"Reckoner" as written by and Thomas Edward/greenwood Yorke....
You can't take it with yer
Dancing for your pleasure

You are not to blame for
Bittersweet distractors
Dare not speak its name
Dedicated to all human beings

Because we separate
Like ripples on a blank shore
In rainbows
Because we separate
Like ripples on a blank shore

Take me with yer
Dedicated to all human beings

Lyrics submitted by autrefois, edited by yusnotyus, Paymaan, erinek, rejesterd, gjkatko, folkieokie, Tom1234, twstdwrds, ReckonerInRainbows, ben1022565

"Reckoner" as written by Edward John O'brien Colin Charles Greenwood

Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.

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Reckoner song meanings
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  • +17
    Song MeaningYet how superb, across the tumult braided,
    The painted rainbow's changeful life is bending,
    Now clearly drawn, dissolving now and faded,
    And evermore the showers of dew descending!
    Of human striving there's no symbol fuller:
    Consider, and 'tis easy comprehending –
    Life is not light, but the refracted color.

    -Faust II

    The color of Goehte's masterpiece has rippled through the medium of Radiohead with their album, In Rainbows. The character, Faust, observes that life is not about some great search for divine light, but rather, it is about the practice of living with the enlightenment of God at your back; thus allowing it to guide you forward through your organic life, and not lead you down a dead-end path of obsession. This is essentially what the phrase "In Rainbows" means. It is the recognition that the source light which governs our world cannot really be seen nor fully understood by human beings ("dare not speak its name"). Although we have moments of clarity and deep understanding, these moments are generally temporary and don't last very long. As Thom Yorke said of the album, "It very much explores the ideas of transience. It starts in one place and ends somewhere completely different." This is the transient nature of human consciousness being described by the character Faust in the above passage.

    So who is The Reckoner?

    At a concert in Glendale, Arizona, Thom Yorke stated:

    "..it [the song, Reckoner] was born out of a very trippy dream, one of those ones you wake up from and go, 'aww man, I don't want to wake up from that, ever.'"

    The Reckoner is the one who wakes you up when you wish to remain in your current perceived reality or dream-state. It is the transient way of true nature that we all need to reckon with and accept. For Faust, this means that he must live up to his bargain with Mephistopheles, who represents the Devil. Note that Mephistopheles is mentioned by-name in another song on the album: Videotape.

    As the story goes, Faust becomes so obsessed with discovering the true nature of life, he summons Mephistopheles to help him in this quest. Mephistopheles agrees to serve Faust right up until the moment he reaches the height of human wisdom/happiness/fulfillment; at which point, he will claim Faust's soul. Faust agrees to the deal because he actually thinks it would be impossible for him to reach that height.

    Ultimately, however, Faust does experience a moment of pure happiness, and so Mephistopheles attempts to claim his soul... that is, Faust is woken up from his happy slumber. Luckily, Faust is ultimately rescued by a group of angels who escort him to heaven before Mephistopheles can take him.

    The theme of transience can also be seen in the previous song on the album, Faust Arp ("it's on again, off again, on again")... another obvious reference to the tale of Faust. The sound of the music, like Reckoner, is also heavy with percussion and transient in that it folds over on itself between piano & guitar portions.

    The most accessible metaphor that I can see for this idea is how people tend to want to escape from reality (that's the "bittersweet distractor"), and would rather call in sick on their day of reckoning. They, unlike The Reckoner (or Buddha, if you prefer) cannot overcome the division between self and other (i.e. subject and object, which make for the transient/dualistic ways of human beings). Again, we have moments of clarity and understanding, but they don't last.. "like ripples on a blank shore".

    rejesterdon March 29, 2013   Link
  • +15
    General CommentThe song is pretty clear in meaning. I'm not even Christian ;)

    Overall - the song deals with Judgement day - or the end of the world. Also known as "Day of Reckoning" as referred to in the bible.

    Therefore - the Reckoner is god. The first line is stating you can't take your life with you - whatever you had is gone, you're "transcending". Your life was about the whims of your programming, your programming to survive - all the emotions, reflexes, fears, tendencies, desires - all of that was your "dance for pleasure". You can't take it with you though.

    But "you aren't to blame for that". No, of course not, because you were *programmed* to be that way. That's what life is. Just as a bacteria form colonies or bees do - humans were to do so inevitably as well. Our experiences were inevitable, as part of the human experience.....the senses, both good and bad, "Bittersweet distractor". With a nameless face - likely what Christians label the devil - but it's not manifested - it's nameless because it's our inner demons that he is referring to here.

