowpockets for pointing that out).
    3. The lines, "she may kiss me when her girlfriends leave again" (Because girlfriends and boyfriends are typically the ones in competition for a girl's attention, not fathers.)
    4. He could never love another girl. What is the significance of this line? No one else could take her place. Who would be her competition? Another daughter? I doubt he means to imply that, upon having another child, he won't love his second born, simply because he's so very taken with the first. And I doubt that his adoration for his daughter would stop him from falling in love with a woman. That's just creepy.
    5. (Here's the kicker): "Saw the statues of our /fathers/ in the courthouse flower bed" Yeah...
    So, as far as I can see, this is just a young man in love with a girl named Rebecca.

    Reading into their relationship, specifically its future, I don't see it lasting, or at least being happy. He won't remain blind forever, and already we can see that they don't want the same things, in this case, the gender of their child (of course, once the kid is born, that's that, am I right?). He's willing to give her promise rings, while she blatantly sells them. She'd rather have money than a token of his affection, showing that things are unbalanced between them. And the same goes for her only kissing him when no one is around. I think that's self-explanatory.

    So, this is a song about a young man head-over-heels for a girl who doesn't feel as strongly for him, and has the ability to chew him up and spit him out. What a bittersweet sentiment. :-)
    jazzy06792on August 14, 2009   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI don't think that Rebecca is a bitch. I think he's focusing on how wild and and free spirited she is and even though some of the things she does could be negative to someone else he loves her all the more for it. Sometimes that's what love is about. You wind up loving the most ridiculous little things because they are unique to that person... i dono
    DownIsTheNewUpon July 14, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General Commentno comments? that's a shame. this is probably my favorite iron and wine song too. it just seems to be at least that it's about liking a girl even though she's bitch. but i don't know. that's just what i think.
    thenervousmanon December 03, 2007   Link
  • +1
    General Commentgreat song!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    manuelturcioson March 18, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI love sam beam, he's absolutely brilliant.
    wethefree10on May 29, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think this song is about a girl who really doesnt know what she wants out of life and just wants to be free like a bird. She likes to come and go as she chooses, so she never promises anything, but always knows the boy will be there for her when she would like. Loved the name of the title so gave it a try, and it happens to fit my life..) My name happens to be the same as herz as well!
    mscoakley32on June 02, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentIt's so very clearly about the need of all humans to be resafronated with nebulous lugubrious want ads which decraminfy blurmishly.

    I often think of Barnegat Blummis at these moments when the sonorities of sororities saponify soapily. My tsitsis unravel at the thought of the bones which are being too much for.

    I hope this helps.
    funkywinkerchickenon August 16, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThere is definitely a progression through time, hints at this:

    1) reference to time in the repeated line.
    2) first stanza Sunday morning last stanza Sunday evening
    3) as mentioned the maturity revealed in word choice
    a)'bug in the thimble' (possibly excuse to avoid learning to sew), 'pony in the river' -words of a young girl
    b) embarassment to kiss in front of girlfriends, receiving the ring, mother's imitation pearls. -actions of a teenager
    c)'father's statues in the courthouse flower bed (have they died), now they blend with the lightening tattered trees', and then! 'I knew you'd want a boy' not referencing getting a boy, but having a boy! And from my guess the speaker changes for the last few lines. What girlfriend or wife buys red balloons for her husband or boyfriend and fills her pocket for more? It sounds more like something a mother would do for her child. And then the child loses the balloon as they always do within the first 15 minutes of having it.

    I think the first and last Stanza are in the present, while the others are flashbacks.

    Going back to when the girl doesn't want a boy. She doesn't want a boyfriend because she's seen her mother run out barefoot and wave goodbye to her father going to work and then curse at the door as she longs for him to stay.

    There's also a suggestion of death with the main line.'They say," Time may give you more than your poor bones could ever take"' I don't really know who 'they' is maybe just impersonal?

    I also wonder who 'they both' is in the second stanza. The only two other than the speaker would be Rebecca and the speaker's mother, but what words of his mother would be, 'words I never knew'?

    I've never given a girlfriend my mother's fake pearls, but I don't think it unimaginable.

    I like the song alot. Have Iron & Wine wrote about a similar topic before?
    kilgallion December 14, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentDownIsTheNewUp is correct. The song describes mature love, because it's not a projection about what he imagines her to but, but a gentle, loving description of how she really is.

    A thimble protects your thumb when sewing but she's used it to catch a bug and now has a bandaid on her thumb. She stands out barefoot in the cold, but then complains about the door being left open. She shines imitation pearls, which are "worthless," but sells off a "valuable" promise ring. She seems forgetful, flighty, indifferent to convention. And he wouldn't love her any other way.

    Meurs1215on February 12, 2010   Link

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