    We are not to blame for that. This is god's compassion for us and all our flaws...a statement that he understands that there was no way we could know better or do better. And thus he is "dedicated" to all human beings...he is loyal to humanity for the suffering and price it pays - the fear and horror of dealing with death - which is the "separation" from life...like "ripples on a blank shore" meaning it's just so matter of fact, so blunt, without explanation, without closure. It's god's message to us for the pain we live, the mistakes we have made, and the death we suffer.

    In rainbow refers to the post-apocalyptic end of life...after the flood, a rainbow appears...this is the biblical symbol of the covenant between man and god - that god will never incur such calamity upon mankind again. Here I believe it refers more as a bridge from one life to another. But the covenant aspect also fits with the dedication theme - a symbol of god's loyalty to mankind.

    It is a gift - the revelation - permanent afterlife, that god is offering ("take me with you") as he is dedicated to all human beings (not that the song is dedicated to us, but it might very well be). You can't take your previous existence with you, but you can take god with you to someplace else.

    There ya go. Enjoy.

    MannyKilleron March 18, 2009   Link
  • +10
    General CommentThis is about reckoning that you don't last forever, and LOVING living. Good things distract us from the truth. You know who you love the most. Thom Yorke gives me strength, thank you for your beautiful words in rainbows"
    masamoto99on October 18, 2007   Link
  • +8
    General CommentFrom Dante's "Paradiso" (Canto XIII):

    Experiencing that Radiance, the spirit
    is so indrawn it is impossible
    even to think of ever turning from It.

    and not because that Living Radiance bore
    more than one semblance, for It is unchanging
    and is forever as it was before;

    rather, as I grew worthier to see,
    the more I looked, the more unchanging semblance
    appeared to change with every change in me.

    Within the depthless deep and clear existence
    of that abyss of light three circles shown -
    threefold in color, one in circumference;

    the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow;
    the third, an exhalation of pure fire
    equally breathed forth by the other two.

    But oh how much my words miss my conception,
    which is itself so far from what I saw
    than to call it feeble would be rank deception!

    O Light Eternal fixed in Itself alone,
    by Itself alone understood, which from Itself
    loves and glows, self-knowing and self-known;

    that second aureole which shone forth in Thee,
    conceived as a reflection of the first -
    or which appeared so to my scrutiny -

    seemed in Itself of Its own coloration
    to be painted with man's image. I fixed my eyes
    on that alone in rapturous contemplation.

    Like an old reckoner wholly dedicated
    to squaring the circle, but who cannot find,
    think as he may, the principle indicated -

    so did I study the supernal face.
    I yearned to know just how our image merges
    into that circle, and how it there finds place;

    but mine were not the wings for such a flight.
    Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came
    cleaving my mind in a great flash of light.

    Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,
    but already I could feel my being turned -
    instinct and intellect balanced equally

    as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars -
    by the Love that moves the sun and other stars.
    eatenbythewormson August 12, 2008   Link
  • +7
    General CommentLike much of this album, Thom Yorke seems to have written this song with Goethe's Faust in mind.

    I like to think that this song specifically captures the odd relationship between Faust and Mephistopheles-where the later is cast as "the Reckoner", and the former is the narrator.

    What the Reckoner can't take with him is Faust/Thom Yorke's soul, and throughout the play Faust was ostensibly "dancing for your (Mephistopheles') pleasure."

    The second stanza/verse thing describes the way Faust felt on his death bed; accepting of his punishment. The "ripples on a black shore" may refer to the lapping waters of the river styx, by which Mephistopheles would remain in hell while Faust was spared and accepted into heaven. Specifically, I think that the ripples describe a disturbance in the flow of souls to hell. After all, Faust 's soul was thoroughly damned until God's last-minute verdict.

    Even if I'm WAY off with all this, I still think that this song takes on an interesting meaning when interpreted as such.
    pelagic thresheron October 15, 2007   Link
  • +6
    General CommentOfficial lyrics taken from the lyrics booklet:


    You can�t take it with yer
    Dancing for your pleasure

    You are not to blame for
    Bittersweet distractor
    Dare not speak it�s name
    Dedicated to all human beings

    Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore
    in rainbows
    Because we separate like ripples on a blank shoree

    Take me with yer
    Dedicated to all human beings

    I don't know the exact meaning of this song, but I can tell you that it bears many allusions to Buddhism.
    Dedicated to all human beings, is the traditional way of ending a meditation, teaching, or other Dharmic practice in the Mahayana tradition. Thom is making a reference here, to the fact that some kind of spiritual truth is being imparted for the sake of others.

    One of the many, many names the buddha is known by is the reckoner. Someone who has dealt with all the karma, habits, and things of the past. He has reckoned with himself, and can now see the outside world clearly. One of the qualities of a "Reckoner" is that he is able to overcome the division between self and other. This brings us to the lines,

    Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore
    in rainbows
    Because we separate like ripples on a blank shore

    When you listen to the song, Thom talks about seperation but it's overshadowed by the vocal of "In Rainbows" which is indistinguishable, because we are separating the sounds into units that we think make sense, but we aren't hearing the "In Rainbows" that is being extended past the point of conventional words and understanding. It points to a unity that is imperceptible to most people.

    If the Reckoner is the Buddha(I personally think Thom is speaking of the Dalai Lama(check this link: shambhalasun.com/sunspace/) then the part where he talks about, "Dare not speak it's name" talks about the unspeakable ecstacy of enlightenment. This pleasure is not mentionable, because it is not experienced by others. The Reckoner must set it aside, as it's simply a product of altruism and complete dedication to others.

    That's my take on it at least. :)

    actraiseron November 24, 2010   Link
  • +5
    General CommentReckoner
    Can't take it with you
    Dancing for pleasure

    You are not to blame for
    Bittersweet distractor
    Dare not speak its name
    Dedicated to all human beings

    Because we separate
    Like ripples on a blank shore
    (in rainbows)
    Because we separate
    Like ripples on a blank shore

    Take it with you
    Dedicated to all human beings

    from In Rainbows vinyl
    jb1989on March 20, 2012   Link
  • +4
    General CommentMasamoto99:
    "This is about reckoning that you don't last forever, and LOVING living. Good things distract us from the truth. You know who you love the most. Thom Yorke gives me strength, thank you for your beautiful words in rainbows"

    Sometimes the most simple interpretations are the best ones.

    Reckoner means 'an expert at claculation'. In the context of the album, where the narrators debate between doing what feels right vs. what one ought to, and also the consequences (Heaven vs. Hell, whether figuratively or literally), the one change between the first half of the album and the final part seems to be the decision to follow what one feels is right (be true to oneself) rather than do what others tell us is right. I think the line 'because we separate like ripples on a blank shore' fits in with that interpretation. I take that line to mean that though we are all in essence the same--as each molecule of water is part of a whole--in life we follow different paths. The 'freer' second half to the album makes me feel like that. The narrator (or narrators) has/have decided to follow his/their heart, no matter what the consequences are... even if it means going to Hell. But the part in "Reckoner" 'you can't take it with you' could mean that the narrator feels redeemed because he feels right about what he's doing, so the devil cannot take his soul.
    eatenbythewormson September 20, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General CommentA Reckoner is a sort of mathematician or a mathematical handbook used to perform calculations. This song is another Radiohead song about the spiritual death of mankind. It's talking about the death of God and rapture in people who are purely analytical. It's about the struggle to kill everything truly alive with the purpose of simplifying the human experience (so it's less scary for weak people). How dead inside are you?
    Harm88on August 29, 2008   Link
  • +3
    General CommentReckoner is the tool you use in deciding how to live your life - what you do/say in any given situation. It stops when you stop. Much of what we do here is geared towards "pleasure".
    Distractors to living a good, morally- balanced life are eveywhere. They are often bittersweet in that the attainment of pleasure through a distractor usually has a downside (maybe not dancing?)
    You, as an individual are not to blame for these distractors. Dare not utter the word "devil".
    Each person is a new canvas. As we progress through life we develope in different directions - or different colours (all the inputs influence how we seperate - parents, upbringing, circumstance, distractors etc. and how we deal with those - using our reckoner).
    In the last verse the reckoner changes into something akin to God or nirvana. The reckoner is now all-knowing, all-wise. A
    plea for this reckoner to take us there too. And this reckoner, like the bittersweet distractor, is dedicated to everyone.
    It's a song of self judgement and a plea to have ultimate enlightenment in order to work it out.
    I suppose I'd describe it as a religious song (whether or not you believe in God). I find it very profound, and profound in its simplicity. And such beautiful music.
    ayatollahon September 12, 2008   Link

